The Perfect Pudding
A pudding is a mercurial dish, sweet one minute, savoury the next. Boiled, steamed or baked, it can be eaten hot or cold. It is rarely flash or fancy, rather the opposite. It is not meant to be a picture-perfect decoration on a plate, but always reflect coziness, comfort and indulgence. Nigella Lawson describes it as ‘austerely handsome yet gorgeously warming in taste’.
To the Poms, the word is worshipped and almost synonymous with a reward: ‘Eat your peas or you’ll get no pudding’. The word ‘Pudding’, a British gastronome wrote over a century ago, has been extended ‘so widely by the fancies and tastes of cooks that it is difficult to assign any limitation to its application’. Suffice it to say that even if he cannot define a pudding, an Englishman knows when he is eating one.
My favourite puddings are Yorkshire pudding and Sticky Toffee Pudding.
As the name suggests, the Yorkshire pudding originated in Yorkshire, England. It is a staple of the British Sunday lunch and in some cases, eaten as a separate course prior to the main meat dish. The secret to a Yorkshire pudding is quite simple really. All you need is the right recipe, the right size tin and the right oven temperature. The Royal Society of Chemistry discovered that the secret to the perfect Yorkshire pudding is that it should rise to four inches in height. A combination of a well-regulated batter temperature and the importance of getting the fat really hot is the secret to a well risen, golden brown and crispy top Yorkshire pudding. Many have tried with flat, pale and soggy results. I have two words to sum up the secret of the Yorkshire pudding – beef dripping. It is an absolute must.
The second pudding is the ultimate marriage of stodge and sweetness. Created back in 1949 by Francis Coulson, the sticky toffee pudding, or sticky date pudding in some circles, is the ultimate winter post-dinner staple for me. It is stodgy, gooey and unapologetically sweet. Although it is often put in the same group of dishes involving syrup and treacle, the sticky toffee pudding is more like a giant muffin than a sponge, and is made with a liquid batter, rather than a creamed mix of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. The dates miraculously add richness to this pudding without increasing the pudding’s density. The original recipe from Coulson uses chopped dates, softened in boiling water then folded into creamed butter and sugar, along with eggs, self raising flour and vanilla essence. The finished product has a fluffy but moist texture and is accompanied with a rich sauce made from a mixture of double cream, treacle and demarara sugar. All that is left to decide is ‘what do you dollop on top?’
Nowadays, there are some traditional puddings made to a five star quality. Bread and butter pudding for one. This king of nursery desserts is delicious when the bread is soaked in rum, brandy or grappa overnight. Just think hot toddy and hot pudding, all in one quivering, caramelized spoonful. And the plebian rice pudding gets a touch of class when Gordon Ramsay ennobled it with a soupcon of crème anglaise. But these are mere words. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
What is your favourite pudding?
Alvin Quah for Citysearch, June 2011
Photo: Yorkshire pudding by arndog