On Sunday, Dec. 14, the Food section reported that Conran's will not accept checks for purchases under $10. This information was obtained from a misinformed salesperson at the store. According to store manager, Scott Herzig, checks for purchases totaling any amount are accepted with proper identification and clearance, although no charges will be accepted for under $10.
LADY HENDERSON, whose husband is British ambassador to Washington, invited me to drop around to talk about English puddings, a subject about which she is extremely knowledgeable. My own ignorance, until she took me in hand, was, to put it mildly, abysmal. I knew only about Christmas or plum puddings -- kind friends bring them from Fortnum and Mason or Harrods: They contain no plums (label reading is instructive): their texture is closer to carrot cake than to the rice or bread puddings of my childhood; they have to be steamed for several hours; and they are served with hard sauce. It had frankly never occurred to me that I could, without too much difficulty or investment of time, make my own plum pudding or that there were countless numbers of other puddings that would do very well at Christmas or any other time of the year.
The repertoire of English puddings is enormous. I counted over 160 entries for sweet puddings in Lady Henderson's second revised edition (undated) of "Mrs. Beeton's Household Management." Puddings were initially created for the British Royals (for example, George I plum pudding evolved into Christmas pudding). They ended up in the nursery because they were easy to make and their ingredients were simple, available, inexpensive, tummy-filling and very satisfying to English sweet teeth. Now, Lady Henderson maintains, these lovely, warm, wholesome and original desserts once more deserve a place on the most elegant tables.
Lady Henderson has been furthering the cause of English puddings throughout her husband's long diplomatic career. In Chile, at a grand buffet for the Dutchess of Kent, the weather was hot and the Christmas pudding was sensational sliced cold with ginger ice cream. In Paris, desert on a bitter winter night was flaming Guard's pudding. The wary French took tiny first portions and streamed back for seconds. This same Guard's pudding, which I think would make a wonderful Christmas pudding, was the birthday cake at a recent embassy party for Joe Alsop's 70th birthday.
Nor did it escape Lady Henderson that the dessert at the National Gallery dinner for the opening of "The Search for Alexander" exhibition was listed as "pain perdu aux ponnes" with "beurre sucree au cognac" -- or, good old English bread and butter pudding made a little fancier with a layer of apples and served with brandy butter (hard sauce).
English puddings that are categorized as "substantial," a benign way of waying heavy, are made with shredded or ground suet. Plain beef suet can be used, but beef kidney suet is the best and needless to say not easily available in Washington. Lighter puddings are made with butter and bread crumbs. Light puddings are made with separated eggs, with the beaten whites either folded into the bulk or used as a topping.
I found that butter is an excellent substitute for suet and that the resulting pudding is lighter and more compatible with American tastes. So after my experiment with Spotted Dick, butter was substituted for suet in all the other recipes. The butter must be cut into the flour or breadcrumbs with knives or a pastry blender.
Puddings, which are boiled, baked or steamed, can be put together extraordinarily quickly. I got six of them ready in a little more than an hour. I used the two hours or so that they cooked to prepare the rest of the meal. However, it would have been possible to leave the kitchen if the water level in the pots had been checked every half hour or so. I found it convenient to keep a kettle of water boiling on the stove. For whatever technique is involved, I found Mrs. Beeton to be wonderfully helpful.
Conran's has both pudding basins and deep oval plates, called pie plates by the English, which are ideal for baked puddings. The prices are reasonable, but be sure to bring cash if you plan to spend less than $10. For some inane reason, they will not accept a check for less than that amount. Williams-Sonoma and La Cuisine in Alexandria both carry a full range of traditional pudding basins. China Closet had a few with stripes around the rim when I was in last, and at a better price than the Kitchen Bazaar.
