Tomorrow is one of the greatest events in my family calendar: my mother’s birthday. This is always a merry occasion, never moreso than three years ago when we persuaded her to let us organise a party in her honour.
My mother, as I have probably mentioned before, is one of the kindest, happiest creatures in the world, though she refuses to believe it. I vividly remember the harshest comment she has ever made about another human being: when I was seventeen and we were waiting for a train at Darlington station, a tiny old man shuffled by us and my mum quietly said to me, “He looks like a gnome!” As I chuckled, she was immediately struck by remorse: “Wasn’t that a horrible thing to say!” Now, on the rare occasions when she says anything less than 100% complimentary about any person, real or fictional, I immediately berate her, “Do you remember that man you called a gnome? You’re horrid!” Perhaps I’ve teased her so often that she really believes she could be a nicer person. But she is wrong.
She also mistakenly believes she is not popular – I think she genuinely thought the party would just be the usual four of us eating cake. Clearly though it’s impossible to be as nice as she is and not to be admired and liked by everyone, so of course family and friends arrived from all around the country, forking out for hotels overnight, because that is what you do when you know someone so special.
There’s no party tomorrow, but if I were home I would prepare her a party breakfast in the form of this divine bread and butter pudding. I’m sure when she reads this post, all she will see is that she’s being exposed as a bully of the elderly, whereas others will see the clear truth: that she is an absolute ray of sunshine, and everyone who knows her wishes her the loveliest of birthdays.
Sugared Brioche Perdu
Serves 4, from Alice’s Cook Book by Alice Hart
6 slices brioche (about 200g)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
150g creme fraiche
2 tsp vanilla extract
100g demerera sugar
400g strawberries, hulled, and halved if large
4tbsp caster sugar
4 tsp balsamic vinegar
1. The night before: butter a large gratin dish and lay in the slices of brioche (I could only get brioche rolls – slices from a loaf would be absolutely fine), overlapping.
2. Whisk together the eggs, milk, creme fraiche, vanilla, nutmeg and 150g demerera sugar.
3. Slowly pour over the brioche. Refrigerate overnight.
4. Remove it from the fridge and let it sit for 20 minutes at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 180C. Melt the butter.
5. Sprinkle the top with the remaining demerera sugar and drizzle with melted butter.
6. Bake for about 40 minutes until puffed up and golden.
7. Meanwhile, place the strawberries, caster sugar and balsamic vinegar in a bowl and gently crush the strawberries. Leave to macerate at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
8. Let the cooked brioche pudding stand for 5 minutes, then cut into squares and serve topped with a spoonful of strawberries.