Sydney has suddenly remembered winter is coming, and we had better start to prepare for it. For the past week, the mornings have had a decidedly wintry vibe. My light weight coats look more inviting in the evenings. Even in our temperate winters, there is something bracing about walking into a gust of cold wind, knowing that you are well wrapped up and no cold air can sneak under your collar or around your fingers.
Summer (and summer picnics), it’s been nice, see you on the other side.
On a brighter note, autumn and winter can be a good time to visit towns and attractions on the northern or southern coastline that are often overrun by weekenders and tourists in summer. We did exactly that this weekend, meandering through 2-3 cities and towns, and ending up at the start of the southern escarpment of the Great Dividing Range overlooking a valley that is still green from summer. Our accommodation – just outside the nearest town – was low-key yet unexpectedly good. The highlight for me was finding a rickety old set of home-made swings in a corner of the garden, and swinging on it until I got the neighbours’ labradors’ attention. I think they wanted a go too.
Earlier in the week, I made a poshed-up version of bread and butter pudding that seemed an apt way to ease us into the rusticating weekend. It also used up the mountain of brioche I had made a few days ago (brioche-specific post(s) coming up). Both Mr Gander and I have had some pretty uninspiring examples of this pudding in the past. Sometimes, the bread just tastes like stale bread, or the custard is too thin, too sweet, or there just isn’t enough excitement to make me forget that I’m eating soggy bread. This recipe was a little different, and I felt more confident it would succeed in winning us over to bread and butter style puddings.
And succeed it did. (as Yoda might say)
Brioche is very thinly sliced (frozen brioche was easy to slice thinly), and placed in a cake or loaf pan in alternating layers with thin slices of brandy-scented apples. A vanilla custard-like mixture is poured over, left to soak up for an hour, and baked.
I changed very little in the recipe. I wanted to account for the fact that my brioche was made using Pierre Herme’s recipe using an equal amount of flour and butter. This 100% butter ration was way richer than most brioche (which tend to have 50-75% butter ratio), so I left off the cream in the custard-mixture recipe and used a little more milk instead. I also wanted a kind of crunchy top, and we had some Hungarian short bread dough in the freezer, so I made a kind of crumb-streusel-like topping by grating and slicing little bits of the shortbread dough over the last layer of apple slices.
A real streusel or crumble topping, maybe mixed with chopped hazelnuts, would also work well.
The brioche softened after soaking up the custard mixture, and somehow the layers became a warm, vanilla-and-brandy fragrant, moist whole that came out of my loaf pan just over an hour later. The topping worked really well, the shortbread crumbs had become crisp, as had some of the topmost apple slices. This added a different texture and a slightly different flavour. Drizzled with pure (single) cream, this was indulgent, perfect for a cool evening.
A note on apples: I think it’s worth finding the tastiest culinary apples you can. I came across a market stall that sold organically grown, heirloom varieties of apples. I bought a bag of Royal Pippin with this pudding in mind. They had that real apple taste that has been lost by supermarket apples since … since I first tried a supermarket apple. The taste – honey-sweet, light and crisp – was distinctive compared to more commonly found apple varieties. It stood up to cooking well, but was also good for a snack. Each apple was a bit knobbly, there was no shiny waxed skin, and we loved every bite. I really think the inherent beauty of these apples helped to make the pudding loveable.
Apple brioche pudding
(from the June edition of ABC Delicious magazine, my adaptations noted)
(note, these quantities make enough for a 25cm / 10 inch cake pan, I used just over half of the amount and baked the pudding in a loaf pan)
170g unsalted butter (I only used the equivalent of 100g of butter)
8 medium sized apples, peeled, cored and cut into thin slices
1/4 cup (60ml) Calvados (I used brandy)
1/2 cup (110g) castor sugar, plus an extra tablespoon
2 tsp vanilla extract
400ml thickened (double) cream (I subbed with milk, see below)
200 milk (or just over 400ml milk if not using cream)
about 450g brioche loaf, thinly sliced
Single cream to serve
Optional: a crumble topping, or streusel topping, or Hungarian shortbread dough that has been frozen and coarsely grated
1. Melt 100g of the butter in a frying pan over medium heat and cook apples in the butter until the apple slices soften (this took me about 12 minutes, but the recipe recommends 15 minutes). Add 1 tsp of vanilla extract and the Calvados or brandy. Leave the mixture in the pan until all liquid has evaporated.
2. Grease a 25cm / 10 inch springform cake pan, (for the full amount) or a loaf pan (for half amount). Line the base of the pan with baking paper. Cover the outside of the pan with foil to prevent the custard mixture leaking. If using a loaf pan, there is no need to cover the outside, but you may want to use a longer strip of baking paper so that a strip hangs over the longer edges of the loaf pan. This will make the pudding easier to remove.
3. Whisk together the eggs, castor sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract, cream (if using) and milk.
4. If using brioche that has less than 100% butter ratio, butter the cut sides of brioche slices with the remaining 70g of butter. Place alternating layers of brioche slices and apple slices in the cake or loaf pan. I finished with an apple layer, but the recipe does not specify. Pour the cream and milk mixture over the slices and leave to soak for an hour.
5. After about 40 minutes, pre-heat the oven to 150C / 300F. Sprinkle the crumble or streusel topping, or frozen grated Hungarian shortbread dough over the top layer of the pudding. Sprinkle the last tablespoon of castor sugar over the topping.
6. Bake the pudding for just over an hour. Mine took about 1 hour and 10 minutes, but it may take longer in a cake pan (a skewer inserted into the middle should come out without liquid on it, as the milk and cream mixture should bake until it sets. I also found the pudding began to pull away, very slightly, from the edge of the loaf pan when it was done). Remove pudding from the oven and cool slightly. Pudding can be served warm with cream. It’s also quite good for a couple of days when toasted or warmed in the oven.