Friday 31 January 2014

Sticky Toffee Pudding

My final Pudding Month recipe had to be sticky toffee pudding.

When I was in the Lake District last year I made it my mission to eat as much sticky toffee pudding as possible. For research purposes, of course.

Though sticky toffee feels like one of those dishes that has been around forever, it was actually created in the early 1970s in the Lake District. Francis Coulson opened the Sharrow Bay Hotel on Ullswater in 1948 and is generally credited with the invention (though, as always, theories abound).

Four years ago I made some Sticky Toffee Volcanoes, little individual portions that had a gingery butterscotch sauce. They were good at the time but I knew I could improve on them now. I also wanted to make one big pudding - a slab that you can cut the portion of your choice from (and can have seconds from, if desired...).

I found a really interesting method on Not Without Salt for a salted caramel date loaf that involves making a deep bronze caramel, stirring in butter, boiling water and dates, then leaving it to cool into a delicious caramel-date slush before adding the final ingredients and baking.

The dates seem to permeate the whole pudding in a way they don't with the traditional method unless it's blended, when you don't get the lovely chunks of date you do here. The slightly smoky caramel creates a great flavour base that's more complex than just brown sugar. It's not quite as dark as some sticky toffee sponges - it's a brighter, rusty, autumnal brown.

My other contentious choice is to use baking powder instead of bicarbonate of soda. One of my biggest pet hates is the taste of bicarb coming through in a dish and I've had several sticky toffees when eating out that were ruined by it. I didn't see why I needed to use it instead of baking powder so I swapped.

I also salted the sauce because it transforms it into something so pleasurable that it's very hard to leave any in the pan while the pudding cooks. Other than that, I used a similar ratio of ingredients to normal and used Jane Grigson's recipe as my guide.

It's a sticky, sweet, hot-and-cold-and-saucy, mood-lifting, filling and generally all-round wonderful way to counteract the gloomy rain and finish off Pudding Month. I hope you've enjoyed the month as much as I have.

Finally, I couldn't resist sharing - last week our family expanded. Meet Albert: he's Arthur's nephew, just turned eight weeks old, enjoys helping me test recipes and is very cute. They're all back in Switzerland and he's settling in really well.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
(inspired by Jane Grigson's English Food and Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt)

For the pudding:
100g Medjool dates (weighed without stones)
90g white caster or granulated sugar
40g cold unsalted butter
125ml boiling water
1/2 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)
1 large egg
90g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of fine sea salt

For the sauce:
150g double cream
100g light brown sugar
50g unsalted butter
fine sea salt - I used fleur de sel - to taste

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F (fan). Chop roughly half the dates into big chunks and the rest into slightly smaller pieces. Tip the sugar into a wide, heavy-bottomed pan and spread out evenly. Turn the heat up to medium-high and watch carefully - after a few minutes, the sugar will start to liquify at the edges. Don't stir it - you can flick some of the crystals onto a liquid bit, but don't fiddle too much. Once it's nearly all melted and starts to caramelise, swirl it all together. Keep heating until you have a deep bronze colour. To stop it cooking, remove from the heat and add the butter and stir as it bubbles. Next add the boiling water, the dates and the vanilla paste. Stir until the caramel has dissolved (don't worry if it's clumped up - put it over a low heat and it will dissolve). Leave to cool for 10 minutes - it will thicken a bit.

Line a small baking dish with baking parchment (or grease really well with butter) - I used a 7x5"/12x18cm (minus the lip) pie dish with slightly sloping sides - a 6" or 7" tin would probably work too or something similar. Lightly whisk the egg to break it up. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into the date-caramel pan and add the egg. Beat together until there are no lumps of flour. Scrape into the dish and place into the oven for 25 minutes.

While it bakes, make the sauce. Place the cream, brown sugar and butter into a pan and heat on medium, stirring occasionally, until you have a smooth sauce. Salt to taste a pinch at a time (keep going until you suddenly find yourself unable to stop sampling the sauce - that's the sweet spot) then pour into a jug.

After 25 minutes, a skewer or cake tester inserted into the sponge should come out clean (if not, pop it back in for another 5 minutes). Pour over some sauce and spread out to cover the whole top then put back into the oven for 3 minutes - the sauce should bubble over the top. Remove and serve hot with the extra sauce in a jug and scoops of vanilla ice cream.

The sponge reheats pretty well (it keeps in a sealed tin for a few days) covered by foil in the oven (I tend to just do the amount I'm serving). The sauce keeps in the fridge and can be reheated by placing the whole jug in a pan of hot/just simmering water and stirring until thin and hot.

(Serves 6-8, smallish but rich portions)

Three more syrupy-caramel puddings:
Sarah's Syrup Sponge
Cider Caramel, Sautéed Apples and Cinnamon Ice Cream
Crêpes Suzette

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Steamed Chocolate Sponge Pudding

My Christmas pudding (which turned out beautifully, by the way) was my first attempt at a steamed pudding. I set my heart on trying a steamed sponge pudding next. Pudding Month needed a chocolate recipe, so steamed chocolate pudding became my goal.

As I hadn't made a sponge pudding before, I decided to try making a recipe from a cookbook as written. I ended up with a pudding that slumped heavily onto the serving plate, cracking open to let the raw centre flow; a bowl of gluey, excess batter and a heap of chocolate-streaked washing up.

After such an inauspicious start, I decided I had to go back to the basic components of pudding.

"Let us seriously reflect of what a pudding is composed."

