Friday 29 April 2011

Spotted What?

My cousin Heather recently posted this photo on Facebook, together with the comment “Thank goodness Fresh & Easy grocery store carries this!!!!!!'s microwavable!”  We all got a good chuckle out of it. 

Since all things British seem to be on our minds this week, I thought it might be interesting to learn something about this intrinsically English dish. 

Spotted Dick’s name derives in part from the liberal quantity of currants distributed throughout the dough.  There’s lots of speculation about the rest of the name but a best guess is that it may possibly be a corruption of the word dough or dog, as "spotted dog" is another name for the same dish, but made with plums rather than currants.  Whatever the name and regardless of its origin, it’s a tasty pudding, worth trying at home.

Spotted Dick is a steamed suet pudding.  We’re not terribly familiar with these puddings here in North America, except in the form of Christmas (or plum) pudding.  Our Christmas pudding is a cousin to Spotted Dick, prepared in much the same way.

Steamed puddings have a long history.  They date back to a time when ovens were not commonly found in most homes.  Steamed puddings could be either savoury or sweet. The main ingredients of the dish were carried in a moist dough made from flour, some sort of fat, and a leavening agent.  The dough was either placed in a pudding bowl and covered, with the lid tied on securely, or simply wrapped in muslin.  It would be boiled or steamed for quite a long time—usually two to three hours—until cooked through.  Steamed puddings were, and are, most often served with a sauce.

I’m not at all sure that I want to try the canned version of Spotted Dick but I am quite happy to make it from scratch at home.  It makes a splendid, and relatively inexpensive, end to supper on a chilly evening and is substantial enough, and pleasant enough in appearance, to be offered to company. 

My favourite recipe has spots of several colours.  It’s adapted from Jamie Oliver, who offered it in his book “The Naked Chef.”  You'll need a kitchen scale. Many of the quantities are given by weight.

Suet is not often available in stores here, other than at Christmas time.  If you can’t find it, substitute an equal quantity of butter, frozen and then grated on a box grater.

4oz suet
1 lb mixture of currants, dried cranberries, and finely chopped dried apricot
zest of 1 lemon or 1 orange
4oz all purpose flour
4oz sugar
4oz breadcrumbs
1 level teaspoon ground ginger (or to taste)
1/4 tsp. nutmeg, grated
pinch of salt
1 egg
about 2-1/2 cups of milk

Grease a 1.5 quart pudding basin or Pyrex bowl.  Mix all the ingredients together, except the egg and milk.  Add the beaten egg and milk and mix well.  Put the mixture in the basin, cover with the top with a circle of brown paper much larger than the top of the pot.  Tie the paper cover tightly onto the bowl, and then trim away most of the excess paper.  Put the basin in a pan with water half-way up the sides of the basin.  Bring the water to the boil, put on a tight fitting lid, and simmer for 3 hours, remembering to top the pot up with boiling water now and then.

Serve Spotted Dick hot, with custard sauce and—if you are being very British—a little Lyle’s golden syrup. 

Some grocers stock custard sauce (also called poured custard) in the dairy aisle but, if you can’t find it there, you can easily make your own.  It does requires some prior planning though, because the sauce should be made a day ahead and then chilled.

To make custard sauce, you’ll need:

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring the milk and sugar to a simmer in a saucepan without stirring. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until blended, then gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the yolks. Return the custard to its saucepan and cook it over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens enough to coat back of a wooden spoon and registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer.

Immediately pour the custard sauce through a fine sieve into a metal bowl and place the bowl in a large bowl of ice and cold water. Stir in the vanilla and then place a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the top of the custard, covering the surface of the sauce completely.  This will prevent a skin from forming on the top of the sauce.

When the sauce has cooled to about 90°F, place it in the fridge to chill completely.

So there you have it:  Traditional English cooking at its best.  Please do try it.  If you have to stifle a giggle at the name, that’s just fine with me.

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