Last year I threatened to write some instructional posts that focus on technique rather than history. First up, a step-by-step guide to making a steamed sponge pudding, complete with instructions on how to cook one if you don’t have a steamer.
This recipe is for a basic sponge to fit a 2 pint / 1 litre mould or basin. It will serve 6 to 8 people; you can multiply up or down the amounts and cooking times very easily, though if you are making a really big one (1 ½ litres or more) you’ll need to add a teaspoon of baking powder. Any mould can be used, but a basin is best for sponges.
There are an infinite number of variations, and I have included some examples for you after the basic recipe.
225g softened butter, plus extra for buttering the mould
175g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour, or gluten-free flour mix
Pinch salt (if using unsalted butter)
30ml liquid: e.g. milk, lemon juice
Start by buttering your mould well; if you are using a basin with a lid, butter that too.
Now beat the butter and caster sugar with an electric mixer, or a wooden spoon, until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time into the butter and sugar – use a high speed if using an electric mixer. When fully incorporated, add the next egg. If the mixture refuses to mix properly and curdles, add a tablespoon of flour and beat well.
When all four eggs have been added, tip in the flour (and salt if using) and mix on a low speed until just incorporated. Add the liquid and mix again. The mixture should now be of ‘dropping consistency’, i.e. if you take a large spoonful, the batter drops from it when you turn the spoon on its side. If it doesn’t, add a little more – just a couple of teaspoons may be all you need. If you’re not sure, err on the side of caution and don’t add more liquid.
Now it is time to fill the basin. If you like, place a circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom of the basin to prevent the pudding, or any topping, from sticking. This is more important if you are using a metal, porcelain or glass basin, plastic ones are typically see-through and can be massaged to help the pudding to release itself.
This is also the time to add any toppings, should there be any: see suggestions below. Once added, scrape the mixture into the basin and smooth the top.
Put the lid on the basin, if it has one, or place a pleated double layer of greaseproof paper and kitchen foil – the pleat allows for any expansion – then secure it in place with string.
You may want to make a simple handle with the string too if you suspect the pudding will be tricky to remove from its steamer.
Now prepare the steamer. If you have one that fits the pudding basin, simply add boiling water straight from the kettle to the base to a depth of a few inches/ 10 cm deep, then place the basin in the steamer, sit it on the base and put on the lid. Turn the heat high and allow it to come to a rolling boil
If you don’t have a steamer you can make one: Take a pan large enough to comfortably fit your basin. Before you add any water, place an upturned saucer on the base of the pan (add some scrunched material under the saucer to prevent clattering). Place the basin inside your pan and pour boiling water straight from the kettle into the basin to come around a third of the way up the basin. Cover and turn the heat to high to achieve a rolling boil.
Whichever way you have made your steamer, once a rolling boil has been reached keep the pudding boiling well for 20 minutes, then turn the heat to medium-low. The total cooking time for this size of pudding is 90 minutes.
Don’t be tempted to remove the lid as it drops the temperature. That said, it is also important that the pan or steamer doesn’t boil dry so do check after 45 mins or an hour if you think it may do. If so, top up with water straight from the kettle.
When it is done, remove the basin from the steamer and leave for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a serving plate or dish, slide a knife around the inside edge to loosen it if you suspect it may be stubborn.
Serve the pudding with proper custard.
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You can add flavour by using different sugars or swapping 60g sugar for a syrup, by adding citrus zest, or by adding ½ tsp flavouring or extract.
Toppings can be used with aplomb: they need to be 1 or 2 cm in depth, about 100g, and added before the sponge mixture.
Treacle sponge: add 100g golden syrup (or a mixture of golden syrup and black treacle) to the base, use soft dark brown sugar for the sponge and add the zest of a lemon.
Jam or marmalade sponge: add 100g of your favourite jam or marmalade, add orange or lemon zest to the sponge mixture if liked.
Lemon: add a layer of lemon curd to the base, flavour the sponge with the zest of a lemon. Use lemon juice to thin the sponge mixture.
Bakewell: add 100g of morello cherry or raspberry jam to the base. For the sponge, add ½ tsp almond extract and swap 60g flour for ground almonds.
Rum and raisin: soak 100g raisins in 2 tbs spiced rum overnight, add to the mixture after the flour has been incorporated, thin the mixture with more rum.
Chocolate: substitute 60g of the flour for cocoa. Serve a chocolate sauce or chocolate custard separately.
Fruit: add 100g of any sweetened stewed fruit or fruit in syrup. Soft fruits like gooseberries, blackcurrants, etc., can be mixed with sugar and added raw.
 I regularly make these puddings gluten free and the flour mixture I use is the following: 60g ground almonds, 175g gluten-free bread flour mix (I use Dove Farm), 1 level tablespoon gluten-free baking powder and 1 level teaspoon ground psyllium husk.