Though he would not have been referring to a steamed-in-a-basin sponge pudding (as the method changed in the 20th century), Dr Johnson "indulged in a playful fancy", recorded by Boswell in his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785), of writing a 'Meditation on a Pudding' after ridiculing a passage about the moon in Hervey's Meditations (perhaps here or here?). You can read it in full here.

According to the Oxford Companion, a sponge pudding is composed "from equal weights of flour, butter, sugar and eggs, and steamed in a basin".

I swapped some of the flour for cocoa powder and added a bit of greek yogurt to loosen the mixture to dropping consistency. I was really pleased with how it worked, though I overcooked the first one (though, really, it didn't make much of a difference). After a few experiments I hit on the right steaming time and a dash of coffee to liven it up.

I bought a 14cm/5.5" enamel pudding basin for my Christmas pudding and I love it - it's attractive, cleans easily and feels like it will last for ages despite being reasonable (you can get it on Amazon here). A 12cm one would also be good - this recipe only fills 2/3 of the 14cm so it wouldn't need changing. The 14cm one takes about 750ml.

Now I've got used to it, I've realised that steaming is a lovely, homely way to cook a pudding. It's especially useful if you've got lots of trays in the oven for the main course or - gasp - don't have an oven.

The batter becomes a light cocoa sponge - it's not heavy or stodgy - and the sauce is a silky, pourable milk-and-cream ganache. The sauce sinks into the sponge, the ice cream melts, the three meld and you have a rich and very pleasing pudding.

Steamed Chocolate Pudding

For the pudding:
55g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
55g soft brown sugar
45g plain flour
10g cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
1 large egg
2 tbsp greek yogurt
1/2 tsp instant espresso powder + 1 tsp boiling water

For the sauce:
75g dark chocolate (70%)
50g double cream
50g milk
15g/1 tbsp brown sugar

Carefully butter a 12-14cm (roughly 5") pudding basin, using plenty of butter so the pudding doesn't stick (I wasn't careful enough with the one in the photos). Place a circle of parchment into the bottom and grease it too. Cream the butter and sugar together. Sieve the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into the bowl then add the egg, yogurt and combined coffee and water. Beat just until the mixture comes together. Transfer to the buttered basin and level out. Crease a fold into a sheet of parchment-lined foil or a piece of baking parchment and a piece of foil and place over the top of the basin. Secure with a rubber band or a piece of string.

Pour plenty of boiling water (I use at least 3 inches after it boiled dry the first time) into the bottom of the steamer then place the top half with the pudding on top. Place over a high heat to bring back to the boil then turn down to medium-low and leave to steam for 45 minutes.

While it steams, make the sauce. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in bowl. Combine the cream, milk and sugar in a small saucepan and heat until steaming and starting to bubble at the edges. Pour over the chocolate and leave for a few minutes then whisk until smooth. Transfer to a jug.

Take out of the steamer and remove the toppings. Check the sponge is cooked by inserting a cake tester or toothpick into the centre - it should come out cleanly. Loosen the sides of the pudding from the basin with a blunt knife. Place the serving plate on top of the basin then flip over. Lift the basin and peel the circle of paper off. Pour some of the sauce over the top of the sponge then let everyone add more to their bowls at the table.

If the sauce has cooled and thickened then re-heat by placing the jug in a saucepan of hot/just simmering water and stirring until thin (you can do this if you have any left, too - both can be kept in the fridge but the sponge isn't as nice as fresh when reheated). Serve with vanilla ice cream.

(Serves 4-5)

Three more chocolate puddings:
Hervé's Two Ingredient Chocolate Mousse
Chocolate Coconut Milk Cake
Choco-Caramel Sauce

Friday 10 January 2014

Lemon Surprise Pudding


It's January. It's cold, rainy and a bit miserable. It makes sense to eat warm, comforting puddings that appear shrouded in steam and brighten the long nights.

I decided to kick the month off with this pudding because it's an old family favourite and January makes me think of citrus. It doesn't take too long to make and I usually have all of the ingredients on hand - it's a simple home pudding. I think the recipe might have been originally adapted from Mary Berry's Aga Book - as there's a similar recipe and I know there were a few copies floating around - but Mum thinks Granny started making this before 1994, so I'm not sure.

Once baked, you end up with a lemon-curd-esque layer at the bottom - the 'surprise' - and a fluffy, light lemon sponge on top. Add a dollop of thick double cream and you have a wonderful, multifaceted pudding.

Lemon Surprise Pudding

1 lemon
2 large eggs
110g caster sugar
25g plain flour
15g unsalted butter
pinch of salt
240ml milk (I use whole)

Preheat the oven to the 180C/350F (fan). Grease a small-medium baking dish with relatively high sides (I've used a 6" deep round & a 8"x6" rectangle recently). Juice and rind the lemon and place them in the bowl of a food processor*. Separate the eggs, placing the whites into a clean bowl. Add the yolks to the processor along with the sugar, flour, butter and salt. Blend until smooth then slowly add the milk while the mixer runs. Whip the egg whites to medium peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the lemon mixture until you have no big lumps of egg white - it looks a bit curdled but don't worry. Carefully transfer the mixture to the greased dish.

Place gently into a small roasting tray and fill with hot water to about halfway up the tin. Transfer carefully to the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until browned on the top and set. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes then serve warm with thick double cream. It keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days (at least 3) and is also lovely cold.

(Serves 4, easily doubled for a bigger dish)

*If you don't have a food processor, you can rub the butter into the flour then mix in the juice, zest, yolks, sugar and salt before gradually whisking in the milk.

Three more fruity pudding recipes:
Mixed Berry Meringue and Custard
Crumbled Apples
Pear and Caramel Pudding Cake