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.
I believe it would only be fair to entitle this post “My Big Fat Pudding Fail.” I honestly do not think I have ever messed up a challenge this badly.
I’ll admit I was not especially enthusiastic about the challenge when I first read about it. I was actually only vaguely aware of what British pudding was – and you can hardly blame me, given all the different definitions given to the term! But I had heard not-so-flattering things about it from various people.
However, when I looked at the recipes our hostess, Esther, had given us, I thought to myself: “Hmmm, this actually looks pretty good.” There was a sweet, sponge-cake like version, which looked tasty. But I was mostly drawn to the other version, which consisted in a pastry crust, with a savoury or sweet filling. The savoury version looked especially appealing, like a pastry-wrapped stew.
The main problem was the key ingredient: suet. I wasn’t able to get my hands on that oh-so-specific animal fat, which is essential to making a pudding crust. Now, we had all been assured that suet could easily be replaced by shortening. But, since I had some duck fat leftover in my fridge, I figured I could use that instead. However, duck fat melts relatively fast, so I had to make a few adaptations to my crust, adding more flour to make it rollable. Still, I thought it would be OK.
The next problem was the container: pudding is typically assembled in a pudding basin, then sealed with foil and steamed in a waterbath. I didn’t have a pudding basin, and all my heatproof ramekins and ceramic casseroles were either too big, or too small. Finally, I settled on the aluminum container of my rice cooker. After all, surely it was heat-resistant and ideal for steaming?
I chose to make a meat-based pudding, with beef chuck, onions, and mushrooms. My duck fat-based pastry was more brittle than I would have liked, so I had to pat it onto my mold, rather than roll it out into a nice, round piece. Still, I thought it would be OK.
So, I steamed the whole thing for four hours. Fortunately, I have the pictures to prove it, because there is no way you would believe me based on the final result. Here is the steaming apparatus:
Here I am unwrapping it:
Here is the bottom side of the crust. At this point, I realized it looked a little soggy, but I figured it was only because some water must have gotten on top. I was still confident.
Here I am about to unmold the whole thing:
And here is what came out:
Totally NOT what was supposed to happen. For some reason, my crust remained stuck to the mold. It was wet, sticky, and clearly not cooked.
You can laugh. I know I did! I mean, when a project goes this wrong, what else can you do? At least the meat was nice and tender, so we had that for dinner, with a side of sautéed zucchini, and some homemade buckwheat blinis I quickly thawed (to replace the disastrous crust). It was good enough, but obviously if I had wanted to make stew, I would’ve simmered it in a Dutch oven, not steamed it.
I did this challenge at the last minute, so I had no time to try it again. I would like to, though. Looking through the other Daring Bakers’ forum posts, I’ve seen so many awesome-looking sweet sponge versions, and so many beautiful savoury crusty versions, that I’m convinced this has to be a good dish. Something just went wrong, in my case - very, very wrong. If I try this again, I will use shortening, and ramekins, and maybe make individual portions, rather than a large version.
At any rate, thank you, Esther, for this most interesting challenge. I really wish I had done a better job, but at least I am now somewhat more informed regarding British puddings. In the meantime, if you want to see what English pudding is really supposed to look like, please check out the original recipe at The Daring Kitchen. And if you want to find out all the fun variations you can make based on this recipe, check out the Daring Bakers’ blogroll!