Thursday, April 12, 2012

A chill in the air

I can hardly complain that after the scorching summer-like weather we had over Easter, yesterday was a bit chilly and wet. Especially since it gave me an excuse to make a harlequin pudding (p210) - after all, there's nothing like a good steamed pud on a cold day, right?

After creaming butter and sugar, I beat in an egg, then went to sift the dry ingredients, at which point I realised my custard powder container was empty. Typical - and annoying, since I'd made a special trip to the supermarket on the way home for raisins. I could have got custard powder if I'd realised I was out!

I briefly considered walking down to the supermarket to get some, but with a glance at the chilly weather outside, I decided instead to substitute cornflour. Custard powder seems to add a vanilla-ish flavour too, I find - so I added a drop or two of vanilla essence, and crossed my fingers for a decent result.

The pudding has three layers: first, a generous helping of raisins in the bottom of the pudding basin, then half the pudding mixture. The second half of the mixture is first coloured brown with cocoa, then spooned on top of the plain layer.

You're given two options for the pleated cover of your pudding: tinfoil or baking paper. I usually use tinfoil, as it's easier to work with while you're tying it in place. I chose baking paper this time because it's easier to tell if the pudding's cooked. Placing an upturned plate or bowl on top of the baking paper helps hold it in place as you tie it to the pudding basin.

One of these days I'll get around to finding a suitable trivet that will allow me to steam puddings properly in a large pot. As I haven't yet, I used my usual saucepan technique, which works but seems to cook the puddings a bit more slowly.

While the pudding was steaming, I went to make a brandy sauce (p189) to go with it (It's actually 'brandy or rum sauce' but I was using brandy). It seemed pretty simple: just combine cornflour, sugar and milk, heat till thick, then add brandy, butter and nutmeg.

Unfortunately, it all went wrong when I was heating the milk mixture. I didn't have the element up very high, but it was clearly too high for the purpose - noticed a scorchy smell, and had a look at the base of the pan: no sign of burning. Figuring something must have dripped on to a hot element, I put the sauce back on the heat.

Before long, I realised I'd been wrong. The bottom of the pan still didn't look dark, but the smell was definitely coming from my saucepan. I took it off the heat - and within moments, the base of the pan had a thick, dark coating of scorched milk. Is it usual for milk scorched milk to only become visible as it cools?

Whatever the case, there was no way I could make my sauce from that burnt milk. I tipped it out and began again. This time, I used a lower heat, but still caught a whiff of scorch just as the sauce was thickening. I didn't want that burnt flavour to ruin my second attempt, so I immediately poured the sauce into a handy jug. Sure enough, though there wasn't initially any sign of scorching, a dark coating (not as bad, but still there) appeared as the pan cooled down.

When the pudding was finished steaming, I tipped it out onto a plate and briefly admired the effect of the layered pudding before scooping myself out a portion to try.

Harlequin pudding looks kinda cool, but it's a fairly standard steamed pud as far as flavour goes. Though the cocoa doesn't add any noticeable flavour, every mouthful is punctuated with juicy bursts of raisin, which prevent the pud from being too dry. The brandy sauce is quite potent, but tasty and very warming - a perfect accompaniment to any steamed pudding.

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