From Feast by Nigella Lawson (Hyperion, 2004). © 2004 by Nigella Lawson.

Serve 8-10

I don't think it is decent to serve roast turkey without bread sauce or, indeed, cranberry sauce. When I was a child, bread sauce was always made from scratch and cranberry sauce came out of a jar. Now, who knows? I don't mind bottled cranberry, but never packaged bread sauce - please. All you need for the bread sauce is a little forethought: you need some good, that's to say, not plastic-sliced, bread in the house, and ideally you've let it stale slightly. If not, a quick go in a very low oven should do it.

I have returned to the way my mother always made her bread sauce, which is to say by tearing the slices of bread into rough crumbs and letting that cook to a creamy, nubbly porridge in the pot. I now feel using crumbed bread, which I have done, and can't really deny now, makes a too-uniform gruel.

There's something about the scent of a bread sauce in the air, the oniony milk, the bay and clove and mace, that is so immediately, warmingly festive to anyone brought up to a traditional British Christmas. And although it probably sounds as repellent to a non-Anglo eater as the marshmallow-sweet-potato thang does initially to a non-American, I don't think it would take more than a few mouthfuls (as long as they were alongside a properly mustard-smeared, gravy dampened slice of meat) to convince.

I always get this started well in advance. In fact, scenting the milk with the spices is pretty much the first thing I do after breakfast. My mother (who equally thought nothing of parboiling her potatoes the evening before she planned to roast them), prepared this completely, barring only a final melting in of the butter, a day early too. I see no reason to be quite so ahead of yourself, but bread-sauce making should be a pleasurably leisurely kind of activity.

  • 1 day-old loaf unsliced white bread
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon white peppercorns
  • Heaped 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream, optional
  • Fresh nutmeg

Remove the crust from the bread, and tear at the denuded loaf with your bare hands to turn it into a mound of rough chunks or cubes. You should end up with about 3 cups cubes. If they are not slightly stale already, leave them out on a wire rack somewhere to dry out, or speed the process along by putting them in a very low oven - only don't forget they're there.

Pour the milk into a pan. Peel and quarter the onion, and stud each quarter with a clove as you drop it into the pan of milk. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns and sprinkle the ground mace over along with the salt and bring close to the boil, but do not actually let it boil.

Remove from the heat, cover the pan and let it foggily infuse. As I said above, I tend to do this first thing in the morning when I get up, but if you forget or can't cope with it then, then just make sure you get the infusion done about an hour before eating. 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 of onions, the peppercorns and so on, but you can strain the milk before adding the bread if you want to. Just before serving, stir in the butter and, if you happen to have a carton open, the cream 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.