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 think that suet probably has a certain “ick” factor for a lot of people. Which made me all the more determined to use it. It’s that contrary streak that runs through me.
At first I was goin to use the suet “as is”; I wasn’t going to render it. But after reading that it would have a cleaner flavor I’m glad I decided to do the extra step. Especially since I was making a sweet pudding, where a heavy beef flavor wouldn’t be as welcome as, say, in a steak and kidney pie. Also, as I started pulling the suet apart I realized there was a lot of membrane and other “stuff” in there that I wanted to be able to strain out. Photos of the “stuff” would have required a parental warning. Believe me, you don’t want to see it.
Here’s a fairly benign photo of the suet at the beginning of rendering.
I cooked down 2 pounds of suet in a cast iron skillet and strained it, resulting in a harmeless looking golden liquid (Believe me, you don’t want to see the in-between stages of the rendering either).
Once it’s chilled, you can forget about the horrors of the rendering process. Everything will look much more appetizing from this point on.
I was ready to make the suet pastry, which calls for self-rising flour, an ingredient I commonly come across in British and Australian recipes, but not a lot here in the United States. I guess I mainly see it in biscuit recipes around here. In fact, once I started making the suet crust, it felt more like making biscuits than pie crust.
When working with self-rising flour, it’s important to pay attention to the expiration date because the leavening is already in the flour. If it’s expired, your dough might not have enough oomph to rise.
I had a hard time deciding what kind of filling to use so I ended up mixing the ingredients for Blackberry Apple Exeter and Sussex Pond puddings. If I make this again I’ll leave out the lemon to give me room for more blackberries and apples. Although the lemon did infuse it with a citrus background flavor . . . Maybe I’ll try some zest next time.
In the end it felt like kind of a fail. Despite all the research I did I felt like I was working fairly blind. How much do you incorporate the suet into the flour? How thick do I roll the pastry? Given the imprecision of the cooking times, how do I tell if it’s done? Was the crust supposed to be flaky like pie crust or fluffy like a biscuit or dumpling?
The bottom was too thin (Oh if only my bottom were too thin!) and my pastry was stodgy. I probably overworked the dough. But the filling was delicious. And anything can be fixed if you pour enough vanilla bean custard sauce on it. Or as the British say, “lashings of custard.”
Basic Suet Pastry
400 g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
200 g shredded beef, or vegetarian suet
150 ml cold water
150 ml cold milk
Butter a 2-quart pudding bowl or slope sided ceramic mixing bowl (not glass).
Place the flour and the salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to fluff it up. Add the suet. Pulse until evenly blended. Suet is a very hard fat, so this may take more pulses than you are used to. Transfer the mixture to a clean mixing bowl. Add about 1/3 of the liquid and beginning stirring with a knife. The dough will start to look shaggy. Add about 1/3 more of the liquid and stir in. At this point squeeze a handful of dough to see if it holds together. If it does, start gently pressing the dough together with your hands to form a ball, adding a few drops of liquid as needed. Don’t overwork it.
Cut out about a quarter of the pastry mixture for the lid and set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the larger portion of the dough to line the buttered bowl, leaving at least 1/2 inch of dough hanging over the edge.
Fill as desired using a sweet or savory filling (a recipe follows).
On a lightly floured surface roll out the remaining dough into a round disc about 1/4 inch thick. Dampen its edges and put it in position on the pudding, pressing to seal well. Try not to end up with too thick an edge.
Apple Blackberry Sussex Pond Pudding
110 g Cold unsalted butter – cubed
115 g soft brown sugar
120 g chopped apple
120 g blackberries
I large lemon
Make a suet pastry as directed above.
Place half of the butter and soft brown sugar into the pastry lined bowl. Add half of the apple and blackberries. Prick the outside of the lemon all over with a skewer or sharp knife and place on top of the fruit already in the bowl. Pack the remaining butter, sugar, apple and blackberries around the lemon.
Place the pastry lid over the pudding and pinch together to form a good seal. Trim of any excess pastry and discard. Just a note that my edge is actually too thick as pictured below.
Take a double sheet of foil or parchment and form a pleat across the middle. Cover the top of the pudding and tie well in place with kitchen string (This may take two people). Form a handle with string to make it easy to lift the pudding out of the steamer when cooked. Alternately, fold a sheet of foil to make a sort of strap, about 4-inches wide (see the photo below). I made mine out of parchment only because I was out of foil. Set the bowl on top of the strip and use the ends to lift and lower the bowl in the pot.
Partly fill a large pot with water. Place a small steamer rack in the bottom. Lower the bowl down to sit on the rack. Bring the water to a boil and place the pudding in the steamer and steam for three to three and half hours. Check the water every thirty minutes to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.
When cooked, remove the cover carefully. Let it cool a bit. Place a serving plate on top of the pudding bowl and invert the pudding and plate and gently lift off the bowl.
Vanilla Bean Custard Sauce
The Good Egg by Marie Simmons
2 1/2 cups milk (2% or whole)
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of Kosher salt
4 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
Combine the milk, sugar and salt in the top of a double boiler. Set the pan directly over low heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat.
Place the egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk just until blended. Slowly stir some of the hot milk into the yolks to temper them, then add the yolk mixture to the milk and whisk until blended.
Set the double boiler top over the bottom and cook, stirring constantly until the custard coast the back of the spoon, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, strain into a bowl and stir in the vanilla bean paste.
Sauce can be served hot or cold.