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Archive for April, 2010

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.

A few points are relevant when considering my approach to this challenge:

  • I was vegetarian for 12 years, but am now reformed.
  • I am overcoming a profound fear of fat, and am still in the process of learning to love butter.
  • I have an English husband.
  • It was our first wedding anniversary on 26 April 2010.

The factors above meant that I read Esther’s challenge with some trepidation, but was determined to give it my best shot. My husband, on the other hand, was delighted! It felt like a fitting anniversary gift to him, which was handy as I hadn’t made it to the shops for a proper present.

My first step was to consult my mother in law, who is a passionate baker and a published author of a cookbook based upon the Bronte family. She provided me with a number of recipes but commented that she avoided using suet, instead preferring to use shredded vegetable suet. I briefly considered making a pudding with a non-suet base, but decided that I would fully embrace the challenge and confront my saturated fat fears.

My second step was to consult Mr Google, which lead to the discovery of the recipe for Sussex Pond which I have reproduced below. My husband had requested Spotted Dick (a fond memory from his boarding school days) and I was tempted just because of the name, but finally decided to make Sussex Pond as it sounded like an intriguing option. According to Wikipedia, Sussex Pond pudding is a traditional English pudding believed to originate from the South East County of Sussex. It uses suet pastry to encase a whole lemon, sugar and butter and is boiled or steamed for several hours. While cooking, the filling ingredients create a thick, caramelised sauce which, upon cutting and serving of the pudding, creates a “pond” around the pudding. The idea is also that the long slow cooking causes the lemon skin to candy and become like marmalade.

This rich and heavy dessert has gone out of fashion over the years due to health and diet consciousness, although there are many chefs in Britain, such as famed British chef Heston Blumenthal, who are trying to revive this type of traditional cookery.

My third step was to pay a visit to my local butcher. The area in which I live has a number of Portugese butchers, all of which offer an impressive range of products, from fresh rabbits to salt cod. The friendly butcher kindly gave me a big lump of suet free of charge. This is what it looked like:

It had hair…I didn’t bother trying to get a pretty photo.

With a churning stomach, I set to grating the suet. My mind alternated thoughts of “ew, ew, ew” with renditions of Meatloaf’s “I would do anything for love (but I won’t do that)”.

This is what the lump became:

The resulting pastry was soft and easy to work with, which was a relief. I used two-thirds of the pastry to line the pudding bowl, and reserved the final third to make a lid for the pudding.

The next step, which involved mixing butter and brown sugar, was a snap. I then used a skewer to puncture a large lemon, and placed the lemon between two layers of sugar/butter mix. Wetting the edges of the pastry lining, I then positioned the lid and sealed the pudding by pinching the edges.

I pierced the top of the pudding with a sharp knife and covered it with a layer of greased baking paper, followed by foil, tied securely with string. I then boiled the pudding for around 3 hours.

This is the result:

And the taste? I have to say, I was not a fan. Perhaps it was because I had looked too closely at the suet while I was grating it, but it tasted like fatty meat. The husband, on the other hand, was pretty happy. There are no plans for a repeat performance for our second wedding anniverary though!  On the other hand, it definitely challenged me and, as always, I really enjoyed trying a new ingredient and a cooking method with which I am relatively unfamiliar. So thanks Esther!

This is the recipe I used, taken from The Independent’s website:

200g self-raising flour
100g shredded suet
a little cold milk, to mix
100g very cold butter, cut into small pieces
100g soft brown sugar
1 large, unwaxed lemon
You will also need a pudding basin with a capacity of approximately 1 litre.

Mix together the flour, suet and salt in a roomy bowl. Add just enough milk to mix to a cohesive mass — not too sticky, not too dry. Knead for a few minutes until supple, flatten a little and leave to relax for 10 minutes.

Generously butter the pudding basin. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry quite thinly and line the basin with it, allowing a little to overhang the rim. In a bowl, tumble together the butter and sugar with a fork. Place about half of it in the pastry-lined bowl. Using a sharp meat skewer, puncture the lemon all over its surface then push it down into the butter and sugar, as shown on the right. Cover with the remaining butter and sugar.

Roll out the rest of the pastry to form a lid. Dampen the edge of the pastry overhanging the bowl, lay the pastry lid over and clamp the two together with your fingers. Trim off the excess and cut two small holes in the centre of the lid for the pudding to “breathe”. Cover with a sheet of buttered, pleated greaseproof paper and then with a sheet of foil. Tie with string to secure. Steam the pudding for 3 to 4 hours. Eat with thick, cold, double cream.

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