To conclude my 2012 Year in Recipes culinary experiments with a mild adventure, I chose a recipe I’d never used before, for a dish of a kind I’d never made before, with a primary ingredient I’d never cooked before. I made a steamed persimmon pudding.
However traditional they may be, puddings (other than My-T-Fine) were not things my family ate. The only variety I’d ever even heard of was plum pudding, and to me that was something dark and lumpy that came in a can. Imagine, then, my amazement at a recent dinner party, when my friends Betty and Livio served a persimmon pudding that was wonderful: light, gently fruit-sweet, dramatically flamed with brandy, and served with a luscious whipped cream sauce.
We all loved it. Betty, who knows her First Ladies, told me it was Nancy Reagan’s persimmon pudding recipe and assured me it was easy to make. I kind of doubted that, but I decided I wanted it as the dessert for my Christmas Day dinner.
I found the recipe online; here it is. I have to warn you that this is a lousily written recipe. Deciphering it was the first of the series of worries this project presented. It has a few outrageous typos, such as “sold dissolves in warm water” – meaning baking soda dissolved in water – and its entire explanation for cooking the pudding is to “put in a buttered steam-type covered mold and steam two and a half hours.” That’s all very well if you already know how to do it, and no help at all if you don’t. As I’ve explained, I didn’t.
The next worry was finding persimmons, which I’d also never purchased before. Betty recommended the sweet Fuyu type, which are squat and rounded, like little tomatoes – not the more common pointy-ended ones, which I’m told are unbearably tart unless you catch them just as they’re about to dissolve into overripeness. This wasn’t a great year for Fuyus, apparently, because they were hard to find. The ones I finally found looked a little beaten up, but since they were going to be pureed, that was OK.
The pudding mixture was perfectly easy to put together, if calorically terrifying. I dissolved a lot of sugar in a lot of melted butter, then added flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, the persimmon puree, dissolved baking soda, brandy, vanilla, eggs, and raisins. Then came Worry #3: What to put it in (since I didn’t have an actual pudding basin) and exactly how to do the steaming? After checking in many cookbooks and online – several of which gave diametrically opposed instructions – I selected a procedure I hoped would work.
I buttered my largest French metal charlotte mold, put a round of buttered parchment in the bottom, and poured in the pudding mix. Happily, it came only about halfway up the pan, so there’d be room for expansion. I topped the mold with another piece of buttered parchment and a large piece of aluminum foil, anchoring them with a big rubber band.
I set this construction on a rack in my pasta pot, poured in boiling water to come ⅔ of the way up the sides of the mold, covered the pot tightly and let it steam for the required 2½ hours. This had to be done in advance, since I was going to need that pasta pot elsewhere in the Christmas dinner, so Worry #4 was whether the pudding would tolerate cooling and rewarming.
I also made the sauce in advance. This required a raw egg (ooh, salmonella!) to be beaten with melted butter, confectioner’s sugar, and brandy; then whipped heavy cream to be folded in and the sauce to be refrigerated until serving time. Just a light little grace note, eh?
In the evening, as dinner drew to an end, I warmed the still-filled and covered mold in the oven and confronted my final worry: Would the pudding stick in the pan when I tried to unmold it, and/or would it fall apart on the plate?
Magically, it did neither of these. It slid out smoothly, holding its shape perfectly. When I poured on heated brandy and struck a match, it flamed majestically.
And when the flames went out and I sliced and served it with its rich sauce, everyone agreed the dessert was delicious.
I was delighted with the success of my very first classic steamed pudding. Yes, it did turn out to be easy to make, despite all my worries. But I’d still like to think it was a Christmas miracle.
So I wish a safe, happy, and prosperous New Year to all my readers, and I hope you’ll continue visiting my blog in 2013. I received three new cookbooks for Christmas, and I’m eager to try some of their recipes and share the tales with you.