Not long after returning from our Barossa weekend, I was loitering in the kitchen when my eye was caught by some plumply golden pears in the fruit bowl. They were vibrating with an unmistakeable “eat us now” urgency. Like Julius Caesar’s tide, the fortune of a perfectly ripe pear must be seized at the flood, or end in the miseries of the compost bin. My pears were glowing with a sheen that promised peak juiciness, so I had no choice. Making a pear dessert sprang to the top of the day’s agenda.
Usually simply does it for pears, something like poached in red wine, or lightly caramelised, but these pears, I felt, deserved something more extravagant. Surveying the pantry for inspiration often leads to nothing but indiscriminate snacking, but on this occasion I struck gold. Barossa gold in fact. Somehow, a chunk of Barossa sour dough bread had escaped the breakfast feeding frenzy and sat expectantly on the shelf. Next to it were some purchases from the Barossa Farmers Market – a jar of chocolate flavoured honey, a bottle of Vino Cotto and some raisins. With all the flinty eyed mental dexterity of a Benedict Cumberbatch putting two and two together, I hit upon the answer – a pear bread and butter pudding. And, to acknowledge the inspired contributions from that bountiful valley, it would henceforth be known as “Barossa Pudding”.
Originating in the 17th century, bread and butter pudding was frugal fare – a means of using up stale bread. It’s long been a dessert staple of the British home cook, but in recent times, thanks to the creative flair of various celebrity chefs, it’s taken on a new culinary sophistication and begun to appear on the menus of exclusive restaurants.
My Barossa Pudding, while based loosely on the traditional one, suffers slightly from multiple personality disorder. Down home earthiness of the sourdough is confronted by the decadence of Vino Cotto soaked raisins. At the same time, the wicked indulgence of chocolatey honey contradicts the home baked goodness of egg custard. As for the pears, they lifted what could have been nothing more than an earthy, syrupy, caramelised indulgence into freshness and light; harmonising the whole into something far beyond the sum of its parts.
To say I was happily surprised is an understatement. Previous experiments with a blending of such disparate ingredients have not turned out well. But, with all due modesty, I have to say this one was a triumph. Best served hot with a big dollop (or two) of cream. Best eaten on a winter’s night, to the sound of rain lashing the window, the crackling of logs in the hearth and the gurgle of a rich Barossa port filling your glass.
- For the custard:
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups milk
- 300ml pure cream
- ¼ cup caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- For the filling:
- 6-8 thick slices of white bread (I used sour dough and left the crusts on for added texture)
- 40g butter softened
- 4-6 large ripe pears
- 3 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
- ½ cup sultanas
- ½ cup Vino Cotto
- 2-3 tablespoons chocolate flavoured honey
- Marinate sultanas in Vino Cotto for a couple of hours
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (160 fan-forced)
- Grease a large baking dish
- Peel and slice pears and sprinkle with brown sugar
- Spread both sides of bread slices with butter
- Spread tops of bread slices with chocolate flavoured honey
- Arrange bread, pears and marinated sultanas in alternating layers in baking dish
- Whisk eggs, milk, cream, caster sugar, vanilla and cinnamon in a bowl
- Pour custard over bread and fruit
- Sprinkle with extra brown sugar
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden
by Anne Green