custom cakes/cookies

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Gingered Rhubarb Puddin'

I'm all for traditional methods of baking, doing things purely from scratch, challenging my notions of what's fit for consumption, and sampling culinary dishes from various cultures. A recent introduction to Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management certainly has satisfied all four of these tenets at one fell swoop.

Mrs. Isabella Beeton was a famous British cookery writer of the late 19th century. Married to a publisher of books and popular magazines, she contributed articles on cooking and household management for her husband's publications. Eventually, all 2751 entries were published as a single volume, comprising information in all realms of Victorian British domesticity including tips on how to manage servants and rear children, medical and legal advice, as well as multi-course menu planning and detailed cooking instructions including seasonability and estimated cost of ingredients. Meant as a guide for an aspiring middle class, this compendium is said to be the first cookbook to show recipes in the format to which we are accustomed today. Flipping through the pages of her book, almost immediately, I was enthralled!

So when challenged this month to make a traditional, boiled British pudding, I chose to try a historical recipe from Mrs. Beeton. Rhubarb is in season, so I went with that as a basis for the filling. For never having seen or tasted a steamed pudding, the technique was quite surprising; you make a pastry dough that appears like pie crust, yet when steamed yields a moist cake crumb-like texture. In essence, I made gingered rhubarb-filled muffins.

By far though, the most adventurous aspect of this recipe was the required source of fat: suet. This was an anatomy and species lesson unto its own. Suet is the hard fat located around the loins and kidneys of a cow or sheep or deer. Not just a hardy consumable energy source for winter bird feeders or Arctic explorers, when rendered, it becomes tallow, an ingredient found in Twinkies and McDonald's french fries (before 1990) and candles and soap. Because of it's relatively low melting point, it makes an excellent source of fat for steamed British pastries. The pig and chicken equivalents of tallow are lard and schmaltz, respectively. Good information to file away...

At 80¢/lb (a sure bargain!), I purchased fresh suet from a local grocer and proceeded to rendered it in my kitchen (see bottom of post for instructions). It was an educationally fulfilling yet somewhat disgusting task that emitted a fragrance reminiscent of french fries. Though economical, I'm not sure I could adopt this source of fat in my regular baking repertoire. Sorry Mrs. Beeton, I think I prefer the flavor of butter instead. I've got a bit more tallow left over though in which I'm tempted to fry potatoes, but after that, I'm done.

By the way, today is the first birthday of my blog. Last year on this day, my inaugural post was Lavender-Infused Cheesecake with Crystalized Lilacs. Interesting to see how far this has come and to imagine where next it will go...

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.

Gingered Rhubarb Pudding
6-8 servings

Sweet Suet Crust
350 g self-rising flour
175 g rendered suet (see below for directions), or suet substitute (i.e., Vegetable Suet, Crisco, Lard)
1 tsp lemon sugar
a pinch of sea salt
210 milliliters

4-5 stalks rhubarb, ½-in dice
2 TBS crystallized ginger, finely chopped
110 g (4 oz) Lyle's Golden Syrup

Sift the flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl. Coarsely grate the rendered suet on the large holes of a box grater into the bowl. Lightly mix the flour and suet together with fork or pastry blender, forming small pebble-sized pieces.

Mix in the water, a tablespoonful at a time, tossing lightly around the bowl until the pastry just comes together as a sticky and elastic dough. Use your hands to gather the dough into a smooth ball that when swiped around leaves the bowl clean. You may not use the full amount of water, so it is important to add it in small increments. Don’t over handle the pastry or it will become tough and glutiness.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut away a quarter of it and put aside to make the lid. Using a flour-dusted rolling pin, roll the larger portion of dough to a fairly thick circle about 13 inches in diameter.

Line a generously buttered, 4 cup capacity pudding basin with the pastry. If making single-sized servings, cut the pastry into individual rounds to fit smaller ramekins. Squeeze and tuck the pastry to fit snugly in the bowl, pressing it evenly all around.

Divide the diced rhubarb, crystallized ginger and golden syrup among each pastry-lined dish, then roll out the remaining pastry to form circular lid(s) large enough to cover the top of the basin or ramekins. Dampen the edges of each pastry lid with a bit of water and position it on top of the pudding. Seal well by crimping its edges. Cover with a sheet of parchment, pleated in the center to allow room for expansion while cooking and folded and tucked firmly around the edges of the basin. A video of this pleating technique can be seen here. The parchment cover can be secured with cooking twine, making a useful handle for lifting in and out of the hot steamer.

Place the pudding basin in a stove top steamer set over boiling water. Be sure the water comes no higher than a third of the way up the pudding basin, so as not to boil over into the pudding, which would create a soggy disappointment. Secure the lid of the pot and steam for 2-2½ hours for a large pudding or 1-1½ hours for individual ramekins. You may need to add more boiling water halfway through or possibly more often if it runs low. There is a lot of leeway in this steaming time. One way to determine that the pudding is sufficiently cooked is when the pastry changes color to a light golden brown. It is hard to over steam a pudding, though, so it can be left steaming for quite some time until you are ready to serve it.

When ready to serve, turn the pudding out of the basin and eat while still warm.

Rendering Suet into Tallow:

Obtain about a half a pound of suet from your local butcher, keep refrigerated until ready to use. With your fingers remove and discard as much of the muscle and membranous casing stuck to the suet. Once picked over, grate the suet on the largest holes of a box grater into a wide skillet. The smaller the bits of suet, the faster it will melt. Slowly heat the skillet over medium-low heat, allowing the fat to melt into a clear liquid and separate from any remaining extraneous bits. This could take up to 20 minutes or more. A fragrance reminiscent of french fries might waft in the air. Like clarifying butter, heating not only separates the proteins from the fat, but also allows any water to evaporate making it shelf stable. Once completely melted, pour the hot liquid through a fine mesh sieve lined with several layers of cheesecloth into a shallow heatproof container. Using the back of a spoon, press on the bits caught up in the cheesecloth to extract as much of the liquid tallow as possible. Allow the tallow to cool completely at room temperature. In its liquid state, tallow appears yellowish. It turns an opaque white at room temperature. Store at room temperature for near immediate use or freeze for long term projects.


mama kim said...

I've got a Mrs. Beeton book myself. I believe it concerns preserves? A very interesting read.

Olivia said...

have you seen the BBC biography series? I hear it makes her seem a bit scandalous