Nobody does stodgy, heavy puddings like the English (well, Indian desserts are also fairly stodgy), and it's something that's kind of lacking in Irish cuisine. In fact, desserts aren't really a feature in Irish cuisine in general, except for the odd bread and butter putting, fruit scone, or "goody", which is a porridge made of white breadcrumbs, milk, sugar, and dried fruit (it's truly disgusting); we like dairy products big time, and most desserts here tend to be milky rather than bready or cakey.
Whereas across the Drink -- the land to which I owe half of my heritage -- desserts and puddings are a national pastime. Whether it's a dense and fruity Chelsea bun (which is a personal favourite of mine) or a steamed suet and syrup pudding, it's all about the stodge; filling every corner of the tummy.
My brother and I often talk about the stark contrast of the cakes section in Dunnes Stores (an Irish supermarket) and Tesco (an English supermarket that has stores in Ireland): the Tesco cakes and desserts section is far more comprehensive, including a whole section dedicated to steamed puddings, ready to eat custard, and evaporated milk.
Steamed puddings are the business, however, they're not truly understood by Irish people of my generation; maybe of the generation before us, but not folk my age. Golden syrup puddings are nice, but nothing is nicer than Spotted Dick.
Yes, you can giggle at the name, but essentially it's a like a plain sponge cake spotted with dried fruit, boiled for a few hours. The long cooking process gives it a beautiful caramelised golden crust, and a lovely dense moist centre. Traditionally, the dried fruit used is currants -- and sometimes citrus peel -- but here currants are expensive so I use chopped raisins.
It's really very simple to make: just flour, raising agent, suet, sugar, milk, and dried fruit. Now, because suet that you buy from the shop is neither vegetarian nor wheat-intolerance friendly, I use grated lard, or grated butter for an extra level of indulgence.
☑ Soya (check for soya lecithin)
☒ Refined sugar products
- 8 ounces (225 grammes) white spelt flour
- 2 teaspoons (10 millilitres) baking powder
- 6 fluid ounces (170 millilitres) milk
- 4 ounces (115 grammes) vegetable lard or block butter, very cold
- 2 ounces (55 grammes) caster sugar
- 3 ounces (85 grammes) raisins, chopped into small pieces
If using unsalted butter, add 2 pinches of salt.
- Lightly grease a 2 pint (1 litre) pudding basin with a little butter.
- In a mixing bowl, sieve the flour, baking powder, and caster sugar together until blended.
- Using a box grater, grate the lard or butter into the dry ingredients, dipping the grated side in the flour between grates. Using the fingertips, slightly break up the strands of lard or butter.
- Stir in the raisins, and then mix in the milk. Mix gently without beating to a thick batter.
- Pour into the pudding basin and smooth off the top with the back of a metal spoon or the tip of a rubber spatula.
- Cover the top of the basin with a sheet of aluminium foil, crumpled underneath the rim, or if your basin has a lid, use that. If you don't have aluminium foil, use a square of greaseproof paper with a pleat in the middle, and secure underneath the rim with some twine. Cook as instructed below.
- After cooling slightly on the rack as instructed, remove the cover and turn out onto a plate for serving.
To cook in a pressure cooker:
- Place the pudding in the cooker's steaming basket, or on an upturned side plate on the bottom of the pan. Fill the pan with boiled water to half way up the side of the pudding basin.
- Cover and lock, and bring to full pressure. If your cooker has pressure options, put it on high pressure.
- Once brought to pressure, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 45 to 55 minutes. After 45 minutes, vent to release the pressure and check the doneness of the pudding with a knife or a skewer: if there is any sticky under cooked mixture stuck to the skewer or knife, cover again and bring to pressure to cook for an additional 5 or 10 minutes.
- When cooked, vent to release the pressure, take the pudding out of the pan with oven mitts, and place on a wire rack to cool slightly.
To cook in a normal saucepan:
- Find a saucepan big enough to accommodate the pudding. Place the pudding in a steaming basket, or on an upturned side plate on the bottom of the pan. Fill the pan with boiled water to half way up the side of the pudding basin.
- Cover and bring to the boil. Reduce to a vigorous simmer, and cook the pudding for 2 to 2½ hours, checking for doneness after 2 hours.
- When cooked, turn off the heat and take the pudding out of the pan with oven mitts, and place on a wire rack to cool slightly.
This pudding is best enjoyed immediately after cooking with heated custard or pouring cream. It doesn't keep very well -- 2 days in the fridge at the most before it goes bendy -- so eat it quick!