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The History of Bread Pudding – Part 1

Welcome back to the Italian Desserts. This post is the beginning of another diversion of sorts. Over the new few postings, we will be discussing bread pudding history and some recipes along the way. I am digressing again because my research into the world of Italian desserts has taken me WAY back in time, took me to Sicilian desserts and from there I landed here.

Bread pudding dates back to prehistoric times and has had its place in every era and every country since that time. My research has revealed that bread pudding, both sweet and savory, was first developed by ancient peoples. It seems that there has always been a tendency for frugal cooks to avoid the waste of stale bread and so this confection came into being.

The History

If you delve into the history of cooking from prehistoric times, you will find that stale or hard bread has been used in a myriad of ways; for example, medieval sop, foccacia, stuffings, special dishes like French toast and thickeners like puddings. Interestingly, if you look into a 19th century cookbook, you will likely find recipes for bread puddings listed as “Invalid Cookery”. The recipes that you’ll find will be varied and are dependent upon the type of bread used.

Important Category

Another thing you’ll find if you delve into the history of cooking is that many desserts over the centuries have included bread as an ingredient in the form of bread crumbs or slices or pieces. And, if you follow my line of thought, I’m sure you’ll see the efficiency and frugality of using left over stale or hard bread pieces to create another dish by adding a sweetening agent and milk and baking the resulting confection. By adding fat, such as butter, and a fruit, such as currants, to this mix, you move this use of potential wasted bread into the category of a special treat.

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This has been so much the fact that today, even cooks who don’t have stale bread will have some awesome recipes and uses for bread pudding. The “enhanced” product was referred to as bread and butter pudding. Some cooks have even used brioche, panettone (Italian leavened bread) and slices of plain cake in place of the bread, while adding more fruits and even spices to further enhance this simple dessert treat. Accordingly, some of these “enhancements” must be kept under strict control, lest bread pudding lose its traditional characteristics.

How It Began

The likely beginning of bread pudding can be found by looking back at medieval sops and the medieval practice of using a hollowed-out loaf of bread as the vessel for a sweet dish…varieties of bread pudding could be eaten hot as pudding or cold as a cake. In fact, an Egyptian dessert which bears considerable similarity to bread and butter pudding, and which was originally a simple dish originating in rural areas, is called Om Ali and is made with bread, milk or cream, raisins, and almonds.

Still another Middle Eastern sweet bread, Eish es serny (palace bread), is prepared by drying large round slices cut horizontally through a big loaf to make huge rusks (loaves or pieces of twice baked very hard bread), which are then slowly cooked in sugar and honey syrup that has been flavored with rosewater and colored with caramel. If you travel further east, an Indian dessert in the Moghul style, Shahi tukra, is made with bread fried in ghee (clarified butter), dipped in a syrup that has been flavored with saffron and rosewater, and then covered with a creamy sauce in which decorative slices of almond are mixed.

Our next post will cover bread puddings appearance in the United States and some interesting facts and recipes for it. Stay tuned for more yummy information on this multi-cultural dessert.

Bon app├ętit!

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