Steak and Kidney Pudding

I enjoyed reading this tweet a few weeks ago:

I feel it’s only fair to warn you: This is an “Okay, so..” post. Click here to skip to the recipe.

This post is in response to a request made over on Time To Cook Online, and I was happy to take a deep dive into this dish because of both its convenience and cheapness. This steak and kidney pudding can be made using a slow cooker and thus uses only a small amount of electricity. It also uses the cheaper cuts of beef (although it can be used with other fillings) as well as (by some) low-regarded and lowly offal. This notwithstanding, it makes for a fantastically satisfying meal that can be ready and waiting for you when you come home from work, with very little to do other than lift it out of the slow cooker and onto a plate. You can also make it ahead and reheat easily, again using the slow cooker.

This recipe goes back a long way, into the Georgian Era of the early nineteenth century, and is a development of the even older Beef Pudding. Contributors to the Wikipedia article on Steak and Kidney pudding rely on Jane Grigson’s assertion that Mrs Beeton was the first to include both steak and kidney in a suet pastry. However, there are at least two recipes in print that pre-date Beeton. One of the quirks of British recipes is that their names are rather fluid, and the same recipe can exist under numerous names. In short, you’re not going to get very far recipe hunting if you only look for ones that bear the same name as modern ones. Differences might be related to geography, or in this case, decades of time.

Anne Cobbett published the following recipe in her (undated, but generally believed to be) 1835-ish book The English Housekeeper.

From The English Housekeeper, Anne Cobbett, 1835-ish.

An even earlier recipe can be found in Alexander Murray’s The Domestic Oracle, also undated, but believed to be around 1826. where the star of the dish would appear to be the kidney, and the steaks almost an afterthought.

From The Domestic Oracle, Alexander Murray, 1826ish.

In the almost two centuries since then, as with any recipe, there have been various tweaks and adjustments made to the basic recipe. Additions that I’ve noted include oysters, oyster sauce, mushrooms, mushroom ketchup (the catsup of Anne Cobbet’s recipe), lemon pickle, mustard, beer, wine.. it really can be whatever you want to make it.

Which brings me to my next point: there are some things you should not skirt, if you want your steak and kidney pudding to taste delicious, and I’m going to take a bit of time to explain what you should do and why you should do it. If you follow these key points, you will have the knowledge to turn out a pretty darn near perfect steak and kidney pudding right from the get-go. In addition, much of it will be adaptable to other, suet pastry puddings, both sweet and savoury. If you’re already impatient to get to the recipe, you can skip ahead by clicking here.

