I started making steamed puddings in my restaurant days. Barbara Hiken brought in a recipe from one of the waitresses for persimmon pudding and we made it that day. And never made another recipe since it was so darn good. I would go to a friend’s house for dinner who worked at the restaurant and lo, there was a slice of our persimmon pudding with a yummy rich butter sauce. The first bite was just like, well, the first time ever. It is a pud that just keeps getting better each time you make it. Fast forward 30 years and we who are in possession of the wonderful persimmon pud recipe are still making it.We need no other. But you have to wait for the persimmon season to get the puree to make it since persimmons are a fruit that is not canned or frozen commercially.
Persimmons are beginning to show their bright orange selves and the local trees look like the holidays once their leaves fall, leaving the orbs as a decorative gesture. Next to them I spy the first bags of fresh cranberries. There are persimmon cookies, persimmon cakes, persimmon in salads, but no holiday can go by without persimmon or cranberry pudding, which are not like a creamy stove top spoon pudding but a solid mass that is more akin to a cake, but it is steamed instead of baked.
While persimmon pudding is one of the most familiar, there are many steamed puddings, all just as delicious. Spotted Dick, Plum Pudding, Steamed Chocolate Pudding, Sticky Toffee Pudding, and English Golden Treacle Pudding, are all constructed and cooked in the same manner. You can become a gourmet of steamed puddings, mastering many different flavor combinations, but one thing they have in common–they all seem to be a winter dessert that makes its appearance during the holidays.
Popular since medieval times in Britain and later the New England colonies, a “pud” is a must for ending winter holiday meals. Once heavy with meat suet as the major fat, modern versions are more like a steamed sponge or sweet quick bread and use butter or oil, making them light and flavorful from fall fruits. They are steamed in the medium or large on/off style rice cookers with amazing efficiency and ease. I consider the large rice cooker the appliance of choice when steaming puddings.
The mold is of paramount importance here. I collect beautiful covered fluted metal pudding molds, easily available from Williams-Sonoma, La Cuisine, or Sur La Table in 3-cup and 6-cup capacities. While recipes can call for a fluted tube pan or one-pound coffee cans, these are not suitable for steaming in the rice cooker because they are too tall. For the best fit, I recommend the 1.5 quart (6 cup) round melon shape, Corinthian column, or a 6 1/2 inch metal kugelhof mold (you will need to cover with foil and a rubber band in lieu of the lid) for the large (10-cup) capacity rice cooker and the 3-cup fluted with wreath top and center tube for the medium (6-cup) capacity rice cooker.
While so many other of the metal molds are beautiful, they may be too tall for the rice
cooker cover to sit properly and enclose the steam. There are some smaller 2 cup molds (the Corninthian column is adorable) or English china pudding basins that will fit in the small or medium rice cooker, but the following recipes are designed for a 1.5 quart (6 cup) capacity mold. If you use a 3-cup mold, just cut the recipe in half.
The technique for steaming is simple. The mold is buttered and never filled with batter past two-thirds to allow for expansion. Snap on the lid or cover and lower it into the water. It is set on a rack or trivet in simmering water that should come halfway up the sides of the mold. In the large cooker, that was at the 5 cup line on the side of the bowl. It is important to check periodically in case the water has boiled off and needs to be replenished, but I found the rice cooker to be very efficient here; about 1 1/2 inches of water boiled off every 25 to 30 minutes.
Warm steamed puddings should have a complementary hard sauce, lemon or custard sauce, ice cream, or liqueur-flavored whipped cream to proclaim them ready to eat.
How To Make Individual Steamed Puddings
Spoon the batter into well-buttered ceramic ramekins, china pudding basins, Pyrex custard cups, or even ovenproof coffee cups, filling 2/3 full. Securely cover each with a piece of buttered foil and crimp the edges to seal.
Set the steaming rack in place or place a wire rack in the bottom of the cooker and arrange the molds on the rack (they can be touching); you will probably have to steam in two batches. Pour in 1 to 2 inches of hot water, reaching only halfway up the molds.
Turn on the cooker and bring the water to a boil. Steam until set, 25 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of the cups. Remove from the cooker with metal tongs and place on a wire rack. Remove the foil cover, run a knife around the sides to release the pud, and turn out onto the rack. Serve warm or room temperature with a sauce of choice. The small puddings are great to douse in a teaspoon of brandy and ignite at serving time.