Friday, 5 August 2011

Bread pudding the Spanish way at Josẽ

Every country which values bread as a staple food has its own recipe for using up leftover crusts.  This week at José in Bermondsey I ate my first Torrijas, a traditional Spanish sweet bread pudding. It's enjoyed particularly in Madrid during Holy Week, though its origins may be Arabic, and I can't imagine how I managed to miss it.  There is more than one version, some using milk-soaked bread, and some prepared with sugared wine.  Recipes are based around a thick slice of bread soaked in the liquid, dipped in egg, fried in olive oil and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.  At Josẽ, sweetened red wine is used.

On my way to his tapas bar this week I fell into step with José and learned he is aiming for an October opening of his new restaurant, Pizarro on the site of Bermondsey Kitchen.  At 194 Bermondsey Street it is only a stone's throw from Josẽ so he can give his attention to both. There will be an open kitchen, a more extensive menu, and a Cava Bar.  As I'm writing this, José has just popped up on Rick Stein's excellent "Spain" TV series, lending his expertise on the Extramadura region.  Now; back to London.

In England there are a number of dishes which make use of leftover bread, mainly desserts, like the simple Bread Pudding, or for a richer version Bread and Butter Pudding.  Then there's Summer Pudding made with a mixture of fresh berries, or a crisp, buttery Apple Charlotte or Brown Betty.  These are recipes appreciated by the thrifty cook, and are rhapsodised over by anyone who remembers them from childhood.  

The French have similar feelings for their Tendresse aux Pommes and Pain Perdu.  In Egypt they have Om Ali, a mixture of bread (sometimes pancakes or pastry), milk, raisins and almonds.  There is a middle-eastern dish of bread, caramel, honey and rosewater called Eish es Serni, and in India Shahi Tukra, bread is fried in ghee and soaked in a sugar syrup infused with saffron and rosewater and added to cream and almonds.  In Italy they prefer to use leftover bread in a savoury dish such as Panzanella (bread and tomato salad) or in a Pancotto bread and vegetable soup.  In southern Italy dried breadcrumbs are used as a topping for pasta dishes in the same way as parmesan is used in the north. 

The Spanish too have their Sopa de Ajo (garlic and bread soup) and Migas (literally "crumbs"), but they also have Torrijas and right now I'm very taken with it.  Sitting close to the kitchen in Josẽ, I noticed a chef cutting, what turned out to be, Torrijas into 'soldiers', finishing them with a trickle of dark syrup and a sprig of mint.  Noticing my interest, a taster was passed over the counter (it's that sort of place).  It was soft and luscious inside, with a cinnamon perfumed outer crunch.  Adult comfort food just made for sharing and a perfect way to finish tapas with a glass of sherry or a cortado.  I don't usually go out to eat and wish for stale bread, but I will now!

All this writing about bread puddings has inspired me to try some of them out.  Expect another recipe soon.  Right now I have some home-made raspberry ice cream to check out.

104 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3UB
Tel: 020 7403 4902 (no reservations)