  • Raw or Cooked Filling
    • The Old School way was to put the filling in raw. For the past 50 years or so, people have been following Jane Grigson’s advice to cook the filling first, to stop your pudding becoming soggy. This approach increases both the length of time it takes as well as the Faff Factor™ quite considerably: First you have to cook it, then you cook it again. Well, as will be demonstrated below, if you take a little care with your preparation, there’s no danger of your pudding becoming soggy, so sorry Jane Grigson, we’re going to cut out about two hours of fiddling around on the stove, and fill the pies raw.
  • The Suet Pastry: As with baked pastry crusts, people gradually realised that it didn’t need to be just an outer casing of food, it tasted pretty darn good too, infused with all the juices from the filling. These are some steps you can take to make sure your suet pastry is the crowning glory of your pudding.
    • Suet: Back in the Dayes of Yore, suet came fresh from the butcher and had to be soaked and then grated by hand. You can still find friendly butchers that will supply you with lumps of fresh suet if you ask, and it really is worth the effort in terms of the texture and flavour of the suet crust it produces. I understand not everyone has the time for such Faff,™ and luckily we have the convenience of packs of suet on the supermarket shelves. The suet in these packs has an amazingly long shelf life, because it differs from fresh suet in that it is dried. Here’s the important point for this and any old recipe you might want to try: you need to use LESS dried suet than usual. Most old suet paste recipes are pretty much ‘half fat to flour’, which is fine if you’re using fresh suet, but when using dried, it can make the pastry heavy. So when using dried suet, you should aim to use about 10% less. For example, if a recipe called for 225g of flour, I would use 115g of fresh suet, or just 100g of dried.
    • Baking powder: The original suet pastry would have been rather heavy, but with the advent of baking powder, it can now puff up to a delightfully light texture. The general rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon of baking powder for every 115g flour.
    • Breadcrumbs: You can also lighten the pastry further by incorporating some fresh breadcrumbs into your suet pastry. Again, it is proportional to your flour, so 1 part breadcrumbs to 4 parts flour (divide the weight of your flour by 4 and that’s the weight of the breadcrumbs to use).
    • Seasoning: You don’t want your suet pastry to be a lump of nothingness, so season it! The very minimum should be salt and pepper. If you’re feeling bold, add in some chopped, fresh herbs, or a bit of mustard powder or horseradish – something to give it a bit of personality.
  • The Meat – Beef
    • For all its high-falutin’ title, the very best beef for this pudding is not going to be steak. At least, not STEAK steak. You should actually pick one of the less-prime cuts, ones that are full of flavour and do well with long, slow cooking. I recommend beef cheek, if you can find it (Morrisons supermarket in the UK has an excellent meat department and has always had it in stock whenever I’ve needed some). Also excellent is beef skirt (also carried by Morrisons). Although I haven’t tried it, beef shin is another cut that benefits from long, slow cooking. Finally you could try hangar and/or flat-iron steak, both of which have the marbling to make for a very succulent filling. Cut your meat into 1.5cm dice, so they can be packed tightly into your puddings and be perfectly cooked at serving time.
  • The Meat – Kidneys
    • I appreciate that offal is very divisive, but it tends to be cheap and it is packed with valuable vitamins and nutrients. Even within the offal world, kidneys are somewhat niche. And having researched numerous recipes to prepare for this post, I can understand why people might be kidney averse, or even be in the ‘tried it once, hated it’ camp. Because I was horrified to discover that the majority of recipes fail to prepare the kidneys properly. Everyone is very gung-ho with chopping them up and throwing them in, and I am APPALLED. There are two important stages to preparing kidneys:
      • Removing the core. The core is the hard, white ‘business part’ of kidneys and should be cut away completely. It’s not nice to chew and it never gets soft, even with extended cooking. Cut the trimmed meat into 1.5cm pieces.
      • Soaking the kidney. THIS IS IMPORTANT! The function of kidneys is to filter out the waste products from the blood and send them, and excess water to the bladder. If you don’t soak the kidney in acidulated water or similar (which will draw out the bad-tasting waste products), then they will still be full of all those waste products. That’s going to make the kidney, and everything it’s cooked with, rather ‘funky’ to say the least. Now some people might like that flavour, but for those that think they hate kidney, they probably ate a dish where the kidneys had not been soaked prior to cooking. To soak your kidney, put them in a bowl of cold water to cover, with a teaspoon of salt and the juice of half a lemon (or 2 tablespoons of vinegar) added. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and place it in the fridge for 2 hours, after which drain and discard the soaking liquid and pat the meat dry with kitchen paper.
  • Flouring The Meats
    • When cooking your pudding using a raw filling, you don’t want your pudding to become soggy during cooking, so it is advisable to toss your meats in seasoned flour beforehand, so the flour can act as a thickening agent for all the juices released during cooking. What is lacking in all the recipes I’ve read is the important point that THIS SHOULD BE CORNFLOUR. This is because cornflour doesn’t stick to itself, and consequently, unike regular flour, it doesn’t clump, so there’s only ever a very light covering on the meats and no lumps. In addition, cooked cornflour is transparent, which makes for a wonderfully clear gravy inside your pudding.
  • Gravy:
    • With your puddings properly sealed, the juices from the meats (and vegetables if using) will mingle together to keep it moist. But they will need a little help. You can choose to add water to your puddings, but the better choice is to use beef stock. I use a beef-flavoured stock cube (actually it’s a pot of jelly-like stuff) to make some double strength stock, and add in a splash or two of Worcester Sauce. You can also use beer or wine instead, which can be nice but also something of a hit-and miss in that you need to guesstimate how much to put in at the very start, instead of tasting and adjusting as you go.
    • You should also have some gravy ready to serve with the meal, either on the side or to pour directly into your puddings. Raw ingredients shrink during cooking, so there will always be a gap between filling and the top of the pudding, whatever the size.
  • Add-Ins
    • As mentioned above, there are lots of little tweaks you can do to both the pastry and the filling to jazz it up. Onions are mentioned by many of the old recipes, but are only recommended in very small quantities. They don’t break down during the cooking, which some might find noticeable pieces of onion off-putting. I recommend using onion powder/granules instead, which give the flavour without distracting from the richness of the meat filling. Carrots are another popular choice, but with a raw filling, you have to either dice them rather small, or add in already cooked carrots and run the risk of them turning to mush. Personally, I’m a bit of a purist, and believe the filling should be richly and unapologetically meaty. Perfectly cooked vegetables can be served on the side. However, as can just be made out in the photos, I have taken Dorothy Hartley’s advice and added some black-gilled mushrooms to the mix. Mushrooms have a complementary ‘meaty’ texture and their juices make a flavoursome addition to the gravy, as well as darkening it to a rich brown.
  • Buttering Your Bowls
    • This is what is going to make your puddings turn out beautifully. Use REALLY softened butter and a pastry brush to paint it on. The secret to the beautiful golden colour of the suet crust in the pictures above and below? Butter and a long slow cook in the slow cooker. Taking care to ensure every part of the inside of the bowl is buttered, will ensure a perfect pudding turnout every time.
  • Covering Your Bowls
    • The water in your slow cooker needs to come at least 3/4 of the way up your bowl(s). It never boils furiously, so there’s no danger of the water splashing over the top of the bowls. The main reason for covering your puddings is to protect from the drip of condensation from the lid. Before the advent of the pudding bowl, steamed puddings used to be covered with a floured pudding cloth, but the modern method of greased and pleated parchment and foil works very well.
  • Cooking Your Puddings Long Enough
    • This is probably the main reason things go wrong with steamed puddings, sweet or savoury. All of the old recipes suggest puddings be cooked for many hours, simmering in water which must be constantly topped up to ensure the puddings don’t boil dry. Five hours is a time frequently mentioned. Using a slow cooker has the advantage of being able to, literally, set it and forget it. No need to constantly monitor the water, as the lid keeps it all inside. No need to top up or check if it’s boiling dry. It is very difficult to overcook a suet pudding in the slow cooker. What is very easy to do, is under-cook a pudding. In her column “How To Cook The Perfect Steak and Kidney Pudding”, Felicity Cloake had little complimentary to say of Constance Spry’s cook-from-raw recipe, “The raw beef … comes out gloopy with flour, and tough as a Victorian boarding school”. In Constance’s defence, she did specify beefsteak and stewing steak had been used instead, but in my opinion the main problem was probably cook time. I trialled cooking these puddings in the slow cooker on both High and Low heat settings using raw ingredients. On High, they take 5 hours – not too bad if you’re at home all day, but not really helpful in terms of having a meal ready when you get in from work. On Low I tested puddings with cooking times of 8 hours and 10 hours. Both ended up with golden fluffy pastry and meltingly cooked filling. So provided you can get up early enough to assemble your puddings and get them cooking before you leave for work, they can be ready for supper at the end of a long day. The only suggestion I would make would be to have lots of extra gravy to hand if you’re cooking your puddings 8+ hours.

Last thing I want to have a little rant about in this marathon of a blog post, is the falsehoods I found being perpetrated ‘out there’ with respect to photographs of steak and kidney puddings. The images being posted were frequently not of the recipe they appear alongside. The worst example I found was of a photograph that has been on the internet since 2009 being posted alongside a recipe from 2022. Also, do not be deceived into thinking if you cut a wedge out of your steak and kidney pudding, the meat will tumble artfully onto the plate like many of these pictures suggest. If it does, it will leave your crust rather empty. What it will also do is ruin the structural integrity of your pudding and, if it is undercooked, cause its slow and heartbreaking collapse into a heap on the plate. Setting aside the very insipid colour of some of the pastry, even if the photo is of the actual recipe, it will have been staged for maximum eye appeal, and probably had extra filling added in order to make the image seem plentiful. I am puzzled, for example, how all this filling fit inside this pudding? If your pastry is no oil painting, do not despair, you can always drown it with the gravy (that this recipe doesn’t even tell you how to make).

So in light of these criticisms, I feel compelled to admit to the shenanigans I’ve employed in the pictures on this post. This image is from another of the test puddings, made on a different day (hence the different lighting) in a slightly smaller bowl to the one in the top picture. The ‘manipulations’ I have used include removing the top of the pudding pastry to reveal the filling, and adding in some extra gravy to increase the eye appeal. No extra filling was added and this pudding is absolutely made from the recipe below.

Steak and Kidney Pudding


These quantities are sufficient for two generous puddings in bowls of diameter 12cm. You can also put everything into a large bowl and use the longer of the cooking times. You can also increase the quantities to suit your needs. As a general guide, you need 100g beef, 40g kidney, 1 large, flat mushroom per person, but you can adjust these ratios to your liking.

