Daring Bakers Challenge : Puddings


(Manuka honey pudding with coffee, chestnut and dates)

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

Pudding purists may want to avert their eyes now. As I was very pressed for time this month, a few shortcuts were taken in order to make the deadline for the challenge. I opted for one of the recipes provided that called for butter rather than suet, and instead of steaming the pudding (which would have taken hours), the mixture was (gasp)microwaved(gasp). It literally took one minute to cook the pudding, and rather pleasingly, it turned out gloriously fluffy and very very tasty.

The pudding was flavoured with Manuka honey – a decision brought about mainly by my wish to utilise that rather lonely jar of New Zealand’s finest honey sitting in the cupboard. The combination of the honey with a hint of vanilla and spice in the pudding, brought to mind classic sticky date pudding, hence the date and coffee puree, as well as a scattering of chestnut crumble (to complete that Autumnal touch), some poached dates and crispy date skins.

While this hasty pudding ended up being pretty tasty, I still kind of wish there had been time to attempt a traditional Sussex pond pudding or a steak and kidney pie – two things that just so happen to be on the list of things I want to try baking. Perhaps it will finally happen, when this hectic daze that I’m in calms down a little….


(Yogurt cake)

Meanwhile here’s another pudding I made recently when we fancied a quick and fairly healthy dessert. This wonderful Lebanese recipe is from the Moro cookbook and is incredibly easy to make. It contains only a very small amount of flour, and so can be adapted to be gluten-free as well. The pudding was so light, clean and citrussy that it practically needed no accompaniment, but if need be, I can imagine it pairing well with stewed rhubarb or berries and stonefruit.

Yogurt cake with pistachios :
(from Moro The Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark)

3 large organic or free-range eggs, separated
70g caster sugar
2 vanilla pods, split in half lengthways
350g yogurt (home made yogurt, or Greek yogurt thinned with a little milk)
finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 1/2 orange
juice of 1 lemon
20g plain flour
30g shelled unsalted pistachio nuts, roughly chopped [I omitted these as I didn’t have any at the time]

Preheat the oven to 180’C and put a bain-marie of water in to warm on the middle shelf. Have ready a 25cm round or square baking dish or cake tin with a solid bottom, preferably stainless-steel, or lined with greaseproof paper.

In a bowl beat the egg yolks with three-quarters of the sugar until thick and pale. Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla pod and mix into the egg-sugar mixture. Add the yogurt, lemon and orange zest, lemon juice and the flour and mix well. In a separate bowl whisk up the egg whites with the remaining sugar until soft peaks form. Gently and evenly, fold the whites into the yogurt mixture. Pour the mixture into the baking tin. Place the tin in the bain-marie, making sure that the boiling water comes halfway up the tin, and cook for about 20 minutes. Then add the chopped pistachios, sprinkling them gently on top, and continue cooking for a further 20 minutes or until the top is light brown in colour. The correct consistency of the cake should be a light sponge on top with a wet custard below. Serve with yogurt.

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Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
— Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne.

It never snows where I live, but sometimes, it gets so cold that you almost feel as though wearing three layers and a scarf is not nearly enough. Winter sends some people into the doldrums. It’s too cold to go to the beach, too rainy, it gets dark too early, and we certainly do miss all those glistening Summer berries and brightly coloured stonefruit. What Winter does have to is advantage however, are comforting fruits such as quinces, beautifully fragrant pears, and of course, versatile citrus fruits such as cumquats, lemons and mandarins.

When the chill sets in, I up my hot tea intake. Correspondingly, the pudding consumption meter soars too. Several nights ago, it was slices of spicy fruit cake. Yesterday evening, we had warm chocolate cake with ice-cream. Today, I’ve rediscovered the humble rice pudding. While the rest of the world is flaunting ruby red cherries, bunches of sweet grapes, plums, apricots and donut peaches, I’m all set over here to celebrate Winter, rather than commiserate on what I might be missing out on. I’ve got my fuzzy jumper, slipper socks, wool rug, a big pot of Marco Polo tea and my rice pudding. This one is flavoured with one of my favourite Winter fruits : Mandarins. Mandarins, made into a jelly with mandarin rice pudding, mandarin segments and rice snowflakes. The snowflakes are made by cutting rice paper into snowflake shapes, dousing them in sugar syrup and baking them in a low oven until crisp. The mandarin segments add a burst of freshness to the dish and are spiced with ras el hanout, which contributes a little bit of heat and delight to a cold Winter palate.

