adventure, baking, britain, dessert, dining at downton, edwardians, escoffier, family, fruit, holidays, victorians, winter

Dining at Downton: How to steam plum pudding

On Saturday we talked about how to make your own plum pudding, the most classic of British holiday desserts. (Yes, I am still wondering where the plums are in the recipe.) Today we’ll discuss the cooking process, which is a rather elaborate steaming method. It requires parchment paper, cooking twine, a water bath, and lots of patience.

My dad was fascinated by the process from start to finish. He’s an engineer by trade, and he’s the kind of cook who loves the science of the kitchen. He will turn out renditions of his mother’s pumpkin pie recipe until he has the ingredient ratio just right (much to my mom’s dismay). He will collect recipes for beef bourgignon and combine instructions from each to make the best possible stew. He will then exchange observations on the proper way to brown beef with me over the phone. (He also went to great lengths to find out why the one American manufacturer of plum pudding stopped producing it, which is how I ended up making the pudding in the first place.) Put simply, my dad likes method.

“You should take photos of that!” he said as I removed the steaming pudding from the water bath. “And how did you tie the parchment paper down again?”

As he noted, this is a delicate process. So here are your highly expert instructions, just the way my dad likes them.

Step One
Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Once your pudding is mixed and ready to cook, turn the mixture into a well-greased pudding mold or glass bowl. Remember, a pudding mold looks like a Bundt pan, with a ring in the middle to ensure proper steaming. I got mine at Stock, a lovely little cooking shop that recently opened in Providence.

Step Two
Next, cut a piece of parchment paper to cover the top of the mold. Leave about six inches of overhang on all sides of the mold. Fold the paper twice in the middle to create a slight overlay–this will allow steam to accumulate without tearing the paper.

Step Three
Cover the mold with the parchment paper and use a length of cooking twine to tie the paper to the mold, just below the rim. Trim excess paper.

Step Four
Create a handle for the mold, so you can lift it out of the steam bath. Cut a long length of cooking twine and wrap it around the mold as though wrapping a present, laying the twine flat across the top, bringing it down the sides of the mold and crossing underneath. Bring the twine up to the top again on the empty sides of the mold, and slide the twine underneath the cross line on top of the parchment paper. Tie the ends of the string together to create a looped handle.

Step Five
Pour hot tap water into a large stockpot or Dutch oven (I used the latter) that can accommodate the mold with at least an inch of space on all sides. Fill with water so the oven is about 1/3 full. Place the prepared mold in the Dutch oven and cover the whole thing with the oven lid. Put in the oven to steam for about 3 hours. It will make your house smell like citrus and deliciousness.

Step Six
Periodically check the oven to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated completely. You may need to pour in more water. When the pudding pulls away from the sides of the mold (about 3 hours), it’s done. Carefully remove from the water bath using the string handle, and lift up the parchment paper to make sure the pudding is ready. Cool in the mold completely before turning out onto a plate.

Step Seven
Now that the pudding has cooked, you can eat it straight away or let it ripen over time. If you choose to let it sit, cover the cooled pudding and store in a cool, dark place (we put it in our 1960s-era bomb shelter) until ready to eat. Pudding will keep for at least five weeks. Be sure to warm it before serving by replacing it in the mold or bowl, then steaming for about 2 hours at 350 F.

The very last segment of this culinary adventure is my favorite: setting the pudding on fire at the table! Check back in a few days for photos of our own flaming pudding. (If you want to serve your own pudding before then, warm a small amount of brandy on the stove, then pour over the warm pudding. Immediately hold a lit match close to the pudding, and the brandy will catch on fire. Bring to the table in a darkened room for maximum effect and applause. Once the flames have died, serve with brandy butter or hard sauce.)

Note: It’s possible to steam the pudding with a Crockpot instead of in the oven. See this page for complete instructions.

Works cited: Irish American Mom. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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