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Bidets, Baubles, Ballet And Bread
In Italy, it was pasta and rice, in the UK it was tea and then flour (it is the home of The Great British Bake Off, after all), and in the US, it was toilet paper and now flour. According to the Italy Insider, there is not a shortage in this bathroom necessity as they are civilized enough that all homes are required to have a bidet. The much publicized shortage of toilet paper here forced me to buy this pair of earrings for comic relief. (I have a modest reputation for cheesy, thematic earrings). They are from Created By Carla on Etsy. But to return to the flour shortage, clearly there is a tsunami of cake, pie, biscuit and bread baking, as my Instagram feed has gone from too many pictures of dogs and cats to too many images of sourdough starters. But the trend has led me to return to dishes I actually make when an attack of frugality hits me. I am not sure internationally which country is in the lead on how to use stale bread, but there is even a bread crumb fairy in the story of Sleeping Beauty. Her name is Miettes Qui Tombent, which literally means “falling breadcrumbs”. This fairy in both the story and the ballet symbolizes generosity, since in Russian culture bread and its crumbs are symbols of welcome and good fortune. So as Miette’s good wish or blessing for the princess, she sprinkles breadcrumbs in the baby’s cradle. Tchaikovsky’s music to Miette’s solo is enchanting to me.
Even as a fan of the real Caesar salad, and panzanella, there are just so many more dishes you can make with stale bread. Bread Pudding is on top of my list, but certain rules apply. It cannot taste stodgy the next day. Water baths are essential. Crusts should be removed. It is better to start with a hot water filled pan than just filling it in with cold water. Either put the roasting pan over a burner or two to start the the water simmering and then, with potholders of course, lower it into the oven, or start it in the oven while you are making the pudding, or fill a tea kettle with water, bring it to a boil and then pour it into the roasting pan once you have placed the prepared pudding in its container into the water bath pan. Here are two desserts that you should consider before throwing out those last slices of bread that seem too stiff to be resuscitated.
Maida Heatter wins again, as she combines sandwich bread slices with a light custard for this large bread pudding. You can switch out the raisins for dried cherries or cranberries. I steam them in a liqueur like port, cassis or marsala. This recipe is from her original book, Maida Heatter’s Book Of Great Desserts. The bread requirement that is non-negotiable is that it be some sort of sandwich loaf. Brioche slices are also acceptable, as is challah. When I made this with cubes of baguette and other levain-based breads, it was acceptable but not as yummy. Miettes would be disappointed.
- 1/2 cup (71 gr) raisins, dried cherries or dried cranberries.
- 20 slices (454gr) thin sliced sandwich bread - approximately a 1lb loaf
- 3 oz soft butter,(85gr) - I used unsalted, but she did not specify
- 1 cup (200gr) caster sugar
- 4 cups (946ml) whole milk
- 1 cup((237ml) light cream -you can mix half heavy cream and whole milk
- 6 large eggs
- 2 tsp (10ml) vanilla extract
- a dash almond extract - you can add more if you like a more pronounced almond flavor
- pinch of fine sea salt
- Steam the raisins in a splash of water or marsala, or cherries/cranberries in cassis for 5 minutes, then set aside.
- Trim the crusts of the bread slices and then butter each slice on one side.
- Stack in piles of five slices each and cut each stack into thirds to make fingers.
- Butter a shallow 3 quart (2 3/4L) baking dish.
- Place a layer of the bread fingers buttered side up, leaving some space in between.
- Sprinkle with 2 tbs of the sugar and some of the raisins or cherries/cranberries.
- Continue stacking the fingers into layers, alternating the direction of the bread, using about 1/2 of the sugar and all the raisins or cherries/cranberries.
- Do not sprinkle the fruit on the top layer.
- Whisk the eggs in a bowl gently so that they get thoroughly mixed, but not bubbly or frothy.
- In the top of a double boiler or in a heavy gauge copper pan, over moderate heat, scald the milk and cream just until you see tiny bubbles around the edge.
- Gradually add the hot milk to the egg mixture, while whisking and gradually add 1/4 cup of the remaining sugar, vanilla and almond extract - I taste to see if I want to add more almond extract.
- Whisk in the salt and transfer to pitcher for pouring.
- Pour this custard into the baking dish, going around the bread and into the corners and sides -avoid pouring over the top of the bread.
- Let stand for at least an hour - you can press down with a wide spatula to help the bread absorb the custard from the bottom.
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C) and use a lower rack to place the water bath.
- Sprinkle remaining sugar over the top of the pudding.
- Put the pudding into a roasting pan that already has simmering water in it.
- Bake for about 40 minutes - a knife inserted should come out barely clean and the sugar should also caramelize lightly..
- Remove from water and serve warm or at room temperature.
- This is still delicious even after refrigeration.
- I used the almond essence from Grasse, which you can get from Simply Gourmand.
The second dessert using stale bread crumbs is actually a cake from a cookbook written by Diana Henry titled A Change of Appetite. She has written an astonishing number of cookbooks, and I have hoarded many of them. It almost seems Sicilian in its use of ground pistachios and bread crumbs. In fact, some of the most intriguing recipes I have found have come from Italian sources: passatelli and canederli, which is the Italian version of the German Knoedel, are just two examples of what I am trying to master with my quarantine time and stale bread. But this cake was a delightful and surprising success. A nice picnic cake or even with coffee or tea. I have served it with mixed seasonal fruits (with a splash of liqueur) and whipped cream. I use the Bronte Sicilian pistachios as their flavor and color are more intense than the ones from California.
- 1 cup (237ml) olive oil
- 1 cup (100gr) unsalted pistachios, shelled
- 1 cup (125gr) stale bread crumbs
- 1 1/4 cups(506gr) caster sugar
- 2 1/2 tsp (12gr) baking powder
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon plus the juice of 2
- 4 eggs beaten
- Oil an 8 inch (20cm)x2 inch(5cm) cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
- Put 3/4 of the pistachios in a spice grinder or coffee blender and grind to a powder.
- You can pulse in a food processor, but the end result will not be as fine.
- Mix with the bread crumbs and 1 cup of the sugar, baking powder and lemon zest.
- Mix together the oil and eggs, beating lightly with a fork, and then stir that into the dry ingredients.
- Scrape into the prepared pan and place into a cold oven.
- Then set the oven to 350F (175C) and bake the cake for about 50-60 minutes.
- It should come away from the sides of the pan.
- While it is baking, put the lemon juice and the 1/4 cup (50gr)sugar in saucepan with 1/2 cup(118ml) water and stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
- Bring this syrup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about seven minutes.
- Turn the cake out of the pan, peel off the paper and place it on a plate, baked side up.
- While it is still warm, pierce it all over with toothpick.
- Slowly pour the syrup over the top and let it sink in and cool the cake.
- Just before serving, chop the remaining pistachios so that some are fine and others coarse and sprinkle them over the top of the cake.
- I use the Bronte pistachios from Sicily.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.