Ras el hanout is a special Middle Eastern/North African spice blend. It literally means “top of the shop” and signifies the best blend a spice shop has to offer. Every shop’s blend is usually a secret combination of spices. You might already have your favourite recipe for ras el hanout, but I quite like this one by Janni Kyritsis, which is wonderful in savoury pies or even simply sprinkled over orange segments and eaten with honey and yogurt.

Ras el hanout :
(makes about 3 1/2 tablespoons; from Wild Weed Pie by Janni Kyritsis)

1 tablespoon green cardamom pods (3 teaspoons ground)
1 large cinnamon stick (3 teaspoons ground)
1 small nutmeg (1 1/2 teaspoons ground)
1 teaspoon cloves (3/4 teaspoon ground)
2 teaspoons white peppercorns (3 teaspoons ground)
2 teaspoons black peppercorns (3 teaspoons ground)
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Remove seeds from cardamom pods. Crumble cinnamon sticks. Chop nutmeg into small pieces. Combine all spices and grind using a mortar and pestle or a spice and coffee grinder. Pass through a fine sieve and regrind anything that’s left behind. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark cupboard.

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Brief life of the oyster, and a lemon

I was helping out the Larder section at work the other day, shucking a dozen oysters, and a thought occured to me. Picture yourself sleeping in your cosy little caravan when all of a sudden there’s a godawful hammering sound coming from above. The roof of your caravan rips wide open, you find yourself flipped over in your bed and someone squirts some lemon in your eye.

How weird would that be? What a story to tell all your oyster buddies, if not for the fact that the lemon often signals your demise.

I had a few lemons left from the last time I baked a cake, and so decided to revisit an old favourite recipe. Lemon delicious pudding is one of those desserts that never seems to go out of fashion in most people’s minds. Of course, you might not have made it in awhile because like me, you’ve forgotten how good it tastes and how much you love it. It is one of those comforting treats I want to eat while snuggled up on the couch, watching Mad Men.

Instead of a big bowl of pudding that you scoop a portion out of however, these puddings I made today are petite individual serves that retain everything that is good about lemon delicious. It’s a clever little recipe that is unbelievably easy. During the cooking process, a layer of curdy lemon forms on what becomes the top of the pudding after unmolding, while the spongey pudding below is impossibly light and moist. If you don’t like lemon, you can even substitute the required juice for a similar amount of passionfruit juice or pulp.

Another good thing about this recipe is that you can make the puddings ahead of time and reheat them by placing them in a water bath when the dessert compartment in your stomach is calling out to be filled. So, I’m including the recipe (apologies for the cup and spoon measures, but I didn’t get round to converting them into grams as I normally would) because I think you really really should try them. Even for those enjoying a spot of Summer sunshine at the moment, this pudding can be celebrated with a generous side of cherries or fresh berries.

Lemon steamed pudding :
(makes 6 (but I got 4 because I used bigger moulds); from Craft of Cooking by Tom Colicchio)

1/2 cup sugar, plus additional for dusting ramekins
2 eggs, separated
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon plain flour
pinch of salt
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
finely chopped zest of 1 1/2 lemons

Heat the oven to 150’C. Butter and lightly sugar six 4-ounce ramekins. Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks, then set them aside. Sift the sugar with the flour and salt. In a mixer, using the whisk attachment, combine the buttermilk, lemon juice, egg yolks, and lemon zest. Gradually add the flour mixture, then fold in the egg whites. Divide the batter among the prepared ramekins. Place the puddings in a water bath (set the ramekins in a larger pan; fill the pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the ramekins) and cover with aluminium foil. Bake until the puddings rise and are almost firm, about 25 minutes, then uncover and continue baking until the tops are lightly golden and the puddings spring back when touched, about 15 minutes more. Unmold and serve warm alone, with fresh berries, or with berry compote.

[Note: The recipe calls for the mix to be put together in a mixer, but you can also do everything by hand with a whisk and a spatula, as I did]

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