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.