In Britain today, few will give up puddings, the term covering every kind of dessert.
The origin of "puddings" is complex. Food historians generally agree that the first puddings made by ancient cooks produced foods that were either savory or sweet. All were typically boiled in a cloth or pudding bag. By the 19th century, puddings were still boiled, but the finished dish was more like cake.
Plum puddings are traditionally stuffed with raisins and other dried fruits. Why "plum" when there's not a plum to be seen in the mixture? According to the Oxford English dictionary, plums are defined as a "dried grape" or "raisin" used in puddings and cakes; 17th-century recipes refer to raisins or other dried fruits as plums. The name still sticks.
The creamy rich pudding Americans prefer is more closely related to custard. The distinction between British and European custards, and American pudding, became muddled sometime in the mid-19th century. This happened at about the same time that Alfred Bird, an English chemist, introduced custard powder as an alternative to egg thickeners, and it proved a staple item for Conestoga wagon cooks, who did not have access to fresh eggs.
There are literally thousands of pudding recipes. Spotted Dick, which sounds like a hilarious off-color joke, is simply a boiled pudding studded with raisins, which look like spots on a spongy surface. (Maybe the fact that the pudding is rolled up in the shape of a sausage has something to do with ribald humor.)
Earliest recipes go as far back as 1847, and there are few more popular puddings in pubs and restaurants than Spotted Dick. How did it get its name? Sources seem to agree that through sloppy pronunciation "pudding" became puddink, becoming puddick and then just "dick."
Apples, the hardy fruit that can be stored for use throughout the winter, helped create more recipes. The recipe for Apple Dumplings here sets the apple in a pastry shell to come halfway up, reducing calories and making for a lighter dessert.
Eve's pudding — sliced sweetened apples resting under a layer of sponge cake — should be served hot. It's irresistible even without cream drizzled over top.
Sticky Toffee Pudding is such a favorite in the United Kingdom that it's sold in microwavable containers and cans for home use, as well as being a standard item on menus at all restaurant levels, from casual to elegant.
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsps. sugar
4 Tbsps. margarine, softened
3/4 cup raisins
3-4 Tbsps. water
Spray a 12-inch length of aluminum foil with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, stir the flour, baking powder and sugar.
Cut in the margarine, or rub in with fingers, until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Stir in raisins. Add enough water to make a soft dough.
Turn out onto a floured board and form into a roll about 6-inches long. Wrap loosely but securely in the prepared foil, sealing the ends.
Place a rack in the bottom of a deep pot. Pour enough boiling water into the pot to cover the rack. To steam the pudding, place the foil-wrapped pudding on the rack. Cover tightly and steam for 50 minutes.
Slice and serve hot, dredged with powdered sugar.
Serves 4 to 6.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 213; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 35 g; fat, 8 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 155 mg.
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
1 Tbsp. grated lemon rind
3/4 cup sugar, divided
2 Tbsps. nondairy creamer
1 stick margarine, softened
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375°.
Spray a 9-inch pie dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Place the apples, lemon rind and 1/4 cup sugar in the prepared pie dish. Toss to mix.
Drizzle the nondairy creamer over top. Set aside.
Beat the margarine and remaining 1/2 cup sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs with 1/2 cup flour. Add the vanilla with the remaining flour, mixing well.
Spoon over the apples and spread to cover.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until firm in the center and golden-brown.
Serves 6 to 8.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 271; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 36 g; fat, 13 g; cholesterol, 53 mg; sodium,150 mg.
4 medium apples, peeled and cored
4 tsps. raisins
4 tsps. ginger or other preserves
4 tsps. margarine
1 sheet (about 8.5 oz.) prepared puff pastry
Arrange apples in a 9-inch square microwave and ovenproof baking dish.
In each apple cavity, place 1 teaspoon raisins, 1 teaspoon preserves and top with 1 teaspoon margarine. Pour 3 tablespoons water around, cover loosely with wax paper and microwave at high for 3 minutes. Remove from the dish and cool.
Preheat oven to 375°.
Spray a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Roll out the pastry sheet to approximately 12×8-inches and cut in 4 equal pieces.
Place a cooled apple in the center of one piece of pastry, working it halfway up the sides of the apple. Repeat with the remaining apples and pastry. Place on the prepared baking dish.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until pastry is golden-brown and apples are tender.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 464; protein, 5 g; carbohydrates, 53 g; fat, 27 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 198 mg.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
There are many variations for this date-studded pudding, but this is my favorite. Use chopped dates from the market instead of taking time to cut by hand.
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup finely chopped, pitted dried dates
11/4 cups boiling water
8 Tbsps. unsalted butter, softened, divided
3/4 cup sugar
11/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
3 Tbsps. vanilla yogurt
Preheat oven to 350°.
Spray a 9-inch square ovenproof dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Sprinkle the baking soda and vanilla over the dates. Stir in the boiling water. Let stand for 15 minutes to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, beat 4 tablespoons butter and 3/4 cup sugar until combined.
Add the egg and half of the flour, beating well to mix.
Add the remaining flour and baking powder. Mixture will be crumbly.
Pour the date mixture over and mix well. Pour into the prepared pie pan.
Bake until nicely browned, 50 to 60 minutes, or until set in center. Cut pudding into squares.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, place the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, brown sugar and yogurt to a simmer.
Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until thickened, stirring often.
Pour over the hot pudding.
Makes 20 pieces.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 122; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 19 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 23 mg; sodium, 93 mg.
Ethel G. Hofman, author of the recent Mackerel at Midnight, is also a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.