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When the heat of summer hits, no-bake desserts become your best friend. From icebox cakes to simple sorbets, if you are gearing up for summer gatherings, it is wonderful not to have to turn on your oven. And if the dessert can take advantage of the bounty of summer berries? So much the better.

The best no-bake dessert to please a crowd

My go-to in summer, especially for larger crowds, is a take on a traditional English Summer Pudding. A combination of buttered bread, sugar, and berries made a day ahead and pressed to get all the juicy goodness to meld into one, it is delicious plain or with a fanciful garnish. And it is barely a recipe, more of a technique, so you can adjust easily to the number of people you want to serve.

The British make this a fancy molded dessert, but I hate the anxiety that occurs any time I have to unmold something, so I have converted into an easy spoonable dessert: no muss, no fuss!

How to make a summer bread and butter pudding

Here's what you'll need:

1 loaf of thick-cut sandwich bread, crusts removed

3 pints of fresh berries or 3 lbs. frozen (strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries work best; blueberries aren't juicy enough for this dish)

1 stick of butter, softened

1 cup sugar


Liqueur like Chambord of Cassis (optional)

Before we get going, let's talk about the bread. My preferred breads for this are either thick-cut white sandwich bread like Texas toast, a nice bakery Italian bread sliced thick, or Sara Lee's thick-cut Artesano bread. (If you have access to a Japanese market, a thick-cut white bread called Shokupan is my favorite choice; you can get it on Amazon, here!). In general, you need a close-textured soft style bread, so you can also experiment with challah or brioche.

Bread all set? Here's how easy it is to make: 

Two days before serving:

If using frozen berries, thaw them overnight in the fridge before assembling. Do not drain.

Day before serving, prep:

1. If your berries are fresh, rinse them and put in a bowl with a quarter cup of water and half a cup of sugar and a pinch of salt. You want them to really release their juices and the sugar to dissolve. If you like, add a splash of a liqueur like Chambord or Cassis. Mix well and let sit a minimum of 4 hours to overnight, stirring occasionally.

2. If your berries were frozen, add just the sugar and no water (they should have enough juices from being frozen). Mix well and let stand as you would the fresh berries. 

3. Remove the crusts and save for breadcrumbs. One large loaf will easily fill a 3-quart bowl which will serve about 8-12 people, so adjust up or down as needed.

Day before serving, assemble! 

1. Spread a thin layer of butter on one side only of each slice of bread.

2. Cut a few slices in half on the bias to make triangles, which are easier to line the bottom of your bowl. Dunk the unbuttered side of the triangles briefly in the fruit juices and cover the bottom of the bowl, keeping the buttered side facing up.

3. Sprinkle the buttered surface lightly with some of the reserved sugar, then add 1 ½ cups of the berry mixture.

4. Place another layer of bread on top of the berries, no need to dunk this time, buttered side up, and sprinkle again with sugar. Add 2 cups of the berry mixture.

5. Keep layering until you have about an inch left at the top of the bowl. Top with one last layer of bread, this time placing the sugared and buttered surface facing inwards towards the berries and drizzle the remaining juices from berries evenly over the top. (If you have berries left, spoon them over your breakfast yogurt!) 

6. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding and place a plate on top that is smaller than the rim of the bowl, so that it can sink down a bit as the pudding rests. Place a weight on top (I usually use a large 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes or beans, or a small cast iron skillet.)

7. Refrigerate overnight with the weight on top, which will compress the pudding and get all the flavors to meld, and the bread will absorb all of the juices.

That's it! The day of you're serving, all you need to do is pull it out of the fridge, simply spoon portions into bowls, and garnish! Some lovely toppings are vanilla Greek yogurt, sour cream sweetened with brown sugar, crème fraiche sweetened with honey, vanilla ice cream, or lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Pro move: the unmolded version!

If you want to try the full unmolded version, simply cover the entire interior of the bowl with plastic wrap, and then with a layer of the moistened bread, as seen in the first step, before doing the layering inside. The plastic should assist with the unmolding, and the bread should contain the filling for a dessert you can slice into wedges for serving. Either way, it's star spangled!