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 am so American that it shows sometimes. This month's challenge was proof of that. When I hear the word pudding, I think of a custard type dessert, usually in chocolate or vanilla, sometimes with rice or tapioca. That was not what this challenge was about.
The British word pudding has much further implications than that. It can either be used as a generic term for "dessert," or to describe any dish that is cooked in a pudding bowl or pudding cloth, and is normally steamed or boiled, but is sometimes baked.
The first definition was the one I was vaguely familiar with, mostly through books like the Harry Potter series and a variety of British historical fiction novels. The second definition clarified things a bit for me, both regarding things I had previously read (I had heard of steak and kidney pudding and wondered just what kinds of desserts these were?!?) as well as for this month's challenge.
Our challenge this month was to prepare a steamed pudding, either savory or sweet, using the traditional British process. Generally speaking, the savory puddings tend towards a steamed pot-pie type dish, with a pie crust filled with some kind of meat (or vegetable) filling. Conversely, sweet puddings tend to be of the "sponge" variety - a steamed, sweet cakey dessert.
An additional, optional, aspect of the challenge was to use a traditional ingredient in the preparation of the pudding, suet. To date, my only experience with suet had been the stuff I put in a birdhouse in an attempt to draw an adventurous woodpecker away from the siding of my house. Not something I ever thought of eating. Turns out it is another form of fat, though one not all that popular or commonly available in grocery stores in our area. I chose to substitute other fats in my recipes, though would not object to trying suet, were I to get my hands on the boxed, pre-processed stuff one day. Something to look for if I am ever baking in Europe!
Anyway, back to the challenge. I was very excited when I read this challenge. Everything about this challenge was new to me. It was about way more than a recipe, it was about a style of cooking with which I was wholly unfamiliar. This was the reason I joined the Daring Kitchen in the first place. Needless to say, I was nervous.
After seeing several of the completed puddings of some of my fellow daring bakers, I worked up the nerve to try my first pudding. I started with a dessert sponge-style pudding. One of my fellow daring bakers prepared a beautiful and delicious looking pudding with a recipe that looked very easy to follow. A layer of jam is spooned into the bottom of a greased pudding basin (I used a one-liter pyrex bowl), then covered with a simple, though thick, batter made from butter, flour, sugar, egg and vanilla. The dish is then covered with waxed paper and foil, and the whole package is tied off to ensure that no moisture gets under the cover during the steaming process. I used rubber bands to hold my cover onto the bowl, and used my slow cooker as a steamer. I covered a mini tart pan with foil (to protect it, just in case), then placed it, upside down in the bottom of my slow cooker. I rested my pudding bowl on top of this make-shift steaming platform, then poured hot water (heated in a kettle) into the slow cooker until it reached the bottom of the pudding bowl. Make sense? Cover on the slow cooker, heat set to low, and there you go. I was officially making a steamed pudding. The only problem was that I didn't know how long it needed to steam for. Everyone who had made this kind of pudding had mentioned cooking times in the range from an hour to two and a half hours. Erring on the side of caution, I allowed three hours for the steaming of this pudding. Unfortunately, my pudding had other things in mind. When I popped the lid after two and a half hours, I was confused to find that both rubber bands had popped off and that, when I peeked under the foil, my batter was still... well... batter. I replaced the foil, changed our dessert plans for the night and popped the dial on the slow cooker up to high. I then worried for the next two and a half hours about what in the world I could have done wrong, and was I going to officially have a fail on my hands?? As luck would have it, I didn't. Apparently, between my bowl and slow cooker, I just needed extra time. The next time I checked, my pudding had a spongey, cakey texture and looked cooked all the way through. The only problem this time was that it was two and a half hours past dessert time, so we would have to wait until the next day to eat it. No problem - I put it back in the steamer about an hour before dinner the next night and it was perfectly warmed through for dessert. I think the re-steaming affected the color, but the taste was fantastic. What a rich, moist, delicious cake! Little iss loved it, and even asked for seconds. Definitely not a fail.
Based on the (eventual) success of my first pudding, I decided to try another sponge style one. Most of the daring bakers on the forums were sharing photos of a delicioiusly decadent looking chocolate sponge pudding. It looked too tempting to pass up. The process was almost identical to the first, but rather than jam lining the pudding basin, chocolate chips get the honor. The batter has cocoa mixed into it, and, for extra good measure, more chips mixed in. This time I even knew about how long it would need, so I was able to time it to have for dessert on the correct night!
Holy chocolaty richness. The only "problem" with this one was that it was so rich and ooey gooey that it didn't cut into nice even pieces. Yeah, I didn't think that was a big deal either. You must try this one. Got the little miss seal of approval, too, with an even higher ranking than the strawberry version.
Two sponge puddings complete, I felt ready to give the other type a try - a savory, crust style pudding. The problem was deciding on a filling. Once I understood the style of food this kind of pudding was, what kept coming into my mind was some kind of chicken pot pie dish. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a recipe that went along with this vision in my head. Did I let that stop me? Not at all! After reading recipes for other savory, crust style puddings, I felt comfortable enough pulling together my own recipe for a chicken pot pie version.
The first step was to prepare the crust. Instead of the traditional suet, I opted to use vegetable shortening. Little miss has helped me make many pie crusts, and was happy to help me prepare this one, too. She helped me measure, mix and knead. Then we put the dough in the fridge and worked on the filling.
I started by sauteeing some onion and potato in some butter. I then added some flour to the pan, the poured in some chicken broth to make the sauce for my pie's filling. I then diced up some raw chicken breast, which I mixed with some frozen mixed veggies. All of this was mixed with the onion and potato sauce, then set aside.
Filling ready, it was time for little miss to help me roll out the crust. I wanted to be careful to roll the crust thin enough that the meat would cook through well, but thick enough to hold the filling. Little miss did a great job, and we were able to press our crust into my now greatly overworked pyrex bowl. I then poured the prepared filling into this crust and topped it with another rolled crust to seal in the filling. The bowl was covered as before, and placed into the slow-cooker-steamer for six hours. Not only did I want to make sure that my filling cooked all the way through, but other daring bakers had learned that, even with the wet method of cooking, it is possible, given enough time in the steamer, for a steamed crust to become flaky and golden.
Close to dinner time, I made a quick gravy by thickening up some chicken stock and prepared some rice, as we always eat chicken pot pie with rice in our family. Everything prepared, it was time to un-mold my chicken pot pudding. Can you believe that was steamed? I was greatly encouraged. When I cut into it, I was even happier. The chicken was beautifully cooked, the pie even somewhat held its shape. As for the taste? It tasted just like chicken pot pie! Everyone ate it up and enjoyed it, so I would definitely call it a success.
I must say - this Daring Bakers Challenge definitely lived up to its name - so far, it has been the most daring and the biggest challenge for me, which puts it right up on the list of my favorites in which I have participated so far. Esther, I know some of our members must have thought it was an April Fool's joke when you posted this, but I cannot thank you enough for choosing this as our challenge this month. I can honestly tell you that it is something that I never would have thought to try on my own, and that I am so glad to have learned. I have so many ideas for other puddings, both sponge and crust style, and cannot wait to try them all. Thank you, thank you!
And, in case you are curious, there were probably as many varieties of this challenge as there were members participating this month. Click here to see some of the other amazing creations.