The recipes that follow all come from Lady Henderson's files. Those identified as her own are from her excellent Mary Henderson's "Paris Embassy Cookbook," which unfortunately is not yet available in the United States. Her ginger pudding is scrumptious and more refined than most. Bachelor's pudding, one of the best according to our tasters, is straight out of "Mrs. Beeton." Jam Roly-Poly pudding and Spotted Dick are from Elizabeth Ayrton's "The Cookery of England." Canary pudding is from Caroline Conran's "British Cooking." Lady Henderson said that every housesife has her own interpretations of standard recipes -- so I was merely following tradition when I took liberties with Arabella Boxer's Queen of Puddings.The first version was judged bland, so I added grated lemon rind and vanilla extract.
The instructions for flaming come not from the nursery, but from the British Embassy, although I doubt that anyone would be surprised to learn that a nanny had poured a little rum onto a pudding to encourage her charges to get to sleep faster. LADY HENDERSON'S CHRISTMAS PUDDING (6 to 8 servings) 2 1/2 ounces beef suet or 5 tablespoons unsalted butter 9 tablespoons flour, sifted 1/2 cut brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon each of ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg 2 eggs, beaten 1 scant cup beer 1 scant cup brandy 1 cup dried currants 1 1/4 cups fresh white bread crumbs 1/2 cup seedless raisins 1/2 cup muscat raisins, seeded and halved 1/2 cup grated carrots 6 tablespoons chopped walnuts 4 tablespoons candied orange peel 4 tablespoons candied lemon peel 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Mix the beef suet with the flour or cut the butter into the flour. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl and leave it to stand for two days. Mix again and pour into a buttered 8-cup pudding basin. The basin should be no more than 3/4's full. Cover with greased parchment or foil. Ocver this with a clean dish towel, tying it around the rim with string and then tying the ends over the top in a knot. Steam the pudding in a large covered pan of boiling water for 6 hours.Replenish with boiling water as necessary. Remove, using the knotted towel as a handle, and allow to cool. When the pudding is complete cold, wrap the basin in foil. Refrigerate until needed. This pudding can be prepared months in advance or it can be eaten immediately. Before serving, steam for another 3 hours.
Unmold onto a deep heated dish. Heat 1/2 cup brandy, pour it into a ladel, light the brandy and pour over the pudding. At Christmas, place a sprig of holly in the center of the pudding and more fully around the dish. This increases the flame. At Christmas serve with brandy butter. On other occasions, serve cold or hot with vanilla or ginger ice cream. LADY HENDERSON'S GUARD'S PUDDING (8 servings) 1 1/2 sticks butter 1 cup sugar 3 cups fresh breadcrumbs 3 eggs, well beaten 3 tablespoons thick strawberry jam 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) dissolved in 1 tablespoon tepid water
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the breadcrumbs, well-beaten eggs, jam and the dissolved soda. Butter a 5- or 6- cup pudding basin. Add the mixture. The basin should be no more than 1/4 full. Cover with buttered parchment paper or foil tied under the rim of the bowl with string. Set in a pot of hot water up to the rim, cover and steam for 2 hours. Add boiling water periodically to keep the level up to the rim. Turn out on a heated serving dish and serve hot accompanied by hot jam sauce, custard sauce (recipes follow) or heavy cream. This pudding also takes very well to flaming. Heat 1/2 cup rum in a saucepan, pour the rum into a ladle, light the rum and pour it, flaming, onto the pudding. Lady Henderson's chef also scatters a crown of sugared almonds (recipe follows) round the base of the pudding. LADY HENDERSON'S GINGER PUDDING (6 to 8 servings) 3 large eggs, separated Pinch salt 2 1/3 cups flour, sifted 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) 2 teaspoons ground ginger 1 cup sugar 6 tablespoons unsalted butter 3 tablespoons Lyle's Golden Syrup (available at Safeway specialty foods counter) 1 scant cup tepid milk 1 tablespoon chopped crystallized ginger (optional)
Stiffly beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt. Sift the flour together with the baking soda and ground ginger. Melt the sugar and butter in the top of a double boiler, stirring, until no longer gritty. Add the egg yolks and beat, over hot water, for about 4 minutes. The mixture should be lukewarm. Remove from heat and beat for another few minutes.
