I find it very surprising that the Edmonds cookbook, a book that describes in detail how to cook rice, or roast a chicken, a book that gives definitions of apparently difficult cooking terms like 'boil' or 'mash', has no specific instructions on exactly how you go about steaming a pudding.
Considering there are eight pudding recipes that indicate steaming as a cooking process, this is a bit of a problem. There are some very clear instructions on how to tie a cover over the bowl of a steamed pud, but clearly they didn't think it was necessary to explain just what "steam for 30 minutes" means. The Christmas pudding recipe does go into specific detail about trivets, saucepans and water 2/3 up the bowl, but since it's quite different from any of the other steamed pud recipes, I wasn't prepared to take these instructions as standard.
This is a dilemma I pondered off and on throughout the winter months. I was willing to give it a go, using the Christmas pudding instructions as a guide, but I also didn't have a bowl the right size, or anything to use as a trivet. In this way, I managed to get myself through the entire winter without making a single one of those eight recipes.
Now summer is on its way and opportunities for warm puddings are fast disappearing. So when yesterday turned out overcast and chilly, I decided it was time to give steamed sponge pudding (p213) a go. I'd had my eye on a stainless steel bowl of approximately the right size, so I popped by the mall after work to get it. I still didn't have a trivet, but when I got home, I found that the bowl was precisely the right size to sit neatly in one of my saucepans without touching the bottom, thus eliminating the need for a trivet - or so I hoped!
The pudding mixture itself is very easy to make: cream butter and sugar, beat through egg and apricot jam, add dry ingredients and milk. I did make one error in that I was supposed to dissolve the baking soda in the milk before adding it to the bowl: instead I just sifted it in with the rest of the dry ingredients. It didn't seem to matter.
I poured the pudding mixture into my new bowl, and set about covering it as per the instructions in the glossary. I made a pleat across a sheet of tinfoil, covered the bowl and tied it in place with string. Then I used a second piece of string to create a handle for taking the bowl in and out of the saucepan. This was useful, even if I made the handle far too long!
Having poured enough boiling water into the saucepan to come 2/3 of the way up the bowl, I lowered the pudding bowl into the pan. At this point, I was undecided as to whether I should then put the lid on the pot. I assumed the steaming process was going to make the tinfoil cover rise a bit - hence the pleat - and I didn't want to impede that by putting a lid directly over it. On the other hand, would it steam properly without that second layer of insulation?
In the end, I left the lid off. I left the pot to simmer for half an hour, and sat in the next room reading. I could hear sounds coming from the direction of the kitchen: a continuous sort of low popping noise, like apathetic popcorn. It didn't seem to be boiling over or anything, though, so I didn't interfere with it.
When the buzzer went off, I lifted out the pudding and took a careful peek inside. It had risen, but wasn't completely cooked yet. That was ok, though, because I still wanted to make some custard sauce (p189) to go with it. I put the pudding back in the pot to steam some more, and made a start on the custard sauce.
The custard sauce recipe is remarkably similar to that of Edmonds velvet custard on p209. The only difference is that it has one teaspoon of sugar, not two, and is printed in a different chapter. No matter, I'll have plenty enough puddings to make that I can easily manage all the different custard recipes in accompaniment!
The custard sauce was a breeze to throw together, so it was only about 10 minutes later that I put the completed custard aside and checked the pudding again. It looked quite good from the peek I had at the side, so I took the string right off and pulled the tinfoil off completely... to see that the middle of the pudding was still completely gooey.
Right. Seems I should have put the lid on after all. I replaced the tinfoil and string (not without difficulty), topped up the boiling water in the pot, and lowered the bowl in again. This time I put the saucepan lid on over the top of the tinfoil.
The lid really made a difference. Whereas the tinfoil cover hadn't puffed up at all during my previous steaming attempts, it did so almost immediately after I put the lid on. After another 15 minutes steaming, I checked the pud again. Finally, it was cooked through. Next time, I'll definitely put that lid on right from the start!
I retired to the couch with a well-earned bowl of warm steamed sponge pudding and custard: just the right kind of dish for a chilly evening. The pudding was nicely spongy, if slightly bland, but warming and filling. It'll be interesting to try the flavoured variations. I was glad I'd made the custard sauce, because it would have been slightly dry and considerably blander without it. You definitely need to serve a sponge pudding with custard, ice cream or similar.
All in all, I was quite happy with the results of my steam pudding experimentation. I've learned a few things that I'll be able to use for the rest of the steamed recipes. Now I have a better idea of what I'm doing, (and a suitable bowl) I won' have any reason to put off doing them. Except for that hot summer weather, of course!
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