- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

In a perfect summer world, you would never need to turn on the oven. Desserts would be simple, fast and assembled ahead at your convenience. Good-quality store-bought ingredients would be your helpers.

Abundant summer fruit would play a starring role, and the result would always be a gorgeous success. Let’s throw in the bonus of low fat.

This is not a summer fantasy. It is the very real world of summer puddings. English in origin, summer puddings usually consist of a bread-lined mold filled with juicy fruits, often berries. After overnight refrigeration, the juices saturate the bread, which miraculously takes on the flavor and color of the fruit mixture. It is summer in a bowl.

When choosing fruit for a summer pudding, think juice and color. Any summer fruit will work, and some are better when paired with berries.

Peaches, nectarines and plums are firm fruits that are best combined with juicy, brightly colored berries. The fibrous texture of berries also makes a nice contrast with smooth-flesh fruits.

Cut large fruits and big strawberries into bite-size pieces before adding them to puddings. Fresh red or black currants are a mainstay of English summer puddings. If you happen upon some fresh currants, a cup or two will make a good addition to berry fillings.

Although firm-textured white bread is the traditional pudding liner, challah, brioche, angel food cake, chiffon cake and sponge cake are other good options. As long as it is a spongy, light-textured type of cake rather than a dense poundcake, you will have a good result. Poundcakes and other dense cakes tend not to absorb the juices and may crumble, but a good-quality store-bought bread or cake is fine to use.

For summer puddings, a container that is no larger than one quart works best. Larger puddings can get the “wobblies” when unmolded.

If you have a large crowd, fill two or three containers and try different fruit combinations in each. Round mixing bowls, souffle dishes, charlotte molds, small loaf pans, soup bowls, and individual ramekins or cups work well.

For easy pudding removal, line containers with large pieces of plastic wrap. Invert the chilled pudding and pull on the edges of plastic wrap, and out will come a perfect pudding.

If the outside of the pudding is not evenly colored, brush it lightly with reserved juices from the fruit mixture. Briefly cooking some or all of the fruit generates the juice that is essential to a good pudding. With the exception of strawberries, heat fruit just to a simmer with a small quantity of water and sugar. Cooking can make strawberries mushy, and they can lose their bright red color.

Summer berry pudding

Slices of angel food cake make an especially light container for a blueberry, raspberry and strawberry filling. Feel free to use more or less of each berry, as long as there are 6 total cups of berries.

The golden edges of the cake add an interesting pattern of thin lines to the outside of the pudding, but if you want to omit the pattern of lines, just trim the golden edges.

1 angel food cake cut in ½-inch-thick slices

2 cups fresh blueberries

1/3 cup sugar

2 cups fresh raspberries

2 cups fresh strawberries, cut in ½-inch pieces

Fresh berries for garnish, optional

Line a 1-quart bowl, preferably round-bottomed, with plastic wrap, letting it extend over the edges. Fit cake slices into bottom of bowl. Line sides of bowl with cake slices, trimming slices to fit the bowl, if necessary. Cake edges should touch so there are no spaces. Set aside.

In medium saucepan, combine blueberries and sugar with 3 tablespoons water. Cook, covered, over medium heat just to dissolve the sugar and soften the blueberries, about 5 minutes. Uncover and bring to a simmer, stirring.

Add raspberries; bring just to a simmer again without stirring, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add strawberries. Drain berries, reserving the juice. You will have about 3/4 cup of juice. Pour 2 tablespoons juice into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate. This will be used when the pudding is unmolded.

Pour 1/4 cup juice into cake-lined bowl. Spoon half of berry mixture into bowl. Cover with a layer of cake slices. Pour 1/4 cup juice over, and spoon in remaining berries. Pour any remaining juice over.

Place cake slices over top. Cover with plastic wrap, then with a plate or saucer that fits just inside the bowl. Put bowl on a large plate to catch any drips, and put a weight on top of plate. (An unopened medium-size can works well.) Refrigerate overnight.

To serve, invert pudding onto serving dish that has a rim or low sides to catch any juices. Pull on ends of the plastic wrap to release pudding. Brush reserved 2 tablespoons juice over any spots where juice has not soaked into cake.Scatter fresh berries over top, if desired. Cut cold pudding into wedges. (Note that although the pudding can be served one day after unmolding, additional fruit juice will drain onto the serving plate.) Makes 8 servings.

