Friday, February 11, 2011

Steaming Puddings

As I write this it is steadily raining outside and has been all week. Christmas has left us and we are into a new year. It is not exactly cold outside but it is pretty miserable none the less. At this time of year comfort food is what we fancy eating. To my mind the ultimate British comfort foods are steamed puddings.
Christmas pudding.

Steamed pudding has been made in this country since the fourteenth century and can come in both sweet and savoury versions. The most well known version is probably Christmas pudding which started life as a sort of porridge known as frumenty which included cereal, breadcrumbs, mutton, wine, raisins, currants, prunes and spices.
By 1595 the frumenty had been replaced by a pudding which contained eggs to give it a firmer texture, it is about then that it became a Christmas dessert. In 1664 it was banned by the puritans because the act of flaming the pudding was seen as a Pagan custom. The pudding was reintroduced in 1701 by George 1st and continues to be popular to this day.

A recent version of Christmas pudding by Heston Blumenthal for Waitrose sold out within days of going on sale and was reputed to be selling on e-bay for £129. Interestingly Heston’s pudding which contained a whole orange was inspired by a classic Sussex steamed pudding called Sussex pond pudding. The pond pudding consists of suet pastry enclosing a whole lemon, currants, butter and sugar and then steamed for several hours.

The Savoury Pudding

The most famous savoury version of steamed pudding is probably steak and kidney pudding. This pudding or versions of it have been around for hundreds of years. The original pastry was not eaten but served as a protector to the filling while it cooked in the oven. Medieval ovens were crude affairs with not much in the way of thermostats or temperature control. Once cooked the puddings lid was removed and the filling eaten before the rest of the casing discarded.

In the fifteenth century oysters were put in the puddings to help make the beef go further, it is hard to imagine today a time when oysters were less expensive and more readily available than beef! There is even a mention of beef and oyster pudding in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales’ which was written in late 1400’s.

Once you have mastered the basic construction of a savoury pudding the filling can be very much at your discretion. Pig foot, ham hock and pheasant work well together as does rabbit and bacon with whole grain mustard. We have done a few vegetarian versions using vegetarian suet instead of beef suet. Wild mushroom and chestnuts with dried cranberry is popular as is roasted squash and sweet potato with pickled walnuts.

The Sponge Pudding

Probably my favourite dessert of all time has to be steamed treacle pudding with vanilla custard. I could enjoy it in any time of the year and almost any time of the day. In fact sponge in all forms is a winner in my eyes, victoria sponge with a cup of tea, Rum Baba soaked in aged rum syrup or the almond version of sponge that you put in tarts to bake, called Frangipane.

When I was a child my mum used to make pineapple upside down pudding for my birthday, this consisted of a tin of pineapple rings in a buttered dish with sponge mixture poured over the top and baked in the oven. It is something that we have revived lately at the Gingerman with great success.

To make sponge richer it is good to use duck eggs instead of hen’s eggs. It is a general point that duck eggs make better pastry than hen’s eggs but they are more expensive and more difficult to get hold off. As with the savoury versions, steamed sponges can have many flavours or combination's of flavours it is really up to the individual and I have added a couple of recipes to help.

Duck Egg Sponge with Champagne Rhubarb and Ginger

6 small stems champagne rhubarb
1 thumb crystalized ginger diced
Little sugar
1 knob butter
Put all ingredients in a non- stick pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. Put into a buttered and floured pudding basin.
For the sponge
170g butter
250g caster sugar
2 duck eggs
2 duck yolks
2 duck whites
200g plain flour
Half tsp baking powder
Cream the butter and 110g sugar, add 1 whole duck egg at a time, then the 2 duck yolks and beat well. Fold in the flour and baking powder. Whip the 2 duck yolks with the rest of the sugar and fold into the sponge mixture.
Pour the sponge mix over the Rhubarb and steam until a knife blade comes out clean. Serve with custard.

Sticky toffee pudding

Date puree
375g dates (stones removed)
375g water
Simmer for 10 mins and then puree in food processor

For the sponge

130g butter
375g muscovado sugar
3 eggs lightly beaten
450g flour
10g baking powder
3g bicarb
Cream sugar and butter until fluffy, add egg a little at a time, add flour, baking powder and bicarb. Mix well and fold in the date puree.
Pour mixture into buttered and lined oven proof dish and bake on 160 degrees for approx. 30 mins or until the inserted knife comes out clean. Leave to cool and turn out.
For the sauce
640 ml double cream
340g caster sugar
130g glucose
130g unsalted butter
Boil half cream with sugar, glucose and butter until golden brown. Take off the heat and add the rest of the cream.