Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Daring Bakers' April Challenge - British Pudding

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!


  1. Hey - you got a good meal of nicely cooked meat out of the deal, so you can't call it a TOTAL fail! :) I am so glad you have such a good outlook on it - I would love to think I would have laughed, but I am not so sure... Crust aside, I still think you did a great job on this challenge.

  2. It's the pits when things go this wrong. If you try it again, lard might work better in the pastry. Just a guess. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

  3. Oh no! I was completely shocked by the picture of your turned out pudding. It must have been the duck fat, though I bet it tasted better than the suet crust. If it's ay consolation, I only ate the filling and not my crust either:)

  4. Wow, what an unveiling! I'm sure you were quite surprised with what happened because I know I was shocked seeing it. At least you were able to salvage it and it wasn't a total waste. :)

  5. I can,t believe it just fell apart like that. I would have had a look of shock before laughing. At least you could still eat it and it was delicious! I think it was quite a challenge for us on the West side of the big Atlantic pond

  6. What a great story and the series of photos really are good and I love the sense of anticipation which is palpable in your writing. At least you could have it as a stew. I'm very impressed at your stoic response well done, lovely photos. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  7. I guess the solution is greasing your pudding basin which in your case the aluminium rice cooker container... before pressing in the crust dough. Would you give it a second shot?

    Sawadee from Bangkok,

  8. you're a natural at keep your readers captivated on your posts. I'm sorry, but i really did laugh while going through your photo sequence. Not much at the end result, but more at your sense of humor. The pudding looked great when you first unveiled the foil, maybe you'll have better luck next time. But don't worry, although my crust was fixated, i still had to throw it out cuz it was inedible. It's good to know that someone else out there ALSO enjoyed a good meal of steak filling despite their crust failure :D

  9. Hehe, oh well! Adventures in the kitchen is what it's all about :)

  10. Thanks for being so honest! Who hasn't had a less than perfect baking experience? :) Your final dinner looks delicious! :)

  11. Val..as long as it tasted good, who cares if it wasn't a perfectly molded pudding? Great prep photos and I'm loving that tender looking beef and mushroom 'pudding' :)

  12. Oooo, hahaha I can almost imagine your face when that pudding came out the way it did! Still the meat does look pretty tasty and you tried right? That counts for something as I completely bailed on this one... :)

  13. I was looking at the pictures first. I thought it turned out great without flipping the pudding. It sucks that it didn't turn as a pudding at least there is a good side to it :)

    I had a few disasters specifically my Yule log, nothing wrong redoing it.

  14. I started "laughing out loud" at my desk, and just go way too many wierd looks for doing so...
    Oh my gosh.... I'm now wishing I had participated in this challenge!!! HHAAHAHAHHAHA
    Oh my...
    Well, at least you tried, right?
    *sigh* I am still laughing about the progress of the pictures... This is a great post for displaying the challenge, even if it was a "fail" (I don't really consider mistakes a fail, just a lesson learned...) :)