Festive Bread Pudding (vegan with vegetarian option)

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My festive bread pudding recipe is perfect for using up stale bread. The addition of masala chai spice and cranberries makes this traditional everyday cake into something very special indeed! This bread pudding is super-easy to make, and will keep for several days at room temperature. It freezes well, too.

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What is bread pudding?

Not to be confused with bread and butter pudding, British bread pudding is a robust, moist, spiced fruit cake that’s traditionally made with stale bread, dried fruit and candied peel, sweet spices, sugar, lard, milk, and eggs.

Allegedly, bread pudding gained popularity in London and the home counties during WWII but I’m not entirely convinced. Even though bread wasn’t rationed in Britain until after the war, dried fruit was heavily rationed from 1942, and eggs, dairy, and lard from almost the start of the war.

Mrs Beeton’s bread pudding

I can tell you, however, that Mrs Beeton has two recipes for baked bread pudding in her Book of Household Management. (See my lemon curd post for details of how to get a free copy for yourself.)

She also recommends bread pudding as a good food for people suffering from cholera…

“… bread puddings will be generally relished, and be eaten with advantage.”

The Lady’s Own Cookbook also contains two recipes for bread pudding.

Wet Nelly

Nelson’s Cake – a Lancashire recipe that dates back to Georgian Britain – is generally accepted to be the precursor of bread pudding.

Bread pudding is a more moist version of Nelson Cake (which is also made with bread, fruit, and spices, plus rum), and so earned itself the nickname of Wet Nelly. As is in ‘wet Nelson’s (Nelly) cake’.

The nickname thrives in Liverpool and other Northern areas but I must admit that I’ve never heard anyone from the South East call bread pudding Wet Nelly. I do have several Scouser chums who refuse to call it anything else though!

My gran’s bread pudding

Every Sunday, while cooking the roast, my gran would also make bread pudding. It was one of the things I looked forward to the most about afternoon tea because it meant having a huge still-warm slice of the most deliciously moist and fruity pudding-cakey-thing!

Like most women of her generation, Gran used lard in her bread pudding. In fact, this is how I learned to make it. Nowadays, a lot of people use butter but to me, that defeats the point of bread pud.

What’s in bread pudding?

It’s supposed to be a really frugal dish, made from leftovers, particularly bread. I know that Gran used to save up all the ends of loaves all week, in order to make bread pudding, and she would never have used something as expensive as butter. Not when lard would do just as well!

It’s usual to add mixed peel but I’ve never been keen, so Gran used to just add a bit more dried fruit. Usually currants and sultanas.

She only ever used white bread to make bread pudding, never brown. In fact, I don’t recall my gran ever buying or making brown bread! She always cut the crusts off too (and made them into breadcrumbs).

Crusts or no crusts?

When I was younger and lazier, I’d leave the crusts on but with the wisdom that age brings, I realised Gran was right. Removing the crusts gives the bread pudding a much softer and smoother texture.

A good way to use up stale bread

Bread was cheap when I was a child, and such a great tum filler. It made sense to use it in as many ways possible. Still does, to be honest.

That said, what was our everyday bread back then is rather more expensive now, and today’s cheap bread isn’t really good for much at all, in my opinion!

My stuffing recipe is actually a variation of the bread stuffing my gran always made.

Bread pudding (and indeed bread and butter pudding) was an incredibly frugal way to make a filling and delicious treat.

Making sausages with bread

My gran, BTW, also made sausages with bread. She’d use bits and pieces of meat leftover from making other dishes, and grind it all up with dried herbs, spices, and bread. She never would have foreseen that five decades later, her granddaughter would be making (meatless) sausages from bread, too!

OK, vital wheat gluten is only a component of bread but, y’know, poetic license!

Do check out these festive recipes while you’re here!

  • Stuffed seitan roast
  • Mushroom gravy
  • Maple roast roots
  • Turkish delight
  • Luxury mincemeat
  • Nutella liqueur
  • Pryaniki
  • Mozartkugeln

Ingredients for this festive bread pudding recipe

  • white bread
  • sultanas
  • dried cranberries
  • chai masala (or mixed spice)
  • milk (plant-based or dairy) or tea
  • eggs (flax, or chia, hen)
  • sugar
  • solid vegetable oil (or coconut oil but use refined unless you want a slight coconut flavour!)

How to make bread pudding

  • Tear the bread into chunks, and place in a large mixing bowl, along with the dried fruits and spice. Mix well.
  • Pour over the liquid, and using your hands, squish everything together. (I used to love doing this part, as a kid!) Make sure the bread is completely smooshed.
  • Add the eggs and sugar, and mix well. Set aside for an hour for the liquids to become fully absorbed.
  • Heat your oven to 180°C (350°F / gas mark 4), and grease and line a 20cm (8″) square cake tin with baking parchment.
  • Add the melted coconut oil to the mix, and stir well.
  • Tip the bread pudding mixture into the cake tin, press down, making sure it’s level, the sprinkle the demerara over the top.
  • Bake in the centre of the oven for 1½ hours, until the bread pudding is firm but springy to the touch.
  • Remove from the oven, and set aside to cool in the tin for 10 mins, before turning out.
  • Remove the baking parchment, and cut the bread pudding into 9 squares.
  • Serve warm.
After leaving to soak overnight!

Notes and tips

  • Sourdough absolutely does not work for bread pudding! Pre-sliced bread tends to be far too insubstantial. The best bread is a basic white bloomer, nothing fancy.
  • Save your crusts and offcuts, and freeze until you have enough to make this recipe!
  • Use your own choice of dried fruit if you don’t want to use sultanas and cranberries. Currants and raisins are traditional, as it mixed peel. Dried figs, prunes, and apricots work well, too.
  • No chai masala? Use 2 tablespoon mixed spice instead.
  • My preferred vegetable oil is of the solid variety, such as Trex. Coconut oil works well, too.
  • This bread pudding will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days, or in the freezer for up to three months.
  • To make a flax or chia egg, mix together 1 tablespoon ground seeds with 3 tablespoon warm water. Set aside to become gelatinous.
  • If you don’t want to use any kind of milk, substitute tea. 8 teaspoon (or 8 teabags) black tea + 600ml (20 oz) boiling water, steeped for 30 minutes, then strained.

Apparently, some folk pour hot custard over their bread pudding but I have to admit, it’s not something I’ve ever tried. For me, the best way to have it is plain, warm, and with a cup of Earl Grey!


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