Dissolve the golden syrup in the milk and stir it gradually into the egg mixture.Then blend in the flour mixture with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, making sure the mixture is well blended. Fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites. Grease an 8-cup pudding basin or charlotte mold and, if desired, sprinkle the chopped crystallized ginger on the bottom. Pour in the mixture -- the mold should be only 3/4 full. Cover with buttered parchment or foil tied under the rim of the basin or around the mold with a string. Set in a pot of hot water up to the rim, cover and steam for 2 hours. Replenish boiling water periodically as needed. Unmold on a warm serving dish and accompany with ginger sauce (recipe follows). If Golden Syrup is unavailable, substitute 3 tablespoons of strained ginger marmalade and use the reserved fruit in place of the crystallized ginger. BACHELOR'S PUDDING (5 to 6 servings) 2 cups breadcrumbs 2/3 cup dried currants 4 ounces apples, weighed after being pared and cored, coarsely chopped (or 1 large apple) 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar 2 large eggs, well beaten Grated rind of 1/2 lemon Pinch of nutmeg and of salt 1 teaspoon baking powder Milk
Combine all ingredients except for baking powder and let the mixture stand for a 1/2 hour. Then stir in the baking powder. Add a little milk if the mixture is stiff. Turn into a buttered 5-cup pudding basin. The mold should be no more than 3/4 full. Cover with buttered parchment or foil, tie under the rim and steam in a covered pan of boiling water for 3 hours. Serve with custard sauce (recipe follows) or cream. JAM ROLY-POLY PUDDING (6 to 8 servings) 1 3/4 cup self-rising flour 4 ounces chopped suet or 8 tablespoons butter 1 teaspoon baking powder Pinch of salt Water Jam
Cut the butter into the flour with knives or a pastry blender, or mix chopped suet into the flour. Add baking powder and salt. Mix with a little cold water to make a stiff dough. Roll out the dough into an oblong, about 1/4 inch thick. Spread jam over the surface, leaving 1 inch all around. Roll as in a jelly roll and seal the ends well with a little water. Flour a dish towel, place the pudding into it, roll it loosely to allow the pudding to expand and tie the ends securely. Drop into a large saucepan or fish poacher or rapidly boiling water and boil for 2 hours. Do not allow the pudding to go off the boil. Replenish with boiling water. Unroll the pudding onto a warm dish and serve with hot jam sauce (recipe follows). CANARY PUDDING WITH LEMON SAUCE (4 servings) 1 stick unsalted butter 2/3 cup sugar 2 large eggs 1/3 cup self-rising flour 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs Grated rind of 1 lemon Juice of 1 lemon 1 tablespoon medium sweet madeira or sweet sherry
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add 1 egg, then half the flour, then the second egg, then the rest of the flour. Do not beat more than necessary to incorporate. Stir in the breadcrumbs, the lemon juice and rind and the wine. Spoon the mixture into a greased 8-cup pudding basin, cover with buttered parchment or foil and tie with a string under the rim. Steam in a large covered pan of boiling water for 2 1/2 hours, replenishing boiling water as necessary. Turn out on a heated serving dish and serve with lemon sauce (recipe follows). SPOTTED DICK (6 servings) 1 3/4 cups self-rising flour 4 ounces chopped suet or 1 stick butter Pinch of salt 1/2 cup dried currants or raisins Milk
Mix all the ingredients together and moisten with a little milk to make a stiff dough. Shape into a ball, tie tightly in a floured cloth, drop into boiling water and boil briskly for 2 hours. Serve sprinkled with granulated sugar or with brandy butter or custard sauce (recipes follow). QUEEN OF PUDDINGS (4 to 5 servings) 1 cup milk Grated rind of 1 lemon 2 tablespoons butter 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 2/3 cup sugar 2 ounces soft white breadcrumbs 3 eggs, separated 3 tablespoons, raspberry jam, or frozen raspberries, drained
