Are you looking for simple, no-fuss, wholesome desserts that will delight your family and woo your guests? Then I suggest you try these two quick and easy baked puddings: Nana’s Impossible Pie and Blueberry Bread and Butter Pudding. You’ll find my recipes at the end of this post.
Nana’s Impossible Pie and Bread and Butter Pudding (of which Blueberry Bread and Butter Pudding is a variation) are two of my favourite puddings.
Here are the reasons why.
Both puddings are quick and easy to prepare. No special skills or experience are needed. Their ingredients are inexpensive and readily available. The recipes are versatile – you can be creative, exchanging or omitting certain ingredients with success. Cooking time is relatively short, another plus. The puddings are wholesome and filling, attractive and delicious. Finally, they are equally enjoyable served either warm (straight out of the oven) or cold (they can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days).
What you need to make these puddings:
- A convection oven (electric or gas)
- A large shallow oven-proof dish (pyrex, ceramic, enamel)
- Mixing bowl, measuring cups and spoons, knives, bread board, whisk or hand beater
- Everyday ingredients (milk, eggs, butter, jam, sugar, flour, bread, coconut)
- Spice (nutmeg), flavouring (vanilla extract) and a punnet of blueberries.
Both puddings are cooked by baking in a convection oven. The prepared mixture is placed in a large shallow oven-proof dish, which may be round, square or rectangular. Nana’s Impossible Pie takes a little longer to cook than Blueberry Bread and Butter Pudding (45-50 minutes compared with 35-40 minutes). The puddings will be ready when the top is a light golden brown. Both require a moderate oven temperature.
I’ve been making these two puddings for more than 30 years.
I made my first Bread and Butter Pudding in the mid-1970s and Nana’s Impossible Pie for the first time in the late 1980s. These puddings are not new. The basic recipes are not new. In fact, in preparing this post, I decided to investigate the origin and history of these puddings. Where did they come from? When? In what form? How have they changed? You may be surprised to learn that one has a long history, the other comparatively short.
The story of Bread and Butter Pudding
Puddings (both sweet and savoury) have been enjoyed by people since ancient times. Bread pudding, in particular, has been made by cooks in the western world (where bread is a staple food) for centuries. Food historians tell us that the sweet bread pudding was devised by frugal cooks who didn’t want to waste stale bread.
Initially, the sweet bread pudding was very basic. It combined bread, milk and a sweetener. The bread was soaked in milk, a sweetener added, then the mixture was baked in an oven. Addition of fat, preferably butter, and dried fruit, such as currants, came later. This enhanced version of bread pudding became known as Bread and Butter Pudding. It combined bread, milk, sweetener, butter and dried fruit. Any kind of bread, whether sliced or in the form of breadcrumbs, was used.
Bread and Butter Pudding as we know it today originated in Britain in the 17th or 18th century. It combines buttered bread, a mixture of milk and eggs, sweetener and dried or fresh fruit (optional), with the resulting mixture baked in the oven. Essentially it’s a baked custard with the addition of bread.
A custard, by definition, is a mixture of milk and eggs thickened by gentle heating. Custards, which may be sweet or savoury, have a long culinary history. In Britain and France, for example, custards baked in a pastry shell (custard tarts) were popular as far back as the Middle Ages.
From the earliest days of British settlement in Australia, Bread and Butter Pudding was a staple dessert for many families. It was one way of making use of stale or leftover bread. I think every home cook must have known how to make Bread and Butter Pudding. Indeed, I found the following recipe for Bread and Butter Pudding in an 1880 edition of a Queensland newspaper:
Spread some thin slices of bread with butter, lay them in a pie dish with a little sugar and half a cup of milk; let it stand an hour or two; beat two eggs with one cup of milk, pour over the bread and butter, and bake half an hour.
• • •
Surprisingly, though, neither my mother nor my grandmother made Bread and Butter Pudding. When I was growing up (in the 1950s and 1960s) it was not one of our family desserts. I’ve often wondered why, given that Bread and Butter Pudding was reputedly so common.
