Cypriot Inspired Bread Pudding

Last time I made bread pudding, amongst the wave of Good Old British nostalgia that overtakes me every time I make it, there was a small voice whispering to me as I stirred the milk into the chunks of bread.
"Maybe this would work with other flavours. Maybe this would work with tahini. Thought about rose yet?"

I'm used to this voice, it's there a lot. Usually when I'm cooking one thing, concentrating on that night's dinner, it wanders up, nonchalantly commenting on how next time I could always add...and so it goes. Welcome to the food world inside my head.

I tried to ignore it but these things never go away. The only way to stop the record stuck on repeat is to make the thing and get it over with. It's hard to explain to people this compulsion to make a recipe that's in my head, but that's what it is. Better to just make it, bring it into being, and give my brain a bit of peace until the next time.

So. Tahini bread pudding. I wanted it to have Cypriot flavours, so plain old bloomer loaf would not do. Turkish oval fingerprint bread however, that worked. It's the bread we get in Cyprus to have for breakfasts, and we love it.

The soaking liquid. Sheep milk? Goat? No. Almond. Cypriots do love their almonds.

Next up, tahini. I laid in an extra supply as I wasn't sure how much I'd need. Not all tahinis are created equal. The one I found was beautifully creamy, but still pretty vehement in its sesameness.

Brown sugar and oodles of cinnamon just had to go with the tahini. Echoes of the swirled tahinopita my father used to bring home from the Greek bakery on a Sunday afternoon, which I'd eat slowly from the outer ring inwards until reaching the extra cinnamony part right in the middle. That's the very best bit.

Orange blossom water, and rose water. Yep, definitely needed those. Sultanas, without question because they are in a traditional bread pudding, and I love them.  Sliced almonds, those went in as well.

Dried rose petals for a more musky hint, to add to the bright flash of rose water.

I put in 1 tbs grape molasses just to darken the colour a bit, but that's totally optional.

Off I went.

1/2 a loaf of Turkish bread, roughly 300g cut into very small pieces
Approx 1 pint/570ml almond milk to soak the bread though you may need less - judge it as you go
1 cup/ 350g sultanas
1/2 cup/55g sliced almonds
1/3 cup/75g demerara sugar
3 tbs cinnamon
1 cup/250ml tahini + warm water to thin if needed
1 tsp rose water
1 tsp orange blossom water or orange extract or zest of 1 orange
3 tbs dried rose petals
3 tbs olive oil
2 medium eggs

Garnish for the top
Ground pistachios
Slivered almonds
Demerara sugar
Crystallised rose pieces

Put all the bread pieces in a large bowl.

Pour over the almond milk, turning the bread over to moisten it all. There must be no pieces left dry.

Let that sit and soak for 15 minutes, then stir it again to make sure all the pieces are soggy.

Add in the sultanas, sliced almonds, demerara sugar, cinnamon, tahini, rose water, orange blossom water (or orange extract or zest of 1 orange) and the dried rose petals.

Mix it all well, cover and leave to sit for a few hours, or even overnight.

After it has sat, mix it all again, adjust your cinnamon if you want (as in MORE OF IT which is the usual cry in this house).

Stir in 2 beaten eggs, and the olive oil, then pour into a solid greased square tin.  DO NOT USE A LOOSE BOTTOMED ONE. I always panic that it looks too runny, and then it's always fine.

Sprinkle the top with more sugar, rose pieces, ground pistachios, almonds, whatever you wish.

Bake at 170C for 45 minutes, or until slightly puffed and set.


Old Fashioned Bread Pudding

Last weekend I baked some bread, ate two slices, and then promptly forgot about it. It was wrapped, and out of sight, which is probably the best way for me to lose track of things. Thankfully I found it again before it went furry, but it was a lot more dense than it had been, and dry too.

That means...BREAD PUDDING.

Not bread and butter pudding, no. This is a different animal. Bread pudding as I've always known it is a great big bowl of spiced, fruited and sugared bread, all smooshed and squished together with milk until it's one homogenous mass, and then baked until it becomes a slab of darkly sweet perfection. A brilliant and thrifty way to use up stale or old bread and probably a cheap way to fill the kids up when they got in from school. I adore it, and am quite protective of it. (I've long felt that Bread and Butter Pudding was a bit of an imposter, the smaller, more delicate sister of the big, comforting and homely eldest.)

I set to with gusto, and more than a little excitement.

Oven 170C fan
1 x solid base cake tin - do not use a loose bottomed one

700g of stale white bread, cubed
Milk - whole, please, no skimmed or semi skimmed here
1/2 cup / 115g sugar (I used golden caster but use what you have)
2 1/2 tbs mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 handfuls of sultanas
2 medium eggs
50g butter, melted

Put all the bread into a large bowl. Pour over the milk until it's just under the top of the bread.
Leave it to soak, but stir and smoosh it every so often.
When all the milk has been soaked up, and the bread is all broken down, add the sugar, spices, fruit and eggs.
Brush your cake tin with some of the melted butter, then add the rest to the bread mixture.
Stir it all again, add more spice if you want, then pour the lot into the cake tin.
Bake it for 40 minutes, or until set.
Sprinkle demerara and caster sugar on top and leave to cool, then cut into slabs.

You can change this up, add what you like. Glace cherries, or candied peel, more spices, different bread, different sugars. It's your dessert after all.

Nigella Lawson says it should have suet in it. I've not tried that, but I'm willing to give it a go!


Hallloumi & Mint snacks

Greek (Orthodox) Easter came and went this year, and more or less passed me by. When you're the only Cypriot around for miles (that I know of, anyway) there doesn't seem to be a lot of point in doing much about it. If we had an Orthodox church near, I'd probably go, but we don't, and it's a very long way to North London.

Cypriots usually make tons and tons of Easter pastries, ready to break the lenten fast. It's a team effort, as there are so many made. I have made them myself a few times, but it is pretty slavish work, and this year I did not have the energy. I made lots of buttery, orange scented koulourakia biscuits, roasted some lamb, and called it done.

I still wanted that flaouna filling taste though. Mine is made from a memory of my Auntie Helen's ones, so I don't know if they are authentic or not, but the taste is as near to what I can recall. It has been a very long time since I ate hers!

So I was wondering what to do with the stock of halloumi and mint I'd laid in, just in case I found the inspiration to make the Easter pies. The inspiration never showed itself, but I still had the cheese. (Face it, I've always got the cheese.) I also had a small seeded loaf that needed using, and I recalled making bread cases for something else, and liking them quite a lot.

Bank Holiday Monday afternoon came along, and off I went.

1 x food processor or you can just grate the cheeses by hand

1 x 400g medium sliced seeded loaf - you need as many slices as will fit your bun tray
olive oil
1 250g block halloumi cut into large chunks
200g mature cheddar cut into large chunks
about a cup of fresh mint leaves
2 tsp dried mint
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup sultanas
2 medium eggs

Cut the crusts off the bread, and roll each edgeless slice out until it's very flat
Oil the bun tray very well.
Brush each bread slice with olive oil, DO NOT STINT, and press into the tray hollows, making sure each slice goes all the way to the bottom. (my bun tray was quite shallow)
Bake at 170C fan until crisp and slightly golden.
Blitz the cheeses for a few goes, then add in the mints.
Blitz again.
Add in the sultanas, cinnamon and the eggs, blitz until they form a cohesive but lumpy paste.
Put a decent spoonful of the filling into each bread case, then bake at 170 again until puffed and golden brown.
I like these best lukewarm, but it's up to you!