Berry Bread Pudding, 11p [VG/V/DF]

This luscious, dense, simple little number was thrown together this afternoon in the midst of a craving for something hot, stodgy and comforting while I worked from home in the bitter cold. I love my beautiful (rented) house with its views of the sea, but when the temperature drops and the wind kicks up it is devastatingly cold, and I turn to piles of soft thick blankets around my shoulders and knees as I work, and the culinary equivalent of that snug warm feeling, is these. I used the last of the frozen berries that also appeared in the berry banana bread from last week, such is the way with these recipes of mine, one often rolls into another. You can use fresh berries if you prefer, but I like the variety of four or five you tend to get in a frozen bag, as well as the price.

Makes 9 at 11p each

300g white or wholemeal bread, 21p (Soft white medium sliced, 55p/800g, Asda)

100g frozen berries, 50p (£1.75/350g, Asda)

50g sultanas, 9p (88p/500g, Asda)

100g sugar, 6p (64p/1kg, Asda)

4tbsp/60g applesauce, 10p (49p/280g, Asda)

250ml water

First finely dice or, if you have the patience, grate your bread. My hands seize up in the cold weather – and goodness it has been cold lately – so I confess I tore mine into chunks and threw it into a very old MagiMix that I found for £10 in the Southend Vineyard charity shop a few months ago. It is not an essential piece of kit for everyday use, but I use it in place of my wrists and hands when they are being defunct, and it allows me to carry on doing my work. So I suppose if you have a food processor, tough blender or little bullet style blender and don’t mind the extra washing up, you could use that. Anything goes, as long as your bread is in little pieces at the end of this stage.

Pop the bread into a large mixing bowl. Add the berries, sultanas and sugar and mix well to combine the dry ingredients. (The berries aren’t technically ‘dry’, but they are for the sake of this recipe.)

Fill a mug with 250ml cold water, and add the applesauce to it. Mix vigorously to combine the two to make a very runny apple-water. Traditional bread pudding uses eggs and milk for this stage, so if you’re curious about the science behind it, the applesauce acts as an egg replacer, being thick and gloopy and full of pectin, a natural sugar that makes jam thick and glossy and – in vegan baking – performs some kind of wizardry that binds the ingredients together. I would have added a milk substitute but didn’t have any in. I toyed with the idea of blackcurrant juice but couldn’t find it, so tap water it was. The final product does not seem to have suffered at all for this particular frugality.

Anyway, mix all of the ingredients thoroughly to form a deep reddish curious slop. Lightly grease a shallow tin, and spoon it in. Press down firmly with the back of your spoon, then cover with a tea towel, large plate, spare baking tray or similar, and leave to stand for an hour.

(I must confess this part of the recipe was an accident, as I left it for a moment to do some admin work and a moment turned into an hour. Having only made this once, today, I have no idea if this has any bearing on the outcome but for consistency I will instruct you to do exactly as I did. In theory the standing time allows the berries to defrost and the bread and sultanas to soak up the juices and swell and firm slightly.)

Turn your oven on to 180C and pop the tray on the middle shelf. Cook for 30 minutes, then turn down to 160C for 30 more minutes. Remove from the oven and gently probe the centre with a fork, chopstick, knife or skewer. It should be dense and moist, but not wet nor sticky, but this will depend on the depth of your tin. A shallow tin will cook more quickly; a deeper tin gives a more satisfying heft but a longer cooking time. Mine was 7cm deep, if anyone cares about that kind of thing, and I measured it just for you. If it is not yet cooked through, return it to the oven for a further 20 minutes at 160C.

When cooked, turn the oven off and leave the bread pudding inside for a further half an hour to start to cool, while still gently cooking through in the hermetically sealed heatbox that you have just paid to heat up for an hour. I use this technique often in baking – although it can be a risky one – knocking 10-15 minutes off the cook time and simply leaving the goods in the oven for as long as I can stand to. I call it Meringue Theory, from the practise of leaving meringues in the oven for a while after baking to allow them to fully harden, but you can call it ‘miserly’ if you wish.

When finally finished, cooled, dense, and firm enough to cut through, remove from the oven. Cut into nine squares and gently lift each one from the tray, and enjoy.

These freeze well, and I am contemplating using them as the base for a trifle just as soon as I find a decent vegan jelly…

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