Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Steamed Chocolate Pudding

Steamed chocolate pudding with cinnamon-clove sauce. © Ryan Schierling
For Christmas every year my Grandma Munroe makes a single petite steamed chocolate pudding with an intensely-spiced cinnamon-clove sauce for dessert. It's a tradition. A tradition that goes back a long way. As in, my grandmother will be celebrating her 95th birthday in the new year and this recipe came via her mother, who we think got it from her mother-in-law. It has been a Christmas tradition for all these years – one tenacious little gem in the pantheon of English steamed puddings, uniquely stovetop "baked" cakes which are know to have originated sometime before the mid-1600s.

My first memories of this steamed chocolate pudding are vague, and more of an impression than anything else. I remember always thinking it should be an unconventional flavor combination – the chocolate with the cinnamon – yet tasting the flavorful spices of cinnamon and cloves as they saturated each dense little slice were such a delight! For me it has become a truly special holiday treat.  

My grandmother is the only person I've ever known to prepare this (although I have confirmed that one or two of her siblings have made it, as well). A few years ago, knowing my fascination with this particular dessert, someone in my family gave me a steamed pudding mold for Christmas. It took me a while to try using it, and my first attempt was something of a disaster due to my misinterpretation of the recipe and a failure to research the essential concepts involved when using a steaming mold. I won't go into details, but I have since corrected, and clarified, the essentials for my future self and others who may visit this post. You see, the original recipe is written in that familiar vernacular which assumes the process and nuances are already known to the cook – where the ingredients and instructions are but mere reference notes to self, passed from one cook to another. 

This recipe has likely been in the family for a good 150 years or more. As my grandma so innocently relates it, it was simply one of many recipes copied for her recipe collection when she was putting together a recipe box of her own, probably around the time she got married. It's funny how a recipe that represents decades – perhaps even centuries – of holiday tradition in our family may be have simply been a circumstance of basic appreciation and preservation of a Christmas tradition coupled with a utilitarian need to get in the kitchen and bake.

A common topping for a steamed pudding is hard sauce. Hard sauce is often spicy like the Sauce for Steamed Pudding in our family recipe, but it has high proportion of butter instead of water, much like a compound butter, and usually includes a tipple of flavorful distilled spirits. The sauce in this preparation is more of a thick syrup that does not depend upon the heat of the cake to melt it, but instead soaks into and infuses the cake with warmth.

If you take a good look at the recipe card, you'll see that the Sauce for Steamed Pudding has a note about the optional use of cream instead of water. I had never seen it made with cream, so I asked Grandma to tell me more about the method. She said it had always curdled on her when she tried it that way, so she never makes the sauce with cream. Grandma's sister, Norma, told me that the cream is to be introduced in the cold corn starch mixture and then the hot water is added until the correct consistency is reached. I think I'll have to experiment for myself (maybe just use less water to start/reduce and then try finishing it by tempering in some cream) but that will likely be an adventure for next Christmas. I do love the intensity of the flavorful cinnamon-clove sauce, though. If you let it reduce for about five to ten minutes, as directed, it changes from a thin syrup to a gooey, rich sauce. It's also good for other applications; I used it here for Grilled Peach Cobbler a couple of summers ago. 

Grandma tells me that sometimes those who weren't as crazy about the spicy sauce (children, in particular) would eat the steamed pudding with a pour of milk on it. I do imagine that would be rather tasty.

Judging from the delicious variations on steamed pudding (AKA figgy or Christmas pudding) – they abound if you're looking for them – there are a lot of families whose traditions have carried through many generations. Since I don't plan on parting with my charming little steaming mold any time soon, I may take to steaming a cake from someone else's old recipe cards for a birthday or anniversary this year. This particular recipe, however, is confirmed for next Christmas.

Grandma Munroe's recipe cards. Steamed Chocolate Pudding and Sauce. © Tom Munroe
Steamed Chocolate Pudding (from the recipe file of Nadine Munroe)

1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 egg yolk, beaten (reserve egg white)
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoon melted butter
1/4 cup milk
2 squares (2 ounces) melted chocolate (or 4 level tablespoons cocoa powder)

Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat the yolk of one egg, then whisk in the sugar, melted butter and milk.

Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture and beat in the melted chocolate.

Beat the reserved egg white to soft peaks and fold into batter.

Pour batter into well-buttered pudding mold, secure the lid. Place mold in a water bath on the stovetop consisting of a large lidded pot sufficient to enclose the mold. The water should come least half way up the sides of the mold. Watch for water to start boiling, keep boiling for about 50 minutes.

Remove from water bath, remove lid, and turn upside-down immediately onto a cooling rack. Remove from pan after a short cooling period.

Sauce for Steamed Pudding

1 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter (walnut-sized)
1 1/2 cups water (1/2 cup cold, 1 cup boiling)

Mix corn starch with 1/2 cup cold water. Add salt, spices and butter. Pour boiling water on it (as long as no cream is involved, as per option on recipe card above, it is fine to just add more unheated water and bring to a boil) and boil until thick and syrupy – about 5-10 minutes – stirring frequently. Sauce should thicken to coat spoon.

Serve small slices of pudding with sauce ladled over the top.

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