A few days ago a commenter on Eggbeater asked me to help her with a dessert conundrum. A pastry chef herself, she requested that I weigh in on steamed puddings, their ratios, and what sort of recipe to start with when attempting them for the first time. Thinking I could answer her in a snap, I soon realized steamed puddings require some history and the ability to think differently about what we know to be "pudding" in the United States.
Just about as old fashioned as "plated desserts" come, steamed puddings are completely out of fashion, even in England, their country of origin. Because they are not easy, or, for many, aren't worth the effort. In fact, even in The United Kingdom, steamed puddings are a chapter all on their own. At The French Laundry we served a chocolate steamed pudding mostly because we found the finicky method intriguing. And then there are the nifty molds. Antiquated and practical, fitted with tight clasps, elegant metal molds over a hundred years old can still be found for sale at tag sales or dusty, quirky cookshops.
Are the actual steamed pudding molds absolutely necessary? No, but they are designed with the particular steaming method in mind. For a thorough post on home steamed pudding making please refer to the practiced Deb at MurrayHill 5 ~ In My Kitchen, click on this link for a post that gives visual step by step instruction as well as various other links to a myriad of posts where she's attempted other recipes/methods.
One autumn we made one at Citizen Cake. I worked on it with Sara Ko (then Sara Cameron), my co-pastry chef. As fun as it was to create I will admit to the fact that the texture has to be one you're fond of. Steamed pudding may well be more about the process than the end result. This dessert is not for the person who thinks a cake should feel like cake and puddings disappear easily on the tongue.
As Americans speaking of "pudding" we have a family of sweet endings in mind. Custards: eggy, rich, soft. "Baby food" in the worst of circumstances, and creme brulee in the best. But the word pudding comes from England's English where by saying pudding they mean dessert. Or sweet things in general.
It's important to note these differences so that our physical expectation of the steamed pudding changes. For all custards need steam, if their consistency is to be smooth and creamy. No one wants to eat an overcooked creme caramel (it feels like a rubber band) or pot de creme (it looses all that melt-in-your-mouth quality you tried so hard, and spent so much money, to achieve.) Even a pannacotta done wrong can make a horrible impression, and that one's not even baked or cooked!
Because the steamed pudding is sitting in a tightly bound mold on a rack inside of a large pot on top of your stove boiling, and not in the expansive womb of the oven, it's important to have a recipe very low in flour. This is not a cake, no, although the end consistency will not feel like what we know as custard either.
Have you ever made persimmon pudding? It's a great example because the persimmon puree acts a little bit like whole eggs and the result is a cross between a custard and a very moist cake.
I am going to list two recipes I've taken part in developing and executing. You will see they are similar, but with the orange marmalade one, we actually decided to bake it in an oven.
CHOCOLATE STEAMED PUDDING
Stephen Durfee and Shuna Lydon
3T Unsalted Butter
1 1/2 C Manufacturing Cream (the highest butterfat content of all creams)
1/2 Vanilla Bean, split and scraped
5 oz. Dark Chocolate, chopped
2T All Purpose Flour
5 each Egg Yolks
5 oz. Egg Whites
1. Put chocolate, cream and vanilla bean in saucepan, whisk until choc melts.
2. In another saucepan add butter and flour, cook over low heat, whisking, 1 minute. To this add chocolate mixture and cook 5-10 minutes until thickened. Remove vanilla bean.
3. Bring yolks and sugar to ribbon stage. Slowly beat into this the chocolate mixture. Whisk whites until stiff. Into this, beat in a tiny amount of the whites and fold in the rest. (Like you would a mousse.)
4. Butter and sugar desired mold: the entire interior top and bottom. Gently, with a spatula, pour mixture into mold.
5. Have a stock pot ready with a rack in the bottom. Put mold on the rack; pour in water halfway up the side of the mold, being careful not to have water's edge too close to the mold's lid seam. Fit stock pot with tight fitting lid. Turn heat to low and cook, without removing lid, for at least 1 hour. You may need to peek to check on water level. If it becomes dangerously low be sure to add "make-up" water that is very hot or boiling. We cooked this recipe for 1 hour and 15 minutes. (Cooking time is never a definite number as time factors are based on equipment used.)
When done, pull mold out and cool on rack for 10 minutes. Run knife around mold and invert. Tap mold with wooden spoon if it appears to be sticking. This dessert is best eaten soon after it's made. It's lovely served with chantilly.
ORANGE MARMALADE STEAMED PUDDING
Sara Ko and Shuna Lydon
3 oz. Unsalted Butter
2 oz. Sugar
2 oz. Maple Sugar
3 each Large Eggs
5 oz. Orange Marmalade, plus more for molds
2 oz. All Purpose Flour
1 t Baking Powder
1 t Ground Cardamon
1/2 t Ground Coriander
1 t Kosher Salt
1 C Bread Crumbs, preferably home-made
1. Preheat still oven to 325F
2. Butter and sugar individual molds. (We used small ones like ramekins.)
3. Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating fully after each addition. Add marmalade.
4. In another bowl sift flour and baking powder. Add spices and salt and whisk briefly to incorporate.
5. Fold these dries into wet mixture above just until mixed. Fold breadcrumbs in at end.
6. Put a dollop of marmalade in molds and fill with batter 3/4's up way up the sides.
Place molds on a rack in a pan, fill with hot water 1/2 way up sides of molds. Cover pan with aluminum foil, making a tight seal, and bake for at least 20 minutes.
When done, mixture will no longer jiggle in the middle. Cool for about 10 minutes in rack, run knife around sides and unmold to eat.
Steamed Puddings are best eaten soon after they are made, but may be warmed and unmolded individually to order, as you would in a restaurant setting. Because puddings baked in molds to be turned-out are often pre-lined with caramel, the marmalade is a nice alternative, and much easier to handle! If you've put a generous dollop it may take a bit longer for the steamed pudding to cook and set, but in the plating it will make an integral garnish.
If you're one of those poeple who love to learn about culinary history experientially, you will appreciate steamed puddings. Like making your own gelatin and pectin from scratch, skinning almonds by hand, cracking cherry stones to pull out the tiny kernel for cherry-pit ice cream, steamed puddings are a thankless all-day affair, but deeply soul-satisfying like the slam dunks you make on a basketball court absent of eyes save for your unbelieving ones.
Links to more information/posts/recipes of Steamed Puddings: