This pudding is about as sinful as it gets. Rob’s Sussex Pond Pudding is, quite literally, not for the faint-hearted. It truly is the ultimate comfort food. If you are going to indulge in this beyond-sweet dessert, now is the time for us sourthern-hemisphereans who are in the throws of winter weather. It’s a poor excuse, I know, given that Australian winters are nowhere near as severe as those in most parts of the northern hemisphere – but it’s all relative!
When I last visited Dear Dani and Chef Rob, the Chef was busy preparing this pudding for a Mother’s Day family feast the next day. I watched him break up and then mix the rather unappealing suet* through the mixture, deftly forming a dough and shaping it, while Dani and I chatted away. With the leftover suet that he had, Rob kindly made a baby version of this pudding to send me home with. A heavy, little foil package tied up with string, just for me!
I brought the baby home and we eyed each other off for a couple of days. To be truthful, it intimidated me. I’d never boiled a pudding in a glass bowl before. What if it blew up while it boiled away? What if it blew up at the precise moment when I was standing over it, and the whole lemon wedged deep in the core of the pudding shot at and then exploded in my face? What would I tell Rob about his bowl? About the pudding? About my pudding-ravaged face? All of these visions were terrifying me, but on one particularly wintry night that was made for some couch, blanket and warm-pudding time, I decided to face the challenge, and boil this baby up.
I let it simmer for a good hour, after which time I began to pace back and forth to the stove. The pudding hissed and bubbled and boiled at me. It was half an hour too early, but I tentatively lifted the outer layer of foil and then baking paper, and the dough appeared quite pallid and stodgy, as I had been told. The little tease. Another half an hour of torture passed. It was still pale, it’s peaches-and-cream Englishness mocking me. I stood there in deliberation … to risk achieving a golden, non-stodginess to my liking and perhaps have the thing blow up on me, or to play it safe and take it off the heat immediately. I decided to risk it. At the two-hour and fifteen-minute mark, the pudding was finally a lovely, golden colour. There was no sign of the suet flecks. As Chef Rob had promised, the suet had melted and merged into the dough, flavouring it with all of its rich fattiness.
A little aside here. It was Rob’s dad, Richard, who had asked me to make a ‘pudding’ while staying with him and his lovely wife, Gill, in Wiltshire. While Rich clearly had faith in my cooking ability, given that he was asking for quite a specific dessert and believed me to have a repertoire for such a thing, fear and confusion struck me. What sort of pudding, I had stammered out. An upside-down pudding? Warm chocolate pudding? Just any pudding, he had said. How many types of puddings were there, I’d wondered. It took a few moments, but we both realised there was something lost in translation there. It seemed that I did not speak Pommy, where all desserts are called ‘puddings’ (think I was the last one to get this memo!), and it is considered new money-esque if you say ‘serviette’ instead of ‘napkin’. Rich taught me important cultural lessons about the Motherland on that trip. I shall be forever greatful, and for the fact that I didn’t have to make a pudding after all. I do wonder now, though, what do English folk call a ‘pudding’ pudding then?
Chef Rob, who is an amazing one at that, mastered this particular ‘pudding’ pudding. Once slightly cooled, I carefully flipped it onto a plate and gazed at it for a little while. A golden wonder. With great care and trepidation, I cut into the golden crust, and out oozed the pond of lemon-flavoured butter and sugar and suet. Trés, super, heavenly, comforting, once-in-a-blue-moon yumminess!! And now I hand over to Chef Rob and his recipe for a non-baby version of his pudding, complete with British imperial measurements. Thank you, my friend!
225 g/8 oz self-raising flour
110 g/4 oz shredded suet (you will be able to find this in most good butchers)
75 ml milk
75 ml water
200 g/7 oz slightly salted butter (softened), plus extra to grease
200 g/7 oz soft light brown sugar
2 large lemons
Mix the flour and suet together in a bowl. Combine the milk and water together in a jug. Mix in enough of the milk and water to the flour and suet mixture to make a dough that is soft, but not too soft to roll. Roll the dough out on a floured surface, to make a large circle. Cut out a quarter of the circle (to be used later as the lid of the pudding).
Grease a 1.5 litre/2¾ pint heatproof basin or bowl. Place the larger circle of pastry into the bowl and join the cut sides together, pressing well.
Mix together the softened butter and the light brown sugar. Then put half of the butter and sugar mix into the lined bowl.
Prick the lemons all over with a skewer, so the juices can escape, and then place the lemons on top of the butter and sugar. Place the remaining butter and sugar mix over the lemons to fill the bowl.
Roll out the reserved pastry quarter into a round and place on top of the basin filling. Press the edges together to seal the pudding.
Cut out a round of baking paper the same size as the top of your pudding and place on top of your pudding. Place a piece of foil over the basin, creating a pleat in the middle. Tie the foil in place with string and tie around carefully to create a string handle over the top, so the pudding can be easily moved when hot.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and lower the pudding into it. The water should come halfway up the sides of the bowl. Cover the pan with a lid and leave to simmer for 3–4 hours. If the water level falls too low, replenish it with more boiling water.
To serve, carefully remove the basin from the pan and remove the foil lid. Put a deep dish over the basin and turn the pudding out onto the dish. Place on the table and enjoy!
* I have placed this note down here, in the hope that my sister won’t read it. I took some of this pudding (after realising that I would actually be sick on more than one piece) over to my sister’s, and sure enough, Phillipe and Benjamin, in matching pyjamas, polished it off with a side of whipped cream. What I didn’t mention to them was the inclusion of suet in the pudding, which is a staple in many a traditional English pudding. Phillipe, an English lad himself, would have known this but thankfully didn’t give it away. My sister, who I will add is NOT a vegetarian but what I would call a ‘meatist’, may have lost it if I told her what suet is and that her entire family were eating it. A little mean of me, but I wasn’t about to spoil their pudding joy. For those of you who don’t know, suet is, in fact, the fat surrounding beef or mutton kidneys and loins. I can safely say that she would have unknowingly eaten it many a time, particularly around Christmas time. I will admit that, like lard, it’s gross. But I’ve become enlightened enough to say that I now think what duck fat is to roast potatoes, suet is to pudding – jolly good!