In preparing this post, I looked for Bread and Butter Pudding in the “Puddings” section of my mother’s 1934 and 1949 cookery books. It is not there. However, almost by accident, I discovered a recipe for “Bread Pudding” in the “Invalid Cookery” section of my mother’s 1934 cookery book! Perhaps that’s why neither she nor my grandmother made it as a family dessert. You only ate Bread Pudding when you were sick! I’ve included the recipe below. Note that it combines breadcrumbs, lemon-flavoured milk, one beaten egg, sugar and dried fruit, but no butter.
Cut the rind of half a lemon very thinly, and boil it in 1 pint of milk. Strain, and add 2ozs of breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoonful of powdered white sugar, and 2ozs of raisins, stoned and chopped; or preserved cherries, a little grated nutmeg, and a well-beaten egg. Mix thoroughly, and let it stand for an hour. Then put into a buttered pie dish, and bake gently for an hour and a half. Serve with custard or cream.
I think there is another reason why my mother never made Bread and Butter Pudding. As I recall, she used our leftover bread to make breadcrumbs, either soft or dry. To make soft crumbs (to stuff a chicken, for example), she would scrape the inside of the old bread with a fork. To make dry breadcrumbs she placed thin slices of bread on a tray in a slow oven, to dry out, then used a rolling pin to crush the dry bread into fine crumbs. In our household there was never any leftover or stale bread to warrant making Bread and Butter Pudding (or Bread Pudding).
What did other Australians think about Bread Pudding? I wonder. Here are a couple of quotes from Australian newspapers in the 1940s, which reveal attitudes towards Bread Pudding at the time:
“Bread pudding can be stodgy and uninteresting, but here is a recipe which will make new friends for an old dish.” (Melbourne’s Age, 1941)
“Duller than a dish of bread pudding! That expression was a favourite, but not anymore. Because we find bread pudding very, very interesting when its ingredients include brown sugar and cinnamon.” (Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative, 1943)
• • •
I made my first Bread and Butter Pudding in the mid-1970s.
By then this simple dessert was coming back into vogue. For me, at least, Bread and Butter Pudding was a novelty. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about it. I found a recipe under the heading “Milk Puddings” in one of my earliest cookery books, a 1970 edition of The Coronation Cookery Book compiled by The Country Women’s Association of NSW. Through the eyes of an inexperienced cook it looked easy to make so I tried it. Success! I’ve used this recipe – and variations of it – ever since. Unlike my mother, I don’t make my own breadcrumbs. So, whenever I have leftover bread and I don’t want to freeze it I make Bread and Butter Pudding.
Recently I had to prepare a meal for guests at short notice. After deciding on the main course, I sought a dessert that is quick and easy to make, yet inviting and nutritious. Blueberries were cheap at the time and I had a punnet of fresh blueberries in the refrigerator. “Why not make Bread and Butter Pudding and use blueberries instead of sultanas? Blueberries will be a bonus,” I mused. “After all, blueberries are one of the top 10 superfoods.” Blueberry Bread and Butter Pudding was the result. Needless to say, this creation was a winner. Our guests loved it, I loved it, and so did my husband.
The Impossible Pie story
Compared with Bread and Butter Pudding, which has a long culinary history, the Impossible Pie is a relatively recent invention. It originated in the United States of America (USA) in the second half of the 20th century. The exact date is not known. According to the Food Timeline, the first recipe for an Impossible Pie was published in the USA in 1968. Like the early puddings, an Impossible Pie may be sweet or savoury.
Why is it called an “Impossible” Pie (or “Mystery” Pie)?
It’s because the ingredients used in making an Impossible Pie, when mixed and poured into a pie dish, miraculously settle during baking into a pie formation: crust and filling. This is the mystery of the “Impossible” Pie.
The Impossible Pie was popularized in the 1970s and 1980s by two American food manufacturing companies, General Mills (home of Betty Crocker products and Bisquick) and General Foods (now Kraft). It began with General Mills providing recipes for various versions of Impossible Pie on its Bisquick packaging. Bisquick is an all-purpose baking mix invented in 1930 by the General Mills corporation. One cup of Bisquick is equivalent to a mixture of 1 cup of plain flour, 1½ teaspoons of baking powder, ½ teaspoon of salt and 2½ tablespoons of oil or melted butter.
In 1976 General Foods adapted the basic formula of the Bisquick Impossible Pie to produce its Amazing Coconut Pie. It was a sweet pie, with coconut and raisins two of its ingredients. This version of the Impossible Pie soon became very popular among home cooks in the USA.
