Monthly Archives: January 2023

How to Make a Steamed Sponge Pudding: a Step-by-Step Guide

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

4 eggs

225g self-raising flour, or gluten-free flour mix[1]

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.

A mixture with the correct ‘dropping’ consistency

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.

How to make a pleat in a piece of paper or foil

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.

Turning the pudding out: one of the most satisfying kitchen tasks

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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Variations

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.


Notes:

[1] 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.

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Filed under baking, Britain, cooking, food, General, Puddings, Recipes, Uncategorized

Happy New Year!

This New Year’s Eve pudding was a gluten-free sour cherry & almond sponge pud

Well we got there. We made it into 2023 almost unscathed. I’m eating bubble and squeak, fried eggs and the remainder of last night’s steamed pudding (not all at the same time of course) and my hangover is surprisingly mild.

It’s been a busy year for me: the blog romps on, and the podcast has really grown wings and taken off with a rapidly-increasing listenership; and let’s not forget there was the publication of my first book A Dark History of Sugar in May of course. Not only that, but later in the year, I have my second book Before Mrs. Beeton: Elizabeth Raffald, England’s Most Influential Housekeeper will be published around Eastertime (and is available to pre-order now!).

I’m listing all of these things, not because I’m a great big fat show-off, but because none of it would have happened with you, dear reader, supporting me and following the blog and all of my other projects – something you do with fervour. I am so very appreciative, and I certainly do not take any of it for granted. So thanks for reading, thanks for listening and thanks for buying the book.

My first book was published in 2022

A huge thank you too to everyone who has started up a monthly subscription, and to those who have donated a virtual coffee, pint or more to help keep the blogs and podcasts going. Every year it gets more expensive just to have a podcast and blog so it really does help, and the more I receive the more time I can spend getting more online content out there for you all to enjoy.


If you like the blogs and podcast I produce and would to start a £3 monthly subscription, or would like to treat me to virtual coffee or pint: follow this link for more information. Thank you.


Carrageen pudding

In 2022 the blogs covered a lot of ground: there were recipes for some traditional fayre like cheese and leek pie and digestive biscuits, plus Yorkshire pudding, mutton chops and shoulder of mutton. There too was the traditional Hogmanay treat, the black bun, plus a nice eggnog to wash it all down.

Unusual ingredients and recipes were represented too: including the surprisingly delicious colostrum pudding, a blue cheese ice cream, an Irish carrageen pudding made with elderflowers, the forgotten Scots live-fermented oat flummery sowans.

My attempt at baking manchet loaves

I also wrote about one of my favourite cook books: English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David, and used her guidance to try and recreate the early modern fancy bread called manchet, and I wrote about the Corn Laws – something we’ve possibly all heard of but don’t really know that much about.

2022 was a bumper year for The British Food History Podcast with half of season 3, the whole of season 4 and the first 2 episodes of season 5 all coming out this year – a total of 14 episodes! Topics this year have been varied: TV chef Fanny Cradock, the traditional British breakfast, herbalism, curry and Christmas feasting being just some of the topics. A huge thank you to all of my fantastic guests, newcomers and returning guests alike, who spared the time to come on: Kevin Geddes, Peter J. Atkins, Emma Kay, Felicity Cloake, Glyn Hughes, Sam Bilton, Ben Mervis, Sejal Sukhadwala, Elaine Lemm, Annie Gray and Paula McIntyre. I salute you all!

By the way, if you have any suggestions for future blog posts, recipes and podcast episodes, or have any questions or comments about any that already exist, please leave a comment at the bottom of a blog post, or email me at neil@britishfoodhistory.com.

Other highlights include a mammoth thread of cocktail recipes, and a holiday to Aix-en-Provence where I ate andouillette sausage for the first time and expected it to be delicious. I was wrong. Video evidence:

So what does 2023 hold for us? Well of course we don’t know, but I’ll be here firing off recipes, essays and podcast episodes for you all whatever happens.

Happy New Year! xxx

Happy New Year!

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