Peach Melba summer pudding

The peach-raspberry combination produces a gorgeous rose-colored summer pudding. A souffle dish or round bowl works well for this dessert.

10 to 12 slices (½ inch thick or less) firm-textured white bread, crusts removed

3 cups (about 11/4 pounds) peeled peaches, cut in ½-inch pieces

1/3 cup sugar

4 cups fresh raspberries

2 tablespoon amaretto (almond liqueur), optional

Fresh raspberries for garnish, optional

Line a 1-quart souffle dish with plastic wrap, letting it extend over the edges. Place bread slices in the bottom of the bowl. Cut 6 slices of the bread in half, and line the sides of the bowl with bread. The edges of each piece should touch so there are no spaces. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine peach pieces and sugar with 3 tablespoons water. Cook, covered, over medium heat just to dissolve the sugar and soften the peaches, about 5 minutes. Uncover and bring to a simmer, stirring. Add raspberries; bring just to a simmer again, without stirring, about 2 minutes.

Drain berries, reserving juice. Measure 3/4 cup juice. Stir in amaretto, if desired. Pour 2 tablespoons juice into a small bowl; cover and refrigerate it. (This will be used when the pudding is unmolded.)

Pour 1/4 cup juice into bread-lined dish. Spoon half of fruit into bowl. Cover with a layer of bread slices. Pour 1/4 cup juice over, and spoon in remaining berries. Pour remaining juice over. Place bread slices over the top. Cover with plastic wrap, then with a plate or saucer that fits just inside the bowl.

Put bowl on a large plate to catch any drips and put a weight on top of plate. (An unopened medium-size can works well.) Refrigerate overnight.

To serve, invert pudding onto a serving dish that has a rim or low sides to catch any juice. Pull on the ends of the plastic wrap to release the pudding. Brush reserved 2 tablespoons of juice over any spots where juice has not soaked into the bread. Scatter fresh raspberries over the top, if desired. Cut the cold pudding into wedges. (Note that although the pudding can be served one day after unmolding, additional fruit juice will drain from it onto the serving plate.) Makes 8 servings..

Jubilee cherry summer pudding

Use ramekins or custard cups that are at least 2 inches high for these single-serving puddings. Only a small amount of liquid is added to these puddings so they don’t get soggy.

If needed, additional liquid can be brushed on the outside or poured on after the puddings are removed from their molds. Other good bread or cake choices include brioche slices with their crusts removed and angel food cake slices.

1 sponge cake cut in 1/4-inch-thick slices

4 cups fresh cherries, pitted and cut in quarters

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon kirsch liqueur or 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

6 whole cherries with stems on for garnish, optional

Line 6 8-ounce ramekins or custard cups with plastic wrap, letting it extend over the edges. Fit cake slices in the bottom of ramekins. Line sides of ramekins with cake slices, trimming the slices to fit. The cake edges should touch so there are no spaces. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine cherries and sugar with 3 tablespoons water. Cook, covered, over medium heat just to dissolve the sugar, and soften the cherries, about 5 minutes. Uncover and bring to a simmer, stirring. Remove from heat and add the kirsch or almond extract.

Drain cherries, reserving the juice. You will have about ½ cup juice. Pour 2 tablespoons of the juice into a small bowl and cover and refrigerate it. This will be used when the puddings are unmolded.

Pour about 1½ teaspoons juice into each ramekin. Spoon cherries into ramekins, dividing them evenly. Spoon 1½ teaspoons of juice into each cherry-filled ramekin. Pour any remaining juice over the puddings when they are taken out of their molds. Place cake slices over the top of each and cover with plastic wrap. Stack ramekins in stacks of three, put foil over the top one of each stack, and weight it with a small jar or can. (Tomato paste works well.) Put stacks on a large plate to catch any drips. Refrigerate overnight.

To serve, invert each pudding onto an individual serving dish that has a rim or low sides to catch any juices. Pull on the ends of the plastic wrap to release pudding.

Brush reserved 2 tablespoons of juice over any spots where juice has not soaked into cake. Garnish each with a stemmed cherry, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

Elinor Klivans’ newest book is “Big Fat Cookies” (Chronicle Books).


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