(WASHINGTON POST) - When berry season comes around, I practically hear trumpets announcing the fruit's arrival at the local market. I am reliably ready to pounce - eager to pile the plump beauties onto my yogurt bowls, work them into salads, blend them into smoothies and bake them into pies and muffins.
When I first encountered this classic U.K. dessert - what Britons call a "pudding" - I was enthralled. It is stunning, with a cascade of berries mingling with layers of bread soaked and pressed in the fruit's brilliantly hued juices. The dish has the quality of an elegantly plated, berry-soaked sponge cake, but besides the fruit, it is made with little more than humble slices of bread. The usual recipe involves heaps of sugar though, so I decided to take a stab at a better-for-you version and was thrilled with the result.
The key twist is to take advantage of the inherent sweetness of ripe bananas, which are not a typical summer pudding component. Stirring the mashed banana into the juice that is rendered from heating the berries adds enough sweetness that only a little honey is needed to round it out, plus you get the added layer of banana flavour that pairs so well with strawberries and blueberries.
I also used whole-grain bread instead of white, a change that gives the dessert a somewhat healthier sensibility without sacrificing an essential tender, melt-in-your mouth quality. This is a treat that is truly worthy of its very special star ingredient.
SUMMER BERRY-BANANA PUDDINGS
You will need six 1-cup ramekins.
The puddings need to be refrigerated for at least six hours, and up to one day in advance.
12 slices soft whole-wheat bread, crusts removed (170g
2 cups sliced strawberries, plus more for optional garnish
2 cups blueberries, plus more for optional garnish
2 cups raspberries
1/4 cup water
3 Tbsps honey
2 very ripe medium bananas
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Cut a round from each piece of bread that will just fit into your 1-cup ramekins. Save the remaining scraps of bread for another use, such as bread crumbs.
2. Combine the berries, water and honey in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the berries break down. While the berry mixture is still hot, mash the banana with a fork until smooth, then stir it into the berry mixture, along with the vanilla extract.
3. Place a heaping tablespoon of the berry-banana mixture in each ramekin. Add one round of bread to each, then divide the remaining berry-banana mixture among the ramekins and top each with another round of bread.
4. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet (to catch any overflowing juices). Loosely cover each one with plastic wrap, then place a 425g weight, such as a can of beans, on top of each one to compress the pudding. Refrigerate for at least six hours, and up to a day.
5. To serve, remove the plastic wrap. Run a knife along the sides of the pudding, then invert each one into a dessert glass or onto a plate. Garnish with the fresh berries, if using.