For the filling:
200g beef cheek/skirt/hangar/flatiron steak, in 1.5cm pieces
80g prepared and soaked beef/ox kidney (see above), in 1.5cm pieces
2 large, dark-gilled mushrooms, chopped into 1.5cm pieces
60g cornflour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp onion powder/granules
250ml strong beef stock
2-3tsp Worcester Sauce (optional)

For the pastry:
340g plain flour
3tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
150g dried suet (170g fresh)
85g fresh breadcrumbs

softened butter to grease the bowls

  • Butter your pudding bowls generously.
  • Tear off and butter 2 pieces of parchment to cover your puddings. The butter will help brown the pastry, and keep it from sticking. Fold a pleat across the middle of each. Set aside.
  • Tear off two pieces of foil to cover your puddings. Fold a pleat across the middle of each. Set aside.
  • Cut lengths of string to tie around the foil to keep it in place. Set aside.
  • Mix all the ingredients for the pastry.
  • Add cold water and stir gently until the mixture comes together into a soft dough.
  • Divide the dough into two. Cut off a small piece of dough to make the lid.
  • The dough is too soft to warrant using a rolling pin. Pat out the larger pieces of dough on a floured surface until about 1cm thick. Lift the dough and drop it gently into each bowl, allowing about 3cm to hang over the rim of the bowls. Be sure to patch any holes that form with extra pastry. The pastry must be ‘watertight’ to keep all the gravy from leaking out.
  • Pat out the smaller pieces of dough until 1cm thick and set aside.
  • Mix the cornflour, salt, pepper and onion powder together.
  • Toss the pieces of kidney in the seasoned cornflour . Remove any excess cornflour by tossing the pieces in a sieve over the bow. Set aside.
  • Repeat for the pieces of beef, including tossing the coated pieces in the sieve (you may need to work in batches).
  • Layer the beef, kidney and chopped mushroom until the bowls are full. The filling can be a little higher than the edge if necessary.
  • Add the Worcester sauce to the stock if using, and then pour into the puddings until the liquid is just visible below the top layer of meat.
  • Lay on the pastry lid and moisten the edges with water.
  • Fold the excess pastry over onto the lid and use a fork to seal the edges well.
  • Cover the tops of the puddings with the buttered parchment, butter side downwards.
  • Cover the parchment with foil and press closely to the sides of each bowl.
  • Tie string just under the rim of the bowls to keep the parchment/foil in place.
  • Turn your slow cooker to High or Low, depending on your schedule.
  • Place your puddings into the slow cooker.
  • Boil some water and pour carefully into the slow cooker, until the water level is ¾ of the way up the sides of the bowls.
  • Cover with the lid and cook according to your needs. On High, the puddings will take about 5 hours. On Low, they will be done in 8 hours, but can go as long as 10 hours with no deterioration in quality.
  • To serve, switch off the slow cooker and remove the puddings from the water. I find a long-handled skimmer/strainer spoon useful.
  • Cut the strings and remove the foil and parchment.
  • Place your serving dish/bowl over the puddings and turn over.
  • Lift off the bowls.
  • Serve as is with extra gravy and freshly cooked vegetables on the side, or cut the tops off the puddings and stir in some gravy to moisten before serving.
  • You can reheat the puddings by wrapping in foil (to keep from drying out) and putting into a 170°C, 150°C Fan oven, or, if using ceramic bowls, in the microwave. Alternately, keep the parchment and foil on from the original cooking, and reheat in hot water in the slow cooker on High.

Incomprehensible Pudding

When browsing handwritten manuscripts, my eye is always drawn to recipes with unusual titles. Whether it’s someone’s name, or a location, or as in this case, an odd title.

Incomprehensible Recipe
Incomprehensible Pudding Recipe, circa 1785, MS2242, Wellcome Collection.

To be honest, after reading it, I wasn’t sure why this pudding is incomprehensible. There are only a few ingredients – none of them unusual, and a straightforward method.

Then I made it and it turned out so light and delicate, it was a real surprise. At first glance, it seems like a custard, but the addition of the apple pulp, especially if you can get Bramley cooking apples, makes it almost frothy. With the use of clarified butter (where only the fat is used, and not the dairy solids), you could arguably denote this dairy-free.

It makes the perfect dessert in that it appears decadent, but can be enjoyed without the heaviness associated with a lot of puddings.

The original recipe called for puff pastry round the edge of the dish, which is something that has puzzled me for years, as it appears in many pudding recipes of this time. I can’t work out if it is for decoration only, or for consumption. I decided not to include pastry, because the high temperature required to cook it properly is at odds with the gentle heat needed to just set the custard.

I also opted for individual servings, so aimed for a shorter cooking time, because in typical 18th century style, the original cooking instructions are short and vague: “an hour will bake it”. Sometimes custard-style puddings are baked in a water bath, and in testing I did try baking it both ways, and for this serving size the difference was so slight I’m going to suggest no water bath. If you wanted to make a large serving, then yes, use a water bath to ensure the mixture cooks without curdling.

I’ve scaled the recipe down to a single serving size. You can scale it up as required.

The puddings in the photo are served plain, but you could also opt to sprinkle them with sugar and blowtorch/grill them to caramelise the top.

Incomprehensible Pudding for One

120g unsweetened apple pulp

1 large egg

20g liquid clarified butter

20g caster sugar

extra caster sugar or brulée sugar

  • Heat the oven to 150°C, 130°C Fan.
  • Whisk the egg and sugar until pale and frothy.
  • Add the apple and butter and mix until smooth.
  • Pour mixture into a shallow dish and bake for 20 minutes until almost set (slightly wobbly in the centre).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
  •  (Optional) Sprinkle with caster sugar (or brulée sugar) and brulee with either blowtorch or grill.

Empty Pudding

Sometimes I stumble across a hidden gem of a recipe when I am supposed to be hunting out something else. Thus it is with this recipe that I found in a nondescript Edwardian cook book¹.

There are several things that drew me to this recipe. Firstly, the name, which is curious, and after following the recipe, is also extremely accurate. Secondly, the ingredients list. It is incredibly short. Just three ingredients. Which I find rather exciting – the possibility of creating something out of practically nothing is great fun. Especially since, in this case, the recipe has been costed at 9d, nine old pence, less than a shilling for, what appears to be, pudding for four. More so if it is delicious. Which this is. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This recipe so caught my attention, I don’t even remember what recipe I was searching for in the first place, so I was keen to read on and discover the secrets within. Alas, the fourth thing that drew me to this recipe is the confusing way it is written.
EmptyPuddingRecipe
As can seen above, the instructions call for one to:

  • Make pastry
  • Put zest & juice in the pudding basin
  • When basin is lined with pastry, add sugar.
  • Seal a pastry lid on top.

This didn’t seem right at all: juice trapped between the basin and the pastry would steam in the heat of the oven and prevent the pastry from becoming crisp, surely? Why use puff pastry if you didn’t want it crisp? How can you seal the pastry and prevent the steam escaping if the thing making the steam (the lemon juice) isn’t inside? This last instruction was, for me, the key, or rather the ‘permission’ to break my number one rule with old recipes and NOT bake it as written in the first place, and put the zest and juice inside the pastry.

And it worked wonderfully. I baked my puddings in individual-sized metal pudding bowls, to shorten the cooking time.

