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Many Americans are unfamiliar with steamed pudding, although they may have been served it in a restaurant or as a guest and thought of it as a type of cake. Steamed pudding begins with a thick, sweet batter that is poured into a dedicated pudding mold or another container modified to suit the purpose and cooks by steaming with hot water. Unlike the much more recent creamy American pudding, steamed puddings have a long and respected history in Great Britain and Europe.
Many types of steamed pudding are denser than a traditional cake, and hosts serve these puddings with chocolate, lemon, or raspberry sauce as a foil to their thick, rich flavor. These puddings, which originated in Great Britain, are built upon a foundation of flour, cereal, or other grains with butter, and in the case of sweet steamed puddings, sugar, molasses, or honey. Some puddings include suet, which is a hard fat found around organs in cows or sheep, and old-school steamed pudding enthusiasts are firm in the believe that nothing can be substituted for it.
One of the best-known types of steamed pudding is a Christmas pudding, similar to holiday fruitcake. Christmas pudding is made with flour and bread crumbs, several eggs, sugar, and suet. A number of dried and candied fruits join in, most commonly raisins, currents, and plums or cherries. Cooks frequently add walnuts, pecans, almonds, or other nuts as well.
Spectacular for holidays, as well as for other occasions, cranberry steamed pudding is simpler than some others. In addition to dry ingredients such as flour, sugar, and baking soda, this pudding features fresh or dried cranberries and cinnamon. It’s often served with a rich, buttery cream sauce.
One savory pudding that many cooks are familiar with, whether they’ve prepared it or not, is a steak and kidney pie, a favorite lunch in British-style pubs around the world. Most recipes call for sirloin or other steak as well as beef or lamb kidney, mushrooms, onions, and flour. This type of steamed pudding often contains mushrooms and dark ale in addition to a selection of fresh or dried herbs, such as rosemary and thyme.
Another well-known British pudding is Yorkshire pudding. This batter-based treat is reminiscent of a popover and is often served with gravy and sliced beef, usually roast beef. It contains a number of eggs, which simultaneously encourage the batter to rise while keeping the interior of the pudding moist and creamy.
Charles Dickens talked about plum pudding, or Christmas pudding in "A Christmas Carol." He said the Cratchit children could hear their mother opening the boiler, then taking the cloth off, and then the smell of a bakery flooded the house, and the pudding was out.
Mrs. Cratchit then drizzled the pudding with brandy and a holly sprig, lit the brandy and brought the flaming pudding to the table. It's one of the better descriptions of what a Christmas pudding is supposed to be like.
I'd love to sample some Christmas pudding, but I'm not nearly brave enough to try it on my own. Spending one Christmas in England is on my bucket list, so maybe I'll get to have real Christmas pudding at some point.
I've actually made Yorkshire puddings, and really, they're baked rather than steamed. Well, they are if you do the large pudding, in the same pan the roast beef cooked in. I do mine in muffin tins. I pour a little oil in each cup and heat the pan in the oven until the cups are smoking hot.
Then, I pour my room temperature batter into the cups and bake them until they are golden brown. I did them last year for Christmas dinner and they were a huge hit with the family. They weren't difficult, and added something new to the holiday repertoire.