Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April Daring Baker's Challenge--The Pudding's the Thing!

Dear patient blog readers, please forgive my silly English lit nerd title. I was searching around in vain for some pithy title that would mention the subject of this post while also referencing the rich culinary tradition from which it issues. That last part is only partially sarcastic. While I've never been to England, or any part of the UK, C--who has and is therefore the resident expert on all things British, except gothic novels, which are mine all mine--assures me that it lacks something in both taste and diversity. He tells me, for example, that the Brits boil or steam everything. Of course, I can't testify either to the veracity or mean-spiritedness of this assertion, but I can tell you that this month's Daring Bakers challenge does something to confirm that this is the case. With that said, however, I must say that my experience with this particular challenge, an English pudding, was quite positive.

In the US, we really only have one thing that we call a pudding, though it varies in both flavor and texture. In England, as it turns out, a pudding is primarily one of two things. Either it is essentially meat in sauce, encased in a pastry, and steamed, or it is a sort of cake, which is also steamed. The two major points of similarity are 1) obviously, the steaming, and 2) both recipes traditionally call for suet. Lucky you if you don't know what suet is. Let me just say that it's unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans alike: think "organs." A vegetarian suet is available in some markets, though not anywhere around here, and in most of the pictures I've seen the stuff most closely resembles styrofoam pellets. Most websites with information about puddings acknowledge that suet may be replaced by vegetable suet, cold butter, or shortening, but that it just "won't be the same." Not to be put off or daunted by this subtle lamentation on behalf of the suffering herbivores of the world, I plunged ahead, opting to sub non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening for the not-again-to-be-mentioned substance, which is most commonly acquired from your friendly neighborhood butcher.

 I made two puddings from what is called, I shit you not, the Wikipudia. People are serious about their pudding. I was really curious about a pudding called the Sussex Pond because it seemed rather and outlier, even among puddings. The Sussex Pond is made by sealing a whole lemon inside the pastry crust, along with some sugar and butter. The juice from the lemon combines with the butter and sugar during a very protracted steaming process--during which the aspiring pudding-maker must be very vigilant indeed about the water level in the pot or risk filling her kitchen with the smell of burning teflon-- and it forms a sauce that then spills out onto the plate when it's sliced. Thus producing the titular "Sussex Pond." The ponds in Sussex are either repulsive or delicious. I'll have to ask C about it.

The other pudding was called Very Chocolate Pudding, and I'm not going to include a picture of it because it was beyond unsightly. I have some theories about what happened to it. The directions indicated that it should be steamed for just under half the time required for the Sussex Pond pudding, so an hour and a half before the latter was finished, I put the chocolate in the pot along with it. When the cooking time was up, the Sussex Pond pudding had a tender, flaky crust encasing a sweet pond of lemony goodness, and the chocolate still resembled something between chocolate frosting and brownie batter. It was unholy, and I wish I could tell you that I didn't eat it anyway (I totally did). I imagine it would be out of this world if it were steamed correctly and not by a pudding novice and ne'er-do-well like me.

I don't know that a pudding is something I would seek out, or even necessarily make again, but I enjoyed the challenge. If you're pretty convinced that pudding isn't your thing, aren't you the least bit curious about what it would be like to eat a pastry steamed with an entire citrus fruit? Crazy, right? This is the essence of the Daring Bakers experience. I went to so much trouble converting the recipes from grams and mililiters to ounces, and then from ounces to cups and teaspoons or tablespoons, that I'll include my conversions below. Note, I also reduced each recipe by half. I only had two appropriately shaped bowls for making these puddings, AND I didn't want to end up with a ton of pudding for just C and I. I'm also mystified by how a single lemon could be big enough for a larger Sussex Pond pudding, though this is what all the recipes I looked at specify. Are lemons way bigger in England? I used a small Meyer lemon since a thin skin is supposed to be one of the keys to success with this pudding. It is true what they say, by the way. The lemon peel and pulp come out tasting rather like marmelade in the sweet, buttery sauce. Combine this with the tender, slightly salty pastry, and you have something special.

Below, I give you the Sussex Pond pudding tutorial that you never realized you wanted. You're very welcome.

This should give you a basic idea of the size of the bowl and the lemon and all that. After taking this photo, I added the rest of the butter and sugar then topped it off with the pastry crust. I covered the whole thing in aluminum foil, tied it with twine, and dropped it in the steamer basket.

This next photo on the left is the pudding after steaming. I inverted it onto this plate and felt very self-satisfied with how well it stayed together. The proof, however, in the pudding didn't emerge until the picture on the right. Slicing a thick wedge from the pudding did, indeed, produce the promised pond.

Finally, before I include the recipe, let me just assure you that these photos represent the end of pictures from my cell phone. I hope. I made this challenge right after the fated event involving the digital camera, a sunny day in Dolores Park, some awesome friends, and C's imperfectly sealed water bottle.

Sussex Pond Pudding

½ c self-raising flour
¼ c butter
Pinch salt
¼ c brown sugar
¼ c vegetable shortening
1 lemon
1/3 c soy milk and water mixed

Mix four and salt in a small bowl, then cut in shortening. Add the soy milk and water mixture until a soft dough forms. Divide the dough and roll out to line a small bowl suitable for pudding. Put half the butter and sugar in the bottom of the pastry shell. Pierce the lemon all over with a fork or knife, then place it in the shell. Top the lemon with the remaining butter and sugar. Make a lid with the remaining pastry and seal all edges as well as you can. Cover the whole thing in aluminum foil and tie tightly with twine or cooking string. Steam for 3-3 1/2 hours. If your lemon has a thicker skin, definitely err on the side of overcooking. 

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