Combine the milk, grated lemon rind, butter, vanilla extract and 4 teaspoons of the sugar in a saucepan and stir over heat until the butter and sugar have melted. Remove from heat and stir in the breadcrumbs. Let stand for 10 minutes and then stir in the egg yolks which should be lightly beaten. Pour into a well-buttered shallow 1-quaret ovenproof dish and bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 325-degree oven. Take the pudding out of the oven and leave it to cool slightly. Turn the oven down to 250 degrees. Warm the jam and spread it over the pudding. Whip the egg whites until stiff and beat in the remaining sugar a tablespoon at a time. Spoon this meringue over the jam, covering the pudding completely. Return to the cooler oven and bake for 30 minutes more, or until the top of the meringue is firm and lightly browned. This pudding can be served immediately, or kept warm, or served cold. This pudding can also be made with strawberry jam and served with fresh strawberries. LADY HENDERSON'S GINGER SAUCE (Makes 2 1/4 cups) 2/3 cup Lyle's Golden Syrup (available at Safeway specialty food section) 2/3 cup ginger syrup (reserved from preserved stem ginger) 2/3 cup rum 4 tablespoon dried stem ginger
Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan, heat and serve. LADY HENDERSON'S BRANDY BUTTER (Hard Sauce) (6 servings) 7 ounces unsalted butter 1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar 3 tablespoons brandy
Beat the butter with a mixer until it is light and white. Add the sugar slowly, beating all the time. Finally, gradually add the brandy. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Note: If the sauce curdles, gently heat it in the top of a double boiler and, when tepid, beat it briskly, then cool and refrigerate. LEMON SAUCE (4 servings) 2 egg yolks 1 tablespoon sugar Grated rind of 1 lemon Juice of 1 lemon 1/2 cup tepid water
Put the egg yolks, sugar and grated lemon rind in the top of a double boiler and whisk over gentle heat until the mixture begins to foam. Add lemon juice and whisk again. Add the water, a little at a time, whisking in between additions until the sauce is light and fluffy. Keep the sauce warm over hot water but do not let it get any hotter. Just before serving, add 1 tablespoon hot water and give the sauce a last energetic whisk. HOT JAM SAUCE (Makes 1 cup) 6 tablespoons raspberry jam 6 tablespoons strawberry jam 1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon cognac
Heat the jams together in a small saucepan, then push them through a small sieve or a food mill. Reheat the jams, stirring in the fruit juices and cognac. The jams can be varied to suit the pudding. CUSTARD SAUCE (Makes 1 1/2 cups) Yolks of 5 eggs 5 tablespoons sugar Scant 2 cups of milk
Cream the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Bring the milk to a boil and immediately beat into the yolks and sugar. Return to the pan and heat until boiling point, stirring continuously. Strain and allow to cool, stirring from time to time to prevent a skin from forming on the surface. SUGARED ALMONDS 1/2 pound sliced and blanched almonds 4 1/2 tablespoons sugar Whites of 2 eggs
Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Spread them out on a baking sheet. Place in a preheated 400-degree oven. Stir and turn the almonds from time to time with a spatula to make sure they color uniformly. They are done when golden brown. BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING WITH APPLE (6 servings) 8 thin slices of bread 5 tablespoons butter 1/3 cup dried currants or raisins 2 medium tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced and macerated in the juice of 1/2 lemon plus a little sugar 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar 2 eggs Grated rind of 1 lemon 1 cup milk 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract Butter for the baking dish Sugar and butter for the top
Butter each slice of bread on one side and cut it diagonally. Do not remove crusts. Soak the currants or raisins in warm water for 5 minutes, drain and spread some on the bottom of a buttered 1 quart deep oval dish. Put a layer of bread and butter on them, butter side down. Sprinkle on a few more raisins or currants, then put on another layer of bread, butter side up this time. Continue until the dish is full, taking care not to press down too hard on the bread. Aproximately around the middle, put in a layer of apples. Mix the sugar, eggs and grated lemon rind and gradually whisk in the cold milk and vanilla. Pour this mixture into the dish, a little at a time, to allow the bread to absorb the custard. Sprinkle the top with sugar and dot with pieces of butter. Place the baking dish in a roasting pan with an inch of water and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, or until the pudding is crisp and golden brown on top. The sides and bottom will also be brown and buttery. Serve plain, with cream or custard sauce or brandy butter.