EmptyPie

And here’s how they turned out. Beautiful, golden pastry and a puffed and crispy lid. Inside, the lemon zest and juice combined with the sugar to make an incredibly zingy lemon syrup, which really packs a punch.

LiquidPie

The heat from the oven creates steam from the lemon juice inside the pudding, which in turn helps fluff the puff pastry into soft, delicate layers. The contrast of flavours and textures is amazing.

But there’s more.

Because not all of my puddings turned out perfectly. Two of them sprung a leak during baking, as can be seen here (arranged upside down).

LeakedEmptyPie

But here’s the thing: it’s not a disaster! The zest and juice still combined with the sugar to make a syrup, which, after the leak, coated the outsides of the pastry and made an amazing lemon caramel. Not all the liquid leaked out, so the insides still benefitted from steam, and puffed out fantastically. The photo at the top shows the insides of one of the ‘leaky’ puddings. These are also brilliant, as the lemon caramel hardens in the best traditions of creme brulee, and gives even more flavourful contrasts with the crisp pastry and soft interior. I might even like this variation more than the original. So if your puddings bake perfectly, or whether they spring a leak, it really is a win:win situation!

An extravagance: I used two blocks of puff pastry for just 4 puddings, because I wanted to use freshly-rolled pastry for the lids and the linings, in order to get the best ‘puff’ during baking. On reflection, this might have been unnecessary, as the basins do such a good job of ensuring the pastry puffs inwards whilst keeping the outsides smooth. Certainly, the lids were spectacular, so I’m going to recommend cutting lids from freshly-rolled pastry, and then re-roll the trimmings for the basin linings, which means you could probably get everything from a single block of puff pastry. I haven’t tested this, so I recommend having the second block of pastry on standby, just in case.

Empty Pudding

Serves 4

2 blocks puff pastry
2 lemons
4tbs caster sugar
butter for greasing
milk and caster sugar for glazing

  • Butter your pudding bowls generously. If your puddings spring a leak, you want to ensure you can still get them out of the bowls.
  • Roll out your pastry and cut 4 lids. Make sure the pastry is a little larger than the diameter of your pudding bowls, to ensure there is enough to make a firm seal.
  • Cut pastry to line your pudding bowls. Make sure the pastry overhangs the bowls a lttle to make a firm seal. Re-roll the trimmings if necessary.
  • Put the zest of half a lemon into each pastry-lined bowl.
  • Put the juice of half a lemon into each pastry-lined bowl.
  • Put 1tbs caster sugar into each pastry-lined bowl.
  • Moisten the edges of the pastry lids and attach to the rim of the bowls by pressing down firmly.
  • Chill the bowls in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to allow the pastry to relax and firm up.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Place the chilled bowls on a baking sheet and crimp the edges between finger and thumb.
  • Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with a little caster sugar.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the baking tray around and bake for a further 10-15 minutes. NB Puff pastry takes a surprisingly long time to be properly cooked, so when in doubt, cook a little longer. You can also return them to the oven for extra browning when turned out. See below.
  • Remove from the oven and turn out as follows.
    • Ease a knife around the edge of the pastry to loosen it from the sides of the bowl.
    • Gently test whether you can lift out an un-leaky pudding.
    • If you suspect your pudding has leaked, turn your pudding out upside down.
    • Depending on your pastry colour, you might want to return your puddings to the oven for some extra colouring. If your pudding has leaked, I would definitely recommend returning them to the oven (still upside down) to harden the lemon syrup/caramel mixture until glossy and brown.
  • Serve with custard, cream or as they come.

¹ A little book of cookery by Dora Luck, 1905, Sands & Compy., London ; Edinburgh.

 

Plough Monday Pudding

In times past, when secular life intertwined much more with the religious, and life was closely linked with the land, Plough Monday was the first Monday after (the) Twelfth Day (of Christmas), the Feast of Epiphany, January 6th. It was supposedly the day when work in the fields resumed for the men with spring ploughing and is a tradition that stretches back centuries. It is mentioned in the writings of Thomas Tusser in 1580:

“Plough Munday, next after that Twelf-tide is past,
Bids out with the Plough; the worst husband is last:
If Plowman get hatchet, or whip to the skrene,
Maids loseth their cocke, if no water be seen:”

An explanation of these lines is provided by Daniel Hilman in 1710 (in his publication Tusser Redivivus) as follows:

“After Christmas (which formerly, during the twelve days, was a time of very little work) every gentleman feasted the farmers, and every farmer their servants and task men. Plough Monday puts them in mind of their business. In the morning the men and the maid servants strive who shall show their diligence in rising earliest. If the ploughman can get his whip, his plough-staff, hatchet, or anything that he wants in the field, by the fire-side, before the maid hath got her kettle on, then the maid loseth her Shrove-tide cock[¹], and it wholly belongs to the men. Thus did our forefathers strive to allure youth to their duty, and provided them innocent mirth as well as labour. On this Plough Monday they have a good supper and some strong drink.”

Despite the mention of ‘a good supper’, I’ve been unable to find any mention of precisely what this consisted of, and most recipes for Plough Monday Pudding, or just Plough Pudding date no further back than the mid 20th century.

In December, 1960, Folklore magazine published[²] the following recipe that had appeared in The Times newspaper on the 8th August of that year. Although titled ‘Plough Pudding’ the introductionry paragraph indicated it was a recipe to be found in Sussex farmhouses.

Subsequent versions all appear to be based on this recipe. Mary Norwak’s 1979 version[³] (below) made the very practical change of transferring the cooking vessel from a cloth to a bowl, and was ascribed to Norfolk. Mary Norwak lived in rural Norfolk, so perhaps this was a nod to her home county. She also quadruples the amount of sausage meat to make a very substantial pudding indeed.

Norfolk Plough Pudding

By the time her English Puddings: Sweet and Savoury was published in 1981, she has adjusted her recipe to reduce the cooking time to three hours and included some stock in the filling, for added moisture. She also comments “Some Plough Puddings are suet rolls wrapped around bacon rashers with onions, sage, pepper and a little black treacle.”[4]

Norfolk Plough Pudding

All other recipes appear to be variations of Mary Norwak’s, although few acknowledge it. The one exception I managed to find was in the Archers’ Country Kitchen by Angela Piper[5].  This version uses cold roast beef, presumably the remains of the Sunday roast and nothing like the original: sausagemeat and bacon being a much more believable stout yeoman’s supper than prime beef.

Plough Monday Pudding

This recipe is also far from perfect in the method, in my opinion. The instructions for using a pudding cloth lack essential details (should be scalded and floured, to prevent the pudding from sticking), the illustration clearly shows a lidless saucepan, which no-one in their right mind would use to cook a STEAMED pudding, and the pan itself is on what appears to be a professional chef’s griddle rather than something more believable for a farmhouse dish. We’ll draw a discrete veil over the ‘pink beef gravy’ serving suggeston, as this page is the only one in the book which mentions it, so it will be forever a mystery.

