Sussex Pond Pudding

Having just posted a very sad story involving failure and pickled cabbage, I felt I ought to act quickly to restore a positive vibe to my corner of the internet – so meet the Sussex Pond Pudding – the suet pudding with a whole lemon inside.

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Okay, so it’s not the prettiest from the outside.  It looks better when you dowse it with cream and dig into it.

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I only started making this recently.  I hadn’t even heard of it until I was researching problems we were having with our steak & kidney puddings.  The menu at the pub is about to change though, and when I started thinking about what I would love to see on the dessert menu, this was one of the dishes that really appealed.  So I’m going to lobby hard for it.  Jane Grigson called it ‘the best of all English boiled suet puddings’.  It’s traditional (although not necessarily always with the lemon inside, apparently); it’s unusual; it tastes wonderful; and – with a 4 hour cooking time – no one’s going to look at it on the menu and dismiss it as an easy option.  Granted, the actual prep required is pretty simple.  The difficulty lies more in having our one good oven at 150C for 4 hours when there are 20 other things that need to go in, mostly at much higher temperatures.  Luckily we have a very laid-back head chef – or at least, he has been so far(!)

When I first went to try this pudding, I was really pleased to find a recipe by Felicity Cloake in the Guardian.  She writes a fantastic column where she takes one dish and tests lots of different published recipes for it, adopting the best bits from each and coming up with her ‘perfect’ recipe in conclusion.

On my first attempt, I overcooked it and it came out with hard, almost crunchy pastry around the top edge of the pudding bowl.   This was at 180C.  I had thought that was a bit high – given that we cook our steak & kidney puddings at 140C – so on my second try, I lowered the temperature.  The pastry came out paler (but still good), but the lemon in the middle – which is supposed to soften and caramelise and, in short, become edible – was definitely under-cooked.

Attempt no.3 involved upping the temperature again – but this time making allowance for our fan oven by taking 30C off the recommended temperature.  I should probably have done this in the first place(!)  In any event, the result still wasn’t great.  My testing panel of one (my mother, who isn’t particularly a pudding fan anyway) declared that there wasn’t enough sauce.

I was a bit fed up by that point but, one break time when I had nothing to do, I decided to have a go at a small, one-person version, made in a little metal dariole mould with just a wedge of lemon inside.  I halved Cloake’s recipe for the pastry but forgot to adjust the quantities for the filling, and actually it turned out really well.  It was perhaps a little bit too syrupy, but that was easy enough to adjust.

Last week I took the revised recipe into work to see if I could make it successfully there.  Things were a little more fraught of course.  And once I’d gotton over the feeling of imposition I get from making something off-menu, (and off my own back, without being asked), I discovered there’s another feeling of imposition that comes with asking people to try the food you make.  It’s terrible, really.  Literally there have been times when I’ve taken things into work for people to try, then brought them home without ever having mentioned them, because I can’t figure out how best to do it.  I’m such an idiot sometimes.

I did get over all that in this case, but I hit another problem – a baking problem.  In converting the recipe from one big pudding to three small puddings, I hadn’t divided the ingredient quantities – so I didn’t know exactly how much I needed for each.  I simply weighed out how much I needed for all three, then tried to put roughly equal amounts in each dariole mould.  As it turned out, I was a bit off.  The one I managed  to persuade the head chef to test seemed to have less than it’s fair share of sugar (and possibly more than its fair share of lemon), and did rather make his eyes water.  If I remember rightly, something similar happened when I first made steak & kidney puddings at work (see below).  Recently though we had a chef come and do a trial shift, and he made me feel much better about my mistakes by tipping cocoa powder into the Hobart machine whilst making brownies and covering everything within a metre’s radius in a fine layer of brown.

Anyway, I shan’t be deterred.  I have two days off now (woohoo!) but I shall be going back on Wednesday equipped with lemons and suet – and a properly divided recipe – to try again.

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