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A Foolproof Sauce

December 19, 1996|MARION CUNNINGHAM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Cunningham's latest book is "Cooking With Children," Alfred A. Knopf,1995

The other night, I was served bread sauce at a restaurant. There it was, right next to my lamb chops. As far as I know, this was the first sighting of bread sauce in 50 years.

It's a traditional sauce in England, where it has usually been served with game birds. It was also very popular in 19th and early 20th century America.

As simple as white sauce is to make, bread sauce is even easier. After all, white sauce can become lumpy, and new cooks often feel timid about that. Bread sauce can't lump, and no expertise is needed to make it. Not only that, it's thrifty: It's made from leftover bread.

Sauces in general seem to have been fading from the American table in the last 25 or 30 years. The most popular sauces today are sauces for pasta, as opposed to meat or dessert sauces. I looked at the list of sauces in the revision of "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook" that I did in 1979, and the index listed 106 savory sauces and 54 dessert sauces; in my 1990 revision, the number had dropped to 63 savory and 23 dessert. Our cooking, both in restaurants and homes, has become more rustic and less refined.

On the other hand, the reappearance of bread sauce shows that everything old eventually becomes new again.

BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING

6 or 7 slices bread (not sourdough), crusts removed

1/4 cup butter, at room temperature

3 eggs

2 yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

1/2 cup whipping cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Butter 1 side of each slice of bread. Beat together eggs, yolks, sugar and salt in large bowl until thoroughly mixed.

Heat together milk and cream in heavy-bottomed saucepan until scalded (tiny bubbles will form around edge of pan). Remove from heat and, whisking briskly, slowly add egg mixture. Stir in vanilla.

Layer bread, buttered side up, in 1-quart baking dish. Strain custard into dish (bread will float to top). Place baking dish in larger pan in oven and add boiling water to 2 1/2 inches up side of baking dish.

Bake at 375 degrees until the custard is set except for a slight tremble in the center, 35 to 45 minutes. Don't over-bake; pudding is best when delicate and tender.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

367 calories; 336 mg sodium; 252 mg cholesterol; 22 grams fat; 34 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 0.05 gram fiber.

BREAD SAUCE

You can use many flavors in this sauce. I melted in 2 squares of chocolate and added a little sugar to make a chocolate dessert sauce. I also tried another version with ground mustard, which was good on fish. You can use almost anything unless it's sour, because acids will curdle the milk.

Milk

1/4 cup butter

1 small onion, chopped

1 bay leaf, torn into several pieces

Salt, pepper

Crumbs from 3 or 4 slices white bread

Heat 1 1/4 cups milk, butter, onion, bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste in heavy-bottomed saucepan or double boiler over medium-low heat. Cook very slowly so flavors have chance to develop.

When milk is scalded (tiny bubbles form around outer edges of pan), add bread crumbs and stir until thickened. If too thick, add more milk. Taste and add more salt if needed. Sauce can be refrigerated and reheated when needed.

Makes about 2 cups.

Each tablespoon contains about:

25 calories; 41 mg sodium; 5 mg cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 2 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.02 gram fiber.

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