ANYHOO…

Plough Monday Pudding 2021

My version of Plough Monday Pudding is yet another adaptation, this time for individual steamed puddings. My version also includes an alternative cooking method: the slow cooker. The great danger with the long steaming a suet pudding requires is the need to ensure the water doesn’t boil dry. Honestly, I find it rather stressful. Enter the slow cooker, where you can leave your pudding blissfully unattended, secure in the knowledge that the water will remain largely unevaporated from the moment you switch it on, to the time you haul out your golden delights.

It’s actually better than the traditional method. In support of this statement, I’d like to offer the following photograph:

Slow cooker vs steamed.

The pudding on the left was cooked for 4 hours in the slow cooker on High. The pudding on the right was steamed for 2 hours. Both are fully cooked, but the longer, slower approach of the slow cooker makes for a richer, more golden crust. Another option is to cook on Low for 8 hours – perfect to come home to on a cold, winter’s night.

Don’t think you HAVE to cook your Plough Monday Pudding in individual dishes, or indeed in traditionally-shaped bowls. I have acquired a number of Victorian and later jelly moulds, which sadly sit unused for weeks at a time. Although the pastry needs care to ensure it nestles in all the nooks and crannies of the mould, the result is delightfully grand. Best of all, it can sit quite happily for up to 12 hours in the slow cooker on Low.

Jelly-mould Plough Pudding
Jelly-mould Plough Monday Pudding

Plough Monday Pudding

You can choose any of the above recipes, or follow mine below. I have cherry-picked from all.

For 4 individual puddings or 1 large one.

250g self-raising flour
125g suet
½tsp salt
melted butter for the moulds
1 pork sausage per individual pudding, or 6 for a large one.
2 large onions, chopped finely
125g lean bacon, chopped finely
2tbs chopped fresh sage or 1tbs dried
150ml chicken stock
1tbs treacle

  • Mix  the flour, suet and salt together and add sufficient cold water to bring it together in a soft dough.
  • Grease your pudding moulds well with the melted butter.
  • For individual puddings, divide the pastry into 4 and roll out and line your dishes. Let the excess pastry hang over the edge until your puddings are filled. If you’re making a large pudding, cut off 1/4 of the dough for the lid and roll the rest and line your mould.
  • Remove the sausage skins. For each individual pudding, roll one sausage between clingfilm to about 5mm thickness. Line the pastry in the moulds with the sausage meat. For the large mould, you can press the sausagemeat in by hand, or roll them out and ‘patchwork’ it in.
  • Mix the chopped onion and bacon and add the sage and black pepper.
  • Spoon the onion mixture into the middle of your puddings.
  • Press down gently but firmly. You don’t want to be too rough, because you might tear the pastry, but the filling needs to be firmly packed to give structural integrity when they are turned out, and the raw onion will soften and shrink during cooking.
  • Add the treacle to the stock and heat gently until the treacle melts in.
  • Spoon the dark brown stock into your puddings, allowing time for it to seep down into the gaps, until you can see liquid level with the top of your filling. It should be 2-3 tablespoons for each individual pudding.
  • Cover the ‘top’ of your puddings. You needen’t be too precious about this, because when the puddings are turned out, this ‘top’ will be hidden underneath. For the small ones, fold over the excess pastry from the sides, and use water to moisten and seal the edges. For the large pudding, roll out the reserved pastry to size and again, use water to moisten and seal the edges.
  • Tear off some parchment for each pudding. Brush the underside with melted butter and make a large, single pleat in the parchment, then press on top of your puddings. Repeat with some foil. The pleat will allow the pastry to expand as it cooks, without running the risk of the foil tearing and allowing water to get in. Press the foil closely around the  pudding basin to keep both parchment and foil in place.
  • For ease of lifting from the hot water at the end of cooking, you might want to tie string around the edge of the foil and create a loop over the top to grab onto.
  • Put your puddings into your slow cooker, ensuring there is space around them for the water to circulate.
  • Add sufficient water to the cooker to come ¾ of the way up the bowls/mould.
  • Turn the heat to High for 4 hours, or Low for 8 hours.
  • When ready to serve, lift the puddings from the cooker and set on a towel to drain and rest for 10 minutes.
  • Turn the puddings out and serve with either a hot tomato sauce (Norwak 1979) or gravy (Norwak, 1981).
  • Top Tip: If your puddings are looking a bit anaemic, you can brush them with melted butter and set into a 200°C, 180°C Fan oven for 5-15 minutes (depending on size), to give them a bit of colour.
Beef and onion Plough Monday Pudding
Beef and onion Plough Monday Pudding

Top Tip: If you’re making the version of the pudding using cooked beef, toss your diced beef in cornflour before mixing with the onion. It will thicken the stock, stop your pudding becoming waterlogged and help hold it together when turned out.

 

[¹] It was a tradition that the local lord gave a gift of a cock hen to the woman of the house at Shrovetide. The Plough Monday friendly competition was a race to see who could get up earliest on that day, and either have their work implements ready (men) or have water on to boil (women). The winner received the prized chicken for that year.

[²] Folklore, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Dec., 1960), p262. All thanks to Dr Annie Gray for helping me get my hands on this article.

[³] The Farmhouse Kitchen, Mary Norwak, (1979), Warwick Press, p49.

[4] English Puddings: Sweet and Savoury, Mary Norwak, (1981), London : Batsford, p109

[5] Archers’ Country Kitchen, Angela Piper, (2011) Newton Abbot : David & Charles, p84

 

Spiced Apple Rice Pudding

A new variety of rice arrived in Carolina in the 17th century that was to become incredibly popular for almost 200 years. However, it’s popularity dwindled in the 19th century, first with the abolition of slavery and secondly when the waterlogged lands of the Carolinas proved unsuitable for the heavy harvesting machines developed as part of the mechanisation of farming. The grain all but disappeared, but Carolina Gold has now seen a resurgence thanks mainly to the work of one man, Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills. You can read about him here.

This recipe caught my eye as I was transcribing some newly (to me) digitised manuscripts at the Wellcome Library. Although MS1810 is inscribed and dated on the inside cover with “J. Hodgkin. Oct. 2. 1913”, the recipes within have been dated to the middle of the eighteenth century.

Carolina Rice Pudding, MS1810, Wellcome Collection.

As a child, I was a huge fan of the classic rice pudding, with my favourite bit being the darkly caramelised skin that would form on the top. The cottage that we lived in for a while had a Rayburn – a smaller, low-budget version of an Aga. Since it was on all the time, it was no bother to throw some rice, sugar, milk and butter in a dish and pop it in the low-heat oven and let it do it’s own thing. Nowadays, preheating and using the oven for over an hour for a pudding is a little more effort and also more expensive. Consequently, alternative methods have been developed in order for us to continue to enjoy this classic and simple dish. Slow cookers are very useful, as are the various stove-top methods. For this recipe, I opted to steam the rice in individual-sized pudding dishes. I’ve managed to acquire some fancy-shaped ones, thanks to ebay, but you can also use classic, smooth-sided pudding bowls.

