Monday, October 21, 2013

Cooking Through ENGLAND: Spotted Dick and Custard!

And we continue our culinary tour through England, part of our unit study on England. My goodness, England has awesome food - I don't know when we'll be done sampling their cuisine! (Probably never!) We're having a wonderful time rating recipes and trying new dishes, and we have not yet had a flop.

At first I thought that this dish, Spotted Dick and Custard, was going to be our first flop, but it turned out great in the end. I should have known that England wouldn't let me down!

The modern alternative name to this dish is "Pimply Richard." I prefer "Spotted Dick." At least we ignorant Americans don't know that the British "spot" is the American "pimple," so "Spotted Dick and Custard" at least retains some air of European elegance!

Read more about the history of this dish here.

I used this recipe for the Spotted Dick over at "Plus 2.4: Preserving a Slice of British Life." An added bonus - this is a version for the crockpot, always a plus for deprived Americans who don't have the proper apparatus to make real steamed puddings!

(For those unaware of the fact, a British steamed pudding is not an American pudding, that is, a milk-based dish thickened with eggs or starch. Rather, it is basically a sweetened bread that is cooked, covered, in a water bath. "Pudding" can also simply mean "dessert.")

Here are the proportions from the recipe above, re-written:

225g self-raising flour = 2 cups flour + 1 Tbsp. baking powder + 1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. salt
100g (3 1/2 oz) shredded suet
100g (3 1/2 oz) currants or raisins
150 mL (5 oz) water

Not having currants, I used raisins.

And now, of course, we come to the key word - SUET.

Does anyone here know what suet is? To my surprise, many people on my facebook page had never even heard of it. And while I had never actually seen suet, I did know what it was - or thought I did - beef fat! However, I found, upon research, that been suet is not just beef fat, but beef cavity fat - that is, the fat surrounding the internal organs (rather than that which is trimmed from meat). It has different properties (primarily a higher melting point) and must be bought specifically.

And thus began my researches!

At Whole Foods, they thought that suet was plain beef fat, and offered to set aside some trimmings for me. At our local meat shop, they knew what suet was, but didn't carry it or know anyone who did. Finally, at the advice of a friend, I tried The Meat Shop in Phoenix, a wonderful place with an all-knowing and ever-sapient staff who know all about suet (and everything else meat-related under the sun!).

Since we were going to be in the area, we arranged to pick up a couple of pounds of suet from them, which we did. We brought it home, and a few days later I popped it out of the freezer to make our pudding.

That's when things really turned difficult.

I had pictured suet as a neatly packaged pre-rendered product, something like commercially prepared lard - nice and clean and ready to use. NOPE. This stuff was the real stuff - just as it had been cut off of the cow. Thus, it had membranes, gristle, and... pink areas. Pink areas as in blood.

Oh, goodness. 

In all its glory! 
Now don't get me wrong. I'm a homemaker, for crying out loud, and I deal with beef blood almost daily. It's just one-of-those-things you get used to. But putting it in a dessert? That was enough to make me a bit on the queasy side. I'm dealing with beef fat... and membranes... and blood... and I'm putting it in something that we're going to pour custard sauce over and call dessert!


And it gets worse, because the suet had to be grated. I didn't think that this would be too difficult - kind of like grating cheese - but it was much more difficult. The membranes got stuck in the grater, it required a lot of force to grate, and I had to keep turning aside to tell myself that I wasn't really going to be putting this pink-tinged beef fat into our dessert. Ah, the beauties of ethnic cooking.

In the end, it required the full effort of both my husband and myself in order to grind the requisite amount of suet. Don't underestimate this stuff! It really took some work!

After that, putting the pudding together was a breeze, as was cooking it. Here it is, in all its glory!

Still in its mold

Now for the custard sauce.

Unfortunately, the above recipe didn't have a custard sauce, so we turned to this recipe for custard. Not having either double cream or caster sugar (love these British ingredients!) I used regular American whipping cream and granulated sugar.

 Unfortunately for all of us, I forgot that I was not making a starch-thickened custard (like chocolate pudding, etc.), and so instead of cooking "on low heat, just until thickened," I merrily brought it to a hard boil over high heat - with the result being that my poor pudding sauce looked in the end like a sweetened scrambled egg dish. The taste was fine, but the texture was.... well, scrambled.

The verdict?

It was great! Seriously! Blood and all. It tasted like raisin bread (and you couldn't taste any beef flavor at all). The sauce was too sweet for my taste, but having been on a zero-carb diet has given me a heightened sense of sweetness, and I'm no fit judge - DH thought it was fine.

One caveat is that the dessert must be served warm, because the texture reverts to something like a brick when it is cool.

Would I make this again? Sure! It was great! And it was a lot of fun. But I might just buy vegetable suet (assuming that I could even get it here in the States) simply to save trouble. Normally we avoid vegetable shortening, but here it might be worth it - unless I could ever discover a source for pre-shredded (or at least pre-rendered) beef suet.

More modern versions of Spotted Dick may call for more spices, which would be an interesting variant!

If you'd like to try an easier British steamed pudding, the Date Bread in Mabel Hoffman's Crockery Cookery is easy, fast, and uber-delicious (and doesn't contain suet!). I have made it every year for the past half-decade (without knowing it was a "pudding") and the whole family loves it.

And there you have it! Spotted Dick and Custard. Enjoy! 

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