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My Mother's Bread Sauce

by . Featured in NIGELLA CHRISTMAS
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Introduction

I couldn't have Christmas lunch without bread sauce: just the smell of the milk, infusing on the hob, giving off that familiar scent of onion, mace, bay and clove, lets me know it is Christmas. The idea of a bread sauce remains intensely baffling, possibly even disgusting, to any person who hasn't been brought up with British traditions, but I have, so far, been able to convert Italians, Austrians and even (admittedly with some condescension on their part) a French contingent. I regard bread sauce as not only my legacy from my mother, but every Briton's sacred and stodgy inheritance. I shouldn't have to say it but, given the kind of bread our nation willingly consumes (and my children lead the way here, eschewing all proper loaves), let me warn you now: do not even consider making this with the plastic, sliced stuff.

I couldn't have Christmas lunch without bread sauce: just the smell of the milk, infusing on the hob, giving off that familiar scent of onion, mace, bay and clove, lets me know it is Christmas. The idea of a bread sauce remains intensely baffling, possibly even disgusting, to any person who hasn't been brought up with British traditions, but I have, so far, been able to convert Italians, Austrians and even (admittedly with some condescension on their part) a French contingent. I regard bread sauce as not only my legacy from my mother, but every Briton's sacred and stodgy inheritance. I shouldn't have to say it but, given the kind of bread our nation willingly consumes (and my children lead the way here, eschewing all proper loaves), let me warn you now: do not even consider making this with the plastic, sliced stuff.

My Mother's Bread Sauce
Photo by Lis Parsons

Ingredients

Serves: 10-16 with turkey as part of the Christmas feast

Metric Cups
  • 800 grams good-quality white loaf (sliced thickly and left to stale overnight, see below)
  • 1 litre full fat milk
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes or 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 mace blades or heaped 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 30 grams butter
  • 2 tablespoons double cream (optional)
  • fresh nutmeg
  • 1¾ pounds good-quality white loaf (sliced thickly and left to stale overnight, see below)
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 mace blades or heaped 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)
  • fresh nutmeg

Method

  1. The day before you make this, slice the bread thickly, cut off the crusts (not with too much dedication, as a few bits of brown crust won't matter) and lay the slices on a rack to stale. And as you don't need the 2 end-crusts for the sauce, I'd eat these while they're nice and fresh. I'm afraid I often end up eating the strips of discarded crusts from the slices, too (with a thick layer of butter and a thin one of Marmite).
  2. If you've forgotten to stale the bread, or don't have time, you can speed the process by putting the slices in a very low oven until they feel dry to the touch (though not toasted) - but just don't forget they're there.
  3. On Christmas Day, though you could make this before, prepare the sauce, which is scarcely hard work. Put the milk into a pan. Peel and quarter the onion, stud each quarter with a clove, and drop them, as you do so, into the pan of milk. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns and the blades of mace (or sprinkle the ground mace over) along with the salt and bring to an almost boil, but do not let it boil.
  4. Remove from the heat, cover the pan and let it foggily infuse.
  5. Tear the slices of bread into rough cubes over a bowl, so you catch all the crumbs, too.
  6. When you're not far off serving up, put the pan back on a very low heat, add the bread cubes and cook for about 15 minutes, by which time the sauce should be thick and warm and evocatively fragrant. I have to say I don't bother with removing any of the bits - the onions, the peppercorns and so on - but you can strain the milk before adding the bread if you want to.
  7. Just before serving, stir in the butter and, if you happen to have a carton open, the cream (otherwise, splosh in a little more milk) and some more salt if you think it needs it. Grate over quite a bit of nutmeg, adding more once you've decanted it into a warmed bowl or gravy boat.
  1. The day before you make this, slice the bread thickly, cut off the crusts (not with too much dedication, as a few bits of brown crust won't matter) and lay the slices on a rack to stale. And as you don't need the 2 end-crusts for the sauce, I'd eat these while they're nice and fresh. I'm afraid I often end up eating the strips of discarded crusts from the slices, too (with a thick layer of butter and a thin one of Marmite).
  2. If you've forgotten to stale the bread, or don't have time, you can speed the process by putting the slices in a very low oven until they feel dry to the touch (though not toasted) - but just don't forget they're there.
  3. On Christmas Day, though you could make this before, prepare the sauce, which is scarcely hard work. Put the milk into a pan. Peel and quarter the onion, stud each quarter with a clove, and drop them, as you do so, into the pan of milk. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns and the blades of mace (or sprinkle the ground mace over) along with the salt and bring to an almost boil, but do not let it boil.
  4. Remove from the heat, cover the pan and let it foggily infuse.
  5. Tear the slices of bread into rough cubes over a bowl, so you catch all the crumbs, too.
  6. When you're not far off serving up, put the pan back on a very low heat, add the bread cubes and cook for about 15 minutes, by which time the sauce should be thick and warm and evocatively fragrant. I have to say I don't bother with removing any of the bits - the onions, the peppercorns and so on - but you can strain the milk before adding the bread if you want to.
  7. Just before serving, stir in the butter and, if you happen to have a carton open, the cream (otherwise, splosh in a little more milk) and some more salt if you think it needs it. Grate over quite a bit of nutmeg, adding more once you've decanted it into a warmed bowl or gravy boat.

Additional Information

MAKE AHEAD NOTE: Make the sauce up to 2 days ahead. Remove the clove-studded onion pieces. Melt the butter and spoon over the sauce to prevent a skin forming. Cover with clingfilm and keep in the fridge. To reheat, return the sauce and butter layer to the saucepan, and stir over a gentle heat for 3-4 minutes until everything has blended together. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

FREEZE AHEAD NOTE: Make the bread sauce (without adding the butter) up to 1 month ahead. Cool and freeze. To reheat, thaw overnight in the fridge and return to the saucepan. Stir over a gentle heat for 2-3 minutes then beat in the butter, and season as above.

MAKE AHEAD NOTE: Make the sauce up to 2 days ahead. Remove the clove-studded onion pieces. Melt the butter and spoon over the sauce to prevent a skin forming. Cover with clingfilm and keep in the fridge. To reheat, return the sauce and butter layer to the saucepan, and stir over a gentle heat for 3-4 minutes until everything has blended together. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

FREEZE AHEAD NOTE: Make the bread sauce (without adding the butter) up to 1 month ahead. Cool and freeze. To reheat, thaw overnight in the fridge and return to the saucepan. Stir over a gentle heat for 2-3 minutes then beat in the butter, and season as above.

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What 1 Other has said

  • It's the smell of Christmas morning - reminds me of my grandfather making it. We have to make triple quantities as the family love it. Always surprised when others don't have it with their meal nor do many restaurants serve it, I once took a huge spoon of horseradish in mistake!

    Posted by Frangella56 on 20th December 2015
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