There are great foods in all our repertoires that have taste memories in them. That take you right back to childhood. Sometimes bad, mostly good (I think I have deliberately erased the really bad ones though...)
Bread pudding is one of the good ones for me. I am talking about proper bread pudding, not bread-and-butter pudding. Good as that is, B&B pudding is very much a dessert, a light egg custard held together with slices of buttered bread and fruit (dried, fresh, even jam). Bread pudding is something quite different, a cake to be eaten alongside a cup of tea, to fill the gap between lunch and dinner, to assuage the after-school hunger of growing kids.
It is as old as the hills, a good working class cake, made by people who couldn't afford to waste anything. These days, of course, we don't have to worry about where every last crust will go, and so we make versions that are considerably more luxurious than the ones made in the days during and between the wars. Mine is certainly more fruity and spicey than my mum's.
Less stodgy too. The wartime recipe I was brought up on had suet and flour in to make it solid and claggy. I loved it at the time, but these days, I want something lighter and less fatty on my palate.
I have been asked many a time for this recipe, but it has always been tricky to get the recipe down. It is, after all, a recipe made to use up leftovers, and for this very reason the quantities are variable, depending on what is actually left over. I know what I want the mix to look like, but how to convey this to someone who hasn't been there whilst I have been cooking is very difficult, and I take my hat off to recipe developers around the world.
So armed with a pencil and a now-rather-sticky notebook, I took the trouble to weigh and measure as I went, and this is what I came up with. Now these measures are not written in stone, this kind of recipe is good natured, it doesn't depend on strict ratios to work, you can up and down the various ingredients as you feel fit. The bread/egg/butter ratio is probably best kept roughly to this, but you can add more/less fruit, sugar, spice, to suit your own taste.
300g Stale bread, cut roughly into chunks (I've made this with stale fruit loaf as well as ordinary bread, works beautifully)
50g soft brown sugar
250g dried fruit
1 tbs black treacle
1 egg, lightly beaten just enough to mix yolk & white together
1 heaped tsp ground mixed spice
Soak the bread in COLD water to cover until the crusts on the bread are nice and soft. Squeeze the water out of the bread until it is as dry as you can get it. Put the squeezed bread into a mixing bowl, throw the water away.
Roughly break the bread up (sort of squish it between your fingers, like making mud pies)
In a small saucepan, melt the butter and black treacle together (TIP warm the spoon first before you get the treacle out of the tin, then it just slides off the spoon into the pan). You just want it warm and runny, don't let it boil - it turns into toffee pretty quickly.
Add the fruit, egg, sugar and spice to the bread, together with the treacle/butter mix and mix it all up. It should be quite a sloppy mix, very similar to Christmas Pudding.
Turn into a greased and base lined tin - usually people would cook this in a flat traybake tin, but I have recently started cooking it in a 1lb loaf tin, I find that I get more squishy middle bit, which is the bit I like. If you like the crunchy outside, then a traybake will be better for you.
Run a fork over the top surface to roughen it up, and sprinkle with a little extra sugar - demerara is good if you have any, or just ordinary granulated.
Bake at medium temperature (roughly Gas Mark 4, 350/180 degrees but (in particular if you have a fan oven) do check the temperature and timing, the raisins can turn into little charred bullets if your oven cooks hot), for about an hour. It won't rise much, and when you test it it will probably still be a little damp, that's ok. Sprinkle with a little more sugar if it isn't crunchy enough on the top for your liking. Let it cool in the tin before taking it out - it is quite delicate, and it will break apart if you take it out whilst it is still hot.
Oh, by the way... I fibbed about it only being a cake. The pudding name is quite right. It is also delicious hot with cream or ice cream as a REAL pudding.
Update January 2015
Among the various comments that I received were some great ideas, people were soaking the bread in cold tea, adding apricots, apples, strawberry jam (yes! honestly!) glace cherries... seems your imagination has no bounds! Read the original comments from the Greedy Piglet Post from 2010 and then come back and add your own thoughts here :)