It’s the middle of May and I’m here today to talk about Christmas.
Yes, I’m 5 months and a whole season too late, but this is how we roll over here. So, here’s a picture.
If you’ve guessed bread pudding, then you’re right. A large vat of messy, melt-y, boozy chocolate bread pudding with crusty bits at the edges.I made my first last Christmas and this one a couple of days back. We’ve been high on alcohol and carbohydrates (and episodes of Game of Thrones) for the last 36 hours.
My mother, though not much of an enthusiast in the kitchen, is a hostess to her bones. She doesn’t even need a reason to call up a handful of people in a moment’s notice for an impromptu dinner party and have them show up for a guaranteed good time. Complete with good food, of course. And, the guests never fail to show up. She might serve some complex chicken rice (a homely substitute for the more elaborate Indian biryani) with cucumber raita. Or she might just go plain and simple with some fish curry and rice. And then comes Christmas.
You may find it weird that a family of fish-curry-eating, rosogolla chomping, cricket worshiping thoroughbred Bengalis, who by the way, prefer Darjeeling tea over Earl Grey any day, celebrate Christmas like there’s no tomorrow. I don’t blame you. It’s true.
When Christmas rolls around in anything but chilly Kolkata, we invite a bucket load of fellow crazy Bengalis over for dinner. We exchange gifts and crack awkward room-emptying jokes. And then we stuff ourselves with food. The food admittedly is a mixture of everything and do not have the remotest similarity to any Christmas dinner that you might be imagining right now.
I have an excerpt here that I wrote on the 2011 Christmas, when this blog was just a baby;
“It started with a round of prawn cocktails and chicken & cheese balls. Then we moved on to chicks in blankets, chicken sausages wrapped in turkey bacon, processed and proud. The table was flecked with small plates of grilled pineapple kebabs on toothpicks and wine glasses filled to the brim with mulled wine and port. Lamb stuffed tomatoes came next, with potato & leek crostinis following close by. The mains were two of these humongous trays of pasta bake and four large roasted chickens. The night ended well with a session of Minute To Win It inspired games, more port, a lot of cursing and laughter and tiramisu shots. I discovered talents that I did not know I had – that I could cook and bake for 30 people if I was given 8 hours prep-time and two very worthy helpers (Ma and Cook). I also started aching in spots I did not know existed on my body. And more importantly, I realized that it would be a long time before I would go near a sausage.”
2012 saw a spectacular Kerala fish curry that we served with couscous. Our guests were still pretty much into the pigs-in-the-blanket that we had fed them moments before, when the curry arrived on the table. It’s safe to say that the food has always been beyond Christmas-y. I think the only time it came even remotely close to being Christmas-y was when I whipped out Nigella Lawson’s Christmas Cake and served it with a dusting of snowy sugar, sans malt candies and glittery starts. You get my point obviously.
We love our Durga Pujas and we love our Christmases. We see nothing wrong in scooping chicken curry up with freshly baked French baguettes. We are secularism personified. We are Bengalis.
Coming back the bread pudding. It featured on last year’s Christmas Day menu. It just sat on the menu like a large formidable sumo wrestler that took up all the space and overshadowed all the other items and made them look weak and unimportant. A trip to the supermarket a couple of days back, yielded in a loaf of a white & brown swirl bread (such a novelty!) and I knew it would end up as a bread pudding. As the bread pudding soaked in rum, dotted with nuts and baked in custard making which requires you to be a little heavy-handed with the cocoa powder. It’s best eaten cold with crème anglaise poured on top (try the one from The Kitchn), after dinner or late at night while everyone’s asleep and the house is quiet and all you can hear is Peter Dinklage’s hoarse voice through the dim glow of your television. It may not be all out twinkling-tree-gifts-galore-carols-everywhere, but it is still a pretty solid reminder of Christmas, the way we do it out here.
Chocolate Bread Pudding that is not always for Christmas
– 1 loaf of bread (this majorly depends on the size of your loaf and the size of your tin. I used 1 and a half loaves for the baking dish above)
– 2 cups of whole milk
– 1 cup of double cream
– 1 & 1/4 cup of white granulated sugar (you can increase the amount depending on how much of a sweet-tooth you and your guests have)
– 6 eggs
– 1/4 cup of natural cocoa powder, 70% preferably
– 2 tsp of vanilla extract (you could go all fancy-schmancy and use the seeds of a vanilla pod)
– A pinch of salt
– 1/4 cup of white or dark rum
– 2 cups of mixed nuts, toasted (cashews, almonds, hazelnuts…but no peanuts please)
– Desiccated coconut & shaved chocolate, optional
– Creme Anglaise, optional
Grease a 12″ baking dish/tin generously with non-stick spray or butter. Slice the bread in triangles with a serrated knife and set aside.
In a heat-proof bowl crack in the eggs and set aside. Heat the milk, cream and sugar in a large pan till the sugar has dissolved and the mixture bubbles up at the edges. Make sure the mixture doesn’t boil over. Take it off heat and pour it slowly into the bowl with the eggs, beating constantly. At this point, pouring slowly and beating vigorously is crucial because you don’t want the eggs to scramble. Add in the cocoa powder and stir so no lumps remain. Once everything is combined, pour the mixture back into the pan (in which you heated the milk) and set it over medium heat. Keep stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to make sure the mixture doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. Keep doing this till the mixture turns thick and custard-y and coats the back of the spoon easily. Take it off heat. Stir in the vanilla, rum and salt and set aside to cool. At this point, if you’ve got a lumpy custard with bits of cooked egg, you could easily strain the mixture into another pan to get rid of the lumps and bits.
Once the custard is cool, you can start layering up the pudding. Start with a layer of the bread triangle at the bottom. Ladle over with some of the cocoa custard till the slices are evenly soaked. Sprinkle over the toasted and chopped nuts. Repeat the layering till the rim of the baking dish. Finish with a layer of nuts and a handful of coconut flakes or chocolate shavings, if you’re using any. Rest the unbaked pudding in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. More, if you’ve got the time, because it really really makes a difference.
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Pop the pudding straight out of the fridge and into the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the edges start coming away from the sides of the dish/tin and the center is just set. You could serve it hot, but we here prefer it cold. It doesn’t have to be Christmas though.