I’m not sure when the Impossible Pie was introduced to Australian home cooks. The recipe isn’t in any of my 1980s or 1990s cookery books. The first time I made an Impossible Pie was in the late 1980s, after my next-door neighbour shared her recipe for Nana’s Impossible Pie with me.
Nana’s Impossible Pie, like Bread and Butter Pudding, is a custard-based baked pudding. The main difference, however, is that during the baking of Nana’s Impossible Pie the ingredients separate to form its three distinct layers: soft pastry base, luscious custard centre and crunchy coconut top. It really is quite amazing! From the first time I made this wonderful dessert, I was won over. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve made it since then.
NANA’S IMPOSSIBLE PIE
½ cup plain flour
1 cup coconut
¾ cup caster sugar
125 g butter (melted)
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: Pulp of 1-2 passionfruit
- Place all ingredients into a large bowl and beat well.
- Pour mixture into a well-greased large shallow dish.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes in a moderate oven (180 degrees Celcius or 160 degrees Celcius fan-forced) or until the top is golden.
- Serve warm or cold with fruit and/or a scoop of icecream.
Source: Mrs Rae Wylie, my next-door neighbour, late 1980s.
BLUEBERRY BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING
1 punnet (200g) fresh blueberries
6 slices of grain or wholemeal bread
butter (for spreading on the bread)
red jam (such as plum or strawberry)
1 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2½ cups milk
For sprinkling on top
- Spread butter on three slices of bread and jam on the other three.
- Depending on the shape of your baking dish, cut the bread into triangles, squares or rectangles. For my circular dish, I used triangles.
- Arrange a layer of the buttered bread butter-side down in the bottom of the baking dish. Drop a handful of blueberries on top of the bread. Repeat using bread spread with jam and more blueberries. Depending on the size of your dish, you will probably need a third layer of bread and blueberries.
- Add the eggs, sugar, vanilla and milk to a bowl and beat until well mixed.
- Pour the egg mixture gently over the layers of bread, making sure all the bread is covered. Gently press the bread into the liquid so it is absorbed.
- Sprinkle a little ground nutmeg and desiccated coconut on top.
- Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees Celcius or 160 degrees Celcius if using a fan-forced oven) for 35-40 minutes. The pudding will be ready when the top is lightly browned and the mixture has risen.
- Set the pudding aside to cool a little before serving. Serve with a scoop of vanilla icecream. This pudding is delicious served while it is warm. However, it can be stored in the refrigerator and served the next day and it will still be delicious.
Source: “The Coronation Cookery Book” compiled by The Country Women’s Association of New South Wales, 10th Edition – Revised, 1970. Adapted by Judy Salecich.
This post is a sequel to Fail-Me-Never Steamed Pudding (August 3, 2016), which was also about puddings. In that post I listed puddings my grandmother and my mother made and my favourite puddings (including Bread and Butter Pudding and Nana’s Impossible Pie). There you will find my mother’s recipe for Fail-Me-Never Steamed Pudding, a wonderful fool-proof pudding that is cooked in a basin over a steam bath. It’s just perfect for this time of year. Just click on the link to access the story and recipe.
Country Women’s Association of New South Wales, Australia, The. (1970). The Coronation Cookery Book. (10th Edition – Revised). Sydney: Printed by W.A. Pepperday Pty. Ltd.
‘Bread and Butter Pudding’. Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), Saturday 11 December 1880, page 747. Online: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/20337121
‘Bread and Butter Pudding’. Queensland Country Life (Qld. : 1900 – 1954), Monday 1 September 1902, page 29. Online: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/101454317
‘Bread Pudding.’ Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), Thursday 12 August 1943, page 19.
‘Bread Pudding with a Difference.’ Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), Saturday 26 April 1941, page 9. Online: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/205148410
‘Bread Pudding’. In Food Timeline (website). Online: http://foodtimeline.org/foodpuddings.html#bread
‘Custard’. In Food Timeline (website). Online: http://foodtimeline.org/foodpuddings.html#custard
‘Impossible Pie’. In Food Timeline (website). Online: http://foodtimeline.org/foodpies.html#impossible