As much as I love traditional rice pudding, it is very carbohydrate-heavy, and it’s a short hop and a skip from that warm, fuzzy, comfort feeling to carb-coma. This recipe unwittingly addresses that – deliciously. The inclusion of apple and spices makes for a creamy cross between apple pie and rice pudding. By using Bramley apples, the pudding becomes positively light, as the cooked apples disappear into a froth of freshness. Dessert/eating apples can also be used, but the relatively short cooking time means they don’t break down as completely as the Bramleys do. But that might be just the bite you’re looking for, so have at it. Alternately, make a large pudding and steam/boil for an hour.

When eaten hot, they need no further adornment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ‘gild the lily’ as it were. Fresh double cream, as in the photo, is simple, delicious, and being cold, is a fabulous contrast against the heat of the rice and apples. Caramel sauce, home-made or spooned out of a tin of caramel condensed milk, steers them towards toffee apple territory. A drizzle of more evaporated milk can add creaminess without the calories of cream.

Spiced Apple Rice Pudding

The recipe predates pasturisation, so would originally have been made with raw milk, much richer than our modern-day whole milk. I’ve tweaked the original and replaced (approximately) half the milk with evaporated milk.  Next variation I plan on trying is all condensed milk and dark brown sugar, for a real caramel-y treat.

If you have a sweet tooth, you might want to add more sugar. Taste the rice mixture before filling your moulds and decide.

Makes 4 individual puddings.

60g short-grain, pudding rice
1 x 170ml tin evaporated milk
130ml whole milk
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
50g soft, light-brown sugar
1 x 250g Bramley apple
zest of ½ a lemon
2 large yolks

4 individual pudding moulds
butter for greasing
foil to cover
steamer saucepan

  • Put the milks and the rice into a saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until the rice is mostly cooked and the mixture has thickened (15 minutes or so).
  • Remove from the heat and stir through the spices and the sugar.
  • Peel, core and chop the apple finely. I find a food processor is best for this, as a couple of pulses can reduce it to fine pieces without pureeing them.
  • Add the chopped apple, and lemon zest to the rice mixture and stir well. This will have cooled the rice a little, so you can now also beat in the yolks.
  • Butter your pudding moulds well. Be thorough, as this is key in getting your puddings to turn out once cooked.
  • Fill your pudding moulds with the rice and apple mixture.
  • Tear off some foil and divide it into four. Make a fold in piece of foil and then cover your puddings, scrunching the foil round the sides to form a seal. The fold will allow for the rice expanding, whilst preventing any water getting in.
  • Arrange the covered puddings in your steamer pan and cover with the saucepan lid.
  • Bring some water to a boil and put your steamer pan on for 30 minutes. Make sure your water doesn’t boil away. A brisk simmer is all that is needed, not a raging, rolling boil.
  • When your puddings are cooked, remove from the pan and peel off the foil. Gently ease the edges of your puddings away from the sides of the mould, then turn them out onto your serving dish.
  • Enjoy warm or cold, with sauce if liked.

Rhubarb Gingerbread

This is a recipe from that classic of home cooking, Farmhouse Fare. I have copies ranging in date from the 1930s to the 1960s, and I always find it interesting to see which recipes come and go through the decades as they are replaced with more fashionable dishes, or as tastes change, as well as recipes which persist over time. This recipe comes from the second impression of the third edition, published in 1947.

It recipe is in the style of the delightfully named pudding cakes, which are so deliciously comforting hot from the oven with custard or cream, that can also be enjoyed cold as a cake. I must confess, though, this really does taste better warm, so have been briefly zapping leftover slices in the microwave to bring it back to a cosy and comforting temperature.

Pairing sharp, zingy  rhubarb with the warmth of treacle and ginger is just the tonic for this time of year, when there has possibly been a little over-indulgence, and a jaded palate needs reviving with something bright and fresh.

The rhubarb in the shops is currently of the beautiful, coral-pink forced variety and sandwiching it within gently-spiced sponge provides richness and freshness with every bite.

Rhubarb Gingerbread

150-250ml milk
60g butter
85g treacle
1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger
1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg – whisked
225g self-raising flour, or plain flour + 2tsp baking powder
200g rhubarb, chopped into 2cm slices
50g soft brown sugar

  • Grease and line a dish with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper. I used a rectangular tin of dimensions 15cm by 25cm. You could also use a 20cm square tin, or indeed a round cake tin.
  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Put 150ml milk, butter, treacle and spices into a pan and warm through until the butter has melted.
  • Remove from the heat and sift in the flour, then whisk in the beaten egg.
  • Add more milk, if required, until the mixture reaches a dropping consistency – that is, it will drop freely from a spoon (as opposed to thud in a lump).
  • Spread half of the mixture into your prepared tin and then lay over the rhubarb. I like to gently poke the slices into the mixture standing on end, but you could also just scatter them freestyle.
  • Sprinkle over the sugar, then top with the remaining mixture.
  • Smooth over and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the middle is springy to the touch. If you like to test for doneness with a toothpick, be sure you don’t mistake cooked rhubarb for uncooked cake mixture and overbake.
  • Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then serve for pudding either as is, which is delicious, or with custard, cream or ice-cream.

 

Apple Snow

This recipe is more usually served in the late summer and autumn months, but I’ve chosen it now because the weather outside today has carpeted the garden with a thick layer of snow.

This is a classic dessert whose provenance stretches back centuries. Although the name ‘Apple Snow’ is the one more usually found in modern recipe books, it can also be found under the name Apple Fluff, Apple Souffle, Apple Puff and this version, Apple Cream Without Cream.

This last was found in a manuscript from the 17th century, held by The Wellcome Library. The manuscript has been attributed to the splendidly named Mrs Deborah Haddock, who sounds as if she should be the twinkly-eyed star of stories set in a small, quaint fishing village.

It is elegant in its simplicity, requiring only apple pulp, an egg-white and a little sugar. It is also, thanks to modern kitchen gadgetry, prepared incredibly swiftly, requiring less than ten minutes to come together before serving, once the initial preparation has been completed.

Apple Cream Without Cream, aka apple Snow, c1675, MS7892, Wellcome Library Collection

Choice of Fruit

This recipe can be made with any apple you have to hand, either keeping a purity of flavour with a single variety, or mixing and matching in a clearing-out-the-fruit-bowl, waste-not-want-not kind of way.

