Bread and butter pudding (or more appropriately, bread and butter pud) is one of those winter warmers that will never go out of fashion. To be fair it was probably never in fashion in the first place, but it certainly played a central role in satisfying the insatiable appetite for sweetness amongst British children. We used to get it everywhere: at school, at home, at our friend’s homes, at our relatives homes, at pretty much any home that would grant us entry. Whilst it may be a stupefyingly simple dessert – bread, butter, milk, sugar, eggs, and maybe a raisin or two (it’s really not rocket science) – it’s also one not to be messed with. It has a childhood innocence to it that is part of its DNA, its raison d’être.
Of course, the best B&B puds are home-made (preferably by your mother or, better still, grandmother), but it’s always interesting to see how others do theirs. It was for this reason – and this reason alone – that I dragged Mika along to the rather absurd Stuttgart Blackforest Cafe on Middle Road last Sunday. I had already recced the site and checked the menu. Sausages, sausages, sausages, and bread and butter pudding. Deal, sealed. Call me a bit naive, but I went with expectations that were higher than they probably should have been. Why? Because 1) it’s been a while since my last B&B pud, and 2) the Blackforest Cafe appeared to be rather authentically Germanic, which I thought was a good thing. ‘Thought’ being the operative word here, not ‘knew’.
Just to get things straight from the outset, despite my (fairly impeccable, not to say unprecedented) levels of preparation, the one thing that undermined the whole experience was that of misrepresentation. The menu claim of “Warm bread and butter pudding with custard” (SGD 10+GST+service) was what captured my attention in the first place, not cold bread and butter pudding with ice cream. Semantics this is not – the difference between the two dishes is nothing less than biblical.
Now I’m not sure if this is a British vs. European (Kirschenmichel) thing, or perhaps an authenticist vs. Singapore imitationist thing, but B&B pud should never, ever be served cold. Ever. Even if it’s 150 degrees outside (or inside, for that matter), I expect it to be served piping hot. With custard, not watery and flavourless ice cream. The last time I ate a B&B pud was at the Fairmont Hotel, where it was served warm for tea, with hot vanilla sauce. Not perfect, but (free and) a million miles better than having it cold with ice cream. Ice cream! To think I actually paid money for such a disservice.
Clearly we were off to a bad start. The mind and the mouth formed an axis of resentment that only a miracle could surmount. It failed. A victory of perception over ‘trying something new’. With every bite I couldn’t erase from my mind the image of a cold, sweet pâté quivering on the fork. A coagulated bloc of rubbery Germanic cold cuts interspersed with bland slices of apple, flavourless raisins and anaemic almonds. All of them unnecessary, all of them doing little more than filling space.
The main problem with this dessert was that it attempted sophistication in a way that ignored the basic beauty of the recipe. There was no crust, no textures to play with. No depth, no blanketing comfort of warm, coddling, sweetened dairy. No gentle spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, anything), no aroma. Just cold, hard sweetness on a plate. It was as contrived as the young Singaporean male sitting behind us, shovelling heaps of wurst and sauerkraut into his mouth using a conjoined fork+knife lifting action. It was misplaced and a bit embarrassing, and ignored the fact that B&B pud appeals to the infant, the pleb, the shameless unsophisticant in all of us. It’s at its best when at its most basic, not its most bastardised. And that’s exactly why this one fell short of das mark.