We first learned about summer pudding when we were still living in New York City. At least once a week, we had breakfast at a chi-chi French cafe, awash in strong espresso and attitude. We were such regulars, they once actually let us order eggs for breakfast. Dégueulasse!
There was a literary salon at the front table. (Of course there was.) One of the participants was also known for her food obsessions. Each week, she made her way to us, the food writers, before settling into the salon and chipping Derrida quotes at her peers. One hot summer morning, she blew in, hair plastered to her forehead, and came in for her usual landing at our table. "Have you made your summer pudding yet?" she exclaimed.
Taken aback, we mumbled something about "no." Undeterred, she launched into a description. It didn't involve French literary theory. And it sounded pretty good. So we set out to discover more about this old-fashioned dessert.
We quickly became mavens. If you love bread and jam, if you search for quick summer fruits desserts, if you're a fan of berries--well, this one's for you. It's like a no-fuss bombe: the pectin in the berries sets the "pudding" (layered sandwich bread, in fact) so you can cut the thing like a cake. It's the very best reason to whip cream. Here's the recipe:
Start with a heaping mix of berries, about 8 cups (or 1 kilogram). We generally use blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, red currants, what we can afford of them, and then fill the rest out with strawberries. (No, they're not techically berries, but they're--ahem--similacra. Take that, literary theory. Heck, we've been known to use frozen mixed berries, thawed.)
Bring the berries to a simmer in a large saucepan with 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar, 2 tablespoons (30 ml) gold rum or Cointreau (pick your poison), and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until the berries just begun to break down and become saucelike, no more than a few minutes. Pull the pan off the heat and cool for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, line a 2-quart soufflé dish (or even a mixing bowl) with enough plastic wrap that it covers the sides and overlaps the top so you can later seal it up. Press the plastic wrap against the sides and bottom to get rid of as many of the creases and puckers as you can.
Cut the crusts off a loaf of sandwich bread. Seriously, white sandwich bread. Being the whole-grain nuts, we often use oat bread or something with a little more tooth. But it's not the norm.
Line the bottom with a layer of some of the crustless bread, cutting the slices so they make a neat layer. (If you use a bowl, you'll need to line the sides with crustless slices of bread as well). Spoon about a quarter of the cooked berry mixture on top of the bread, then add another layer of bread, and so, building the thing up. End up with a layer of bread that you paint with the last dregs of the berry juice. You'll make three or four layers when you're done.
Cover with plastic wrap, gently pressing down against the surface of the bread. Set a small plate on top of the pudding, then put a 16-ounce (450-gram) can of vegetables on top of the plate as a weight. Put the whole thing on a lipped baking sheet to catch any drips; set it in the fridge for 24 hours.
To unmold, remove the can and the plate, then peel back the top layer of plastic wrap. Place a serving platter over the soufflé dish (or bowl) and invert it all, using the plastic wrap to help the summer pudding come clean from the dish or bowl. Remove the bowl, then the plastic wrap, and cut the dessert into wedges to serve. And whip the cream. Hurry! Have you made yours yet?!?