One of the manuscript recipes I read recommended green apples as being the best, but failed to elaborate any identifying characteristics beyond colour. I prefer to use Bramley apples, for the pale insides and sharpness of taste. Other varieties you might like to try include Worcester Pearmains, which have dazzlingly white flesh that tastes faintly of lemon and rough-skinned Russets that have an almost nutty flavour.

Alternatively, you could follow the recommendation in the recipe above and try this with gooseberries.

Apple Snow

This recipe tweaks the original slightly with additions found in other versions. In terms of quantity, it will make a visually impressive amount, but is so light and delicate, a full glass is still only a relatively small amount. It will hold its shape for two hours or so, but can be mounded in more impressive heights if served immediately after preparation.

Serves 4 – 8

5 Bramley apples, or apple of your choice.
juice of 1 lemon
2tbs cream sherry (optional)
4tbs caster sugar
1 large egg-white

  • Peel, core and chop the apples finely. Toss them in the lemon juice as you go, to prevent them from discolouring.
  • Add the apple and lemon juice to a saucepan with the sherry, if using.
  • Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the apples soften and turn to froth.
  • Mash the apples to a pulp, then sieve to remove all lumps. Chill until required.
  • Whisk the egg-white until it will stand in soft peaks. Set aside.
  • Put 250ml chilled apple pulp into a bowl and whisk on High for 2-3 minutes until pale and fluffy.
  • Add the whisked egg-white and continue whisking, adding in the sugar one spoonful at a time.
  • After 2-3 minutes the mixture will have both increased in volume and become dazzlingly white.
  • Taste and whisk in more sugar if needed.
  • Spoon or pipe into glasses and serve with some crisp biscuits on the side.
  • If you have apple pulp spare, you could spoon a little of it into the glasses before adding the apple snow.

Cornflake Tart

A trip down my own personal memory lane this week, with a classic of the school dinner repertoire, Cornflake Tart.

In the 1970s and 1980s, long before the advent of the dreaded turkey twizzler, my mother was a supervisor of a kitchen that cooked dinners for seven schools in the local area, including the one I attended, so I am perhaps more familiar than most with the full range of tasty, economical and wholesome home-cooking-style meals of that era.

Whilst some dishes (spamspamspamspam) left me cold and some serving decisions (tinned tomatoes + cheese tart always = soggy tomato-juice pastry) lacking in thought, the desserts were almost (I’m looking at you, semolina-and-red-jam-blob) universally adored.

I’ve written before about Gypsy Tart and Butterscotch Tart, and today we have to join them, the classic, even iconic, Cornflake Tart. I also want to take a few moments to discuss ingredients because, when they are this few in number, they can make or break a dish. By the same token, just because ingredients are humble, doesn’t mean that you should treat them carelessly, and that paying attention to the small details with the same care that more expensive ingredients might warrant, can reap rewards just as great with only a fraction of the cost.

Cornflake Tart has four main ingredients: shortcrust pastry, jam, cornflakes and caramel.

  • Shortcrust pastry. You can use any recipe you like, even buy ready-made if time is short, but I would like to strongly recommend my cornflour shortcrust for this particular tart, for a number of reasons. Regular shortcrust usually uses half butter and half lard as the fat in order to give the best texture and flavour, but this prevents it being enjoyed by vegetarians. My cornflour shortcrust is made with all butter, making it vegetarian-friendly, and the cornflour adds the crispness. You can make delicious gluten-free pastry by substituting Doves Farm gluten-free flour for the regular flour. I actually prefer the pastry in this recipe to be gluten-free, as the crumbly texture is fantastic against the sharp jam and sweet, crunchy cornflakes.
  • Jam. You can use any kind of jam you have to hand, and strawberry seems to be a popular choice, but I recommend something sharp, to contrast with the sweetness of the caramelised cornflakes. Raspberry is good, as is blackberry (see photos), blackcurrant, cranberry, redcurrant, apricot or even apple butter. Also, it should be smooth and free from lumps, so warm and sieve/puree it before spreading onto the cooked pastry. This way you get the benefit of all the flavour and none of the distractions.
  • Cornflakes. Surprisingly, regular cornflakes aren’t gluten-free, due to the barley malt used as a flavouring. On the plus side, gluten-free cornflakes are both available and practically indistinguishable from their mainstream counterparts.
  • Caramel. I say caramel, but the addition of butter to the mixture pushes the sticky, golden glue that holds this tart together more towards a butterscotch than a true caramel. You can emphasize this even more by using soft brown or light muscovado sugar. Whatever sugar you choose, it is important to warm it slowly with the other ingredients until fully dissolved, so that the shine on your finished tart isn’t spoiled by visible sugar crystals.

Cornflake Tart

These quantities are sufficient for a medium-sized tart that will serve anything between 1 and 10 people, depending on appetite.

Pastry
225g plain flour or Doves Farm gluten-free flour
60g cornflour
140g unsalted butter
ice-cold water to mix

Filling
200g sharp jam, warmed and sieved/pureed
60g butter – salted or not, your choice
60g sugar – caster, soft brown, light muscovado
60g golden syrup
110g cornflakes – regular or gluten-free

  • Make the pastry: Put the flours and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface and knead smooth.
  • Roll out thinly (5mm) and line a tart or flan tin lined with parchment. For the gluten-free pastry, roll it out onto parchment cut to size, then lift into the tin and shape the corners/edges with your fingertips.
  • Cover with cling-film and chill in the freezer for 20 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Remove the pastry from the freezer and prick the base with a fork to prevent blistering.
  • Line the pastry with baking parchment and rice/baking beads.
  • Bake for 15 minutes. Remove parchment and rice and bake for a further 5-10  minutes until pale but cooked.
  • While the pastry is baking, make the caramel syrup.
  • Put the sugar, butter and syrup into a small pan and heat gently, whilst stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the cornflakes into a large bowl.
  • Allow the sugar mixture to simmer gently for 5 minutes then pour over the cornflakes and toss thoroughly to coat.
  • When the pastry is baked, spread the warm jam over the base of the tart and add the cornflakes. Spread the cornflakes evenly over the tart and press lightly but not enough to crush the cereal.
  • Return the tart to the oven for 10 minutes to ‘set’ the topping.
  • Allow to cool in the tin.
  • Slice the cold tart into portions with a sharp knife and store in an airtight container.

Bonus recipe – Gluten-free Scones

Switching out regular flour for Doves Farm gluten-free flour for pastry isn’t the only easy substitution you can make. Deliciously light and airy scones are just as easily made, using Mrs McNab’s 19th century recipe from Great British Bakes.

GF Scones

One slight variation to the method is that, due to the lack of gluten, there is a tendency for the dough to spread during baking. So to keep your gluten-free scones neat and for maximum lift, bake them in baking rings. If you don’t have baking rings, then do as I do and use the tins from small cans of mushy peas.

