I love London. Several people in my inner circle either live there or have lived there so visiting this city has always been more about connecting with friends than being a tourist. While there are so many great things about London (Wimbledon, Harvey Nicks, TopShop, the Tube and Pimms, to name a few) I have to admit that British cuisine hasn't necessarily made it to the top of my list.
I can hear my friends protesting as I write this, but I will concede that English food has improved greatly over the years, beyond the ubiquitous fish and chips, which is one of my favorites btw. But when it comes to baking I think most would agree that English desserts haven't reached the same echelons as the Frenchies, and I daresay, us Yanks!
So when I read that April's Daring Bakers challenge was to make a British pudding I definitely felt some hesitation. There are different types of puddings in the UK, savory or sweet. Anyone care for steak and kidney pie? No thanks! I chose to go the sweet route since I don't really like savory puddings. We were tasked use suet, a type of animal or vegetable fat, and also to steam the pudding. I've never heard of suet before and my local market doesn't carry it but based on what I've read it's similar to lard or Crisco.
I ended up using a recipe for cherry squares, which is essentially a Victoria sponge cake topped with cherry pie filling. Using suet didn't sound too appealing in the batter so I stuck with butter. Since I failed at using the required fat, I instead focused my efforts on the challenge's baking technique: steaming. I've never steamed a dessert before so I was very curious to see what the end product would be compared to one made in a conventional oven.
I split the cake batter in half and steamed some and baked the rest. To my surprise the cakes cooked in the steamer rose as high as the one in the oven. But the main difference between the two versions was the crust. With steaming there wasn't one. The cake was perfectly cooked but lacked the golden brown color and crunchy texture I was looking for. Let's face it, the crust is one of the best parts of any baked good.
I'm glad I did this month's challenge. I learned a new baking technique that I never thought of before. But to be honest, steaming just isn't for me. However, if my oven continues acting up as it has been recently I now have an alternate approach I can use.
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.
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
can of cherry pie filling
In a large bowl beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add eggs, almond and vanilla extracts and combine thoroughly.
Mix in flour and baking powder until no dry ingredients are visible.
Butter and sugar the insides of ceramic bowls. (Any bowls will do as they as they are dishwasher and microwave safe.)
Depending on the bowl size, put enough cherry pie filling on the bottom to reach about 1".
Scoop some cake batter on top of filling, but only fill to about 1/2" from the top of the bowl. Spread batter evenly over the pie filling.
Take a piece of parchment paper and cover the bowl and secure with some string or a rubber band.
Place bowls in a steamer and steam for approximately 1 hour, or until toothpick inserted in to the center of the cake comes out clean.
Remove parchment from steamed cake and run a paring knife around the inside of the bowl, loosening the cake from the edges.
Invert on to a dessert plate.
Spread cake batter evenly in a greased and floured 1/4 sheet pan.
Dot the top with cherry pie filling (as much as you like).
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until the top is nice and brown.
Let cool to room temperature in pan.
Dust with powdered sugar, cut in to squares or bars and serve.