225g Doves Farm plain flour
1tsp cream of tartar
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
½tsp salt
30g unsalted butter
1 large egg
80ml plain yogurt
80ml whole milk

milk to glaze

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  • Grease 8 small baking rings/tins and line with parchment paper. Arrange the tins on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  • Put the flour, cream of tartar, bicarbonate of soda, salt, butter and egg into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Tip the mixture into a bowl.
  • Mix together the yogurt and milk.
  • Gradually stir the liquid into the dry ingredients. You might not need it all, but the mixture should be soft and moist rather than dry.
  • Divide the mixture between the tins. Each one should have about 55g of dough.
  • Brush the tops with milk and bake for 15 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 10 minutes to ensure even baking.
  • When baked, if the tops are a little pale, if possible, switch the oven to top heat with fan, remove the rings/tins and brown the scones for 3-4 minutes. If your oven doesn’t have this function, then brown lightly under a grill but don’t leave them too long or they will burn.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Steamed Sponge

This recipe is for a traditional steamed sponge, the type many of us remember from our childhoods. So comforting in the winter months, with a blanket of hot custard draped over. They are a breeze to mix, but in these days when most people have a gas or electric stove-top, rather than an always-on range, the three-hour steaming time makes the cooking something of a marathon.

To make things easier for everyone, I’ve scaled this recipe down to make four individual puddings which can be cooked in a steamer pan over simmering water. Not only are mini puddings delightfully small and perfectly formed, they take a mere 30 minutes to steam. This means that they can be put on to cook as everyone sits down to the meal, and be ready by the time the main course is done and cleared away.

As if this weren’t cause enough to rejoice, this recipe can also be easily and infinitely adapted with different ingredients and flavours, even to the point of producing four differently-flavoured puddings from the one mixture. A few suggestions are included below, but do please experiment with your own creations too!

Steamed Sponge

Serves 4

The base instructions are for a plain sponge.

170g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
70g butter
pinch of salt
85g caster sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
120-150ml milk
softened butter for greasing the pudding bowls

  • Bring a pan of water to a simmer.
  • Put the butter, flour, salt, sugar and baking powder into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Tip out into a bowl.
  • Whisk the egg and vanilla with the milk and stir into the dry ingredients until smooth.
  • Generously butter four individual pudding bowls and divide the mixture evenly amongst the prepared bowls.
  • Cut four squares of foil for the lids and make a single pleat in the middle. This will allow the sponge mixture to expand during cooking without forcing the foil cover off. Butter the inside surface of the foil, then fold over and around the pudding bowls.
  • Arrange the four bowls in the steamer pan, cover with a lid and place over the simmering water.
  • Steam for 30 minutes.
  • Peel off the foil and run a knife around the side of the puddings to loosen them.
  • Turn out the puddings and serve with cream, custard or pudding sauce of your choice.

Variations

These tweaks can be made to the basic vanilla sponge.

  • Jam Sponge – put a tablespoon of your favourite jam into the bottom of the pudding bowls before adding the sponge mixture. Have some of the jam warmed for serving.
  • Fruit Sponge – put 2 tablespoons of cooked fruit into the bottom of the pudding bowls before adding the sponge mixture. Again, have extra fruit to hand when serving.
  • Raisin decoration – dot large colourful raisins onto the sides of the buttered moulds before adding the plain sponge mixture.
  • Raisin sponge – Add 60g raisins to the plain mixture. You can also ornament the sides of the bowls as above.
  • Coconut sponge – add 60g dessicated coconut to the sponge mixture. Stick more coconut to the butter in the moulds before adding the sponge mixture.
  • Citrus sponge – omit the vanilla flavouring, add the grated zest of a lemon/orange/lime to the sponge mixture, together with the juice. Use a little less milk to mix. Add 60g of diced, candied peel of the same flavour if liked.
  • Candied fruit sponge – use 60g of candied fruit such as cherries, cranberries, pineapple, either on their own or mixed.

The following tweaks should be done by altering the method slightly and using the creaming method for the sponge (creaming butter and sugar, then eggs then dry ingredients), as the darker colour of the sponge sometimes highlights butter pieces that have not fully combined with the other ingredients.

  • Dried fruit pudding with toffee top. Use brown sugar to mix the sponge and add 60g of chopped figs, dates or prunes to the sponge mixture. Mix 30g of softened butter and 30g of soft, dark brown sugar and divide amongst the bowls before adding the sponge mixture.
  • Double jam sponge – Omit the vanilla, before adding the milk and egg, stir 3 tablespoons of jam into the sponge mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of jam to the bottom of each of the pudding bowls.
  • Chocolate sponge – Add 2 tablespoons of cocoa to the mixture and use a little more milk to mix. Add 60g chocolate chips to the mixture, or put them in the bottom of each pudding mould to form a chocolate ‘cap’. Alternately, half fill the moulds then add the chocolate chips in a well, and cover with more sponge mixture. This will make for a molten centre once cooked.
  • Coffee and Walnut sponge – Omit the vanilla, add a tablespoon of espresso powder or coffee essence to the sponge mixture and stir through 60g chopped walnuts. Put a half-walnut upside down in the bottom of each basin before adding the sponge mixture.

Pudding Cake

May Byron, 1915

The pudding cake is, to my perception, a genre of puddings that has all but disappeared from our tables, despite being popular since the 18th century. It describes something that, when cold, would be recognisable as a cake, but here it is served, warm and comforting, straight from the oven. As with the Fruit Sponge, it’s the hugely enjoyable lure of warm sponge with cream or custard that is the main draw.

The flavourings for this recipe are only limited by your imagination – you can use any combination of fruit/nuts/candied peel that takes your fancy. For this base recipe I have opted for the unjustly unglamorous prune for the wonderfully rich dark, almost toffee flavour the fruit develops during cooking.

Pudding Cake

250g prunes, stones removed
250ml apple juice
100g chopped nuts or flaked almonds
3 large eggs
200ml milk, plus extra if needed
100g butter, melted
200g sugar
2tsp baking powder
350g plain flour

Double cream or custard to serve.

  • Quarter the prunes and put them in a small pan. Pour over the fruit juice and put over medium heat.
  • When the mixture boils, cover and turn off the heat and leave to stew for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4.
  • Grease and line a 24cm, springform tin with parchment paper.
  • Drain the prunes.
  • Put the eggs, milk, butter, sugar baking powder and flour into a bowl and mix thoroughly until it comes together into a smooth cake batter. If it seems a little heavy, mix in some additional milk until it achieves a dropping consistency and falls easily from the spoon.
  • Spoon a quarter of the batter into the prepared tin and scatter half of the soaked prunes over.
  • Add another layer of cake batter and sprinkle over the nuts.
  • Spoon in half the remaining batter and sprinkle the rest of the prunes.
  • Pour the rest of the batter into the tin and smooth over.
  • Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the cake is risen and golden.
  • Allow to cool in the tin for ten minutes before removing and transferring to a warmed serving dish or plate.
  • Serve in wedges with double cream or custard poured over.