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Friday, December 28, 2007

Fig Pudding with Rum Butter


If you bake, you've run across recipes that call for this clean, gravely, beef fat. The usual suspects are mincemeat pie and plum pudding. And people tend to fall into two camps when it comes to suet--the "no way" camp, and the "I'd try it if only I could find it" camp. I'm not sure why it seems so repulsive to use this animal by-product in sweet food--after all, we certainly use butter and eggs, and if you think about what those actually are...well, better perhaps not to think too hard.

To use suet you have to have access to a butcher, and not the one at your local Shaw's. I mean a real butcher, where they get whole sides of beef to break down because suet is found around the kidneys and loins.

Now, at this point you might be thinking to yourself, "what's the big deal about suet?" Well, according to my research, it has a higher melting point than butter. This is useful at least for Christmas puddings because the other ingredients have time to set before the suet theoretically melts away, leaving a light, airy cake product behind.

Notice I said "theoretically".

This is because for the the past two years I've followed the plum pudding recipe in the Joy of Cooking...

Wait a second, let me back up.

At my job, there are two major holidays where the family gathers. The first is fourth of July, the second is Christmas. They are grand affairs with long-standing traditions, and one of the traditions at Christmas goes like this: after the big Christmas feast, the lights go out in the dining room and the cook (that's me) appears with a platter of flaming Christmas pudding and everybody sings "We wish you a Merry Christmas" (you know... "now bring us some figgy pudding..."). Then I promenade this now sputtering spectacle across the room and take a bow while everybody claps.

So on this, my third Christmas, I went out on a limb and changed the recipe, from the above-mentioned Plum Pudding, to Fig Pudding with Rum Butter--which brings me back to the point I was making above. The point is that the two times I made the Plum Pudding, the suet never melted, and so the pudding was extremely dense and rich. I finally figured out that it would melt if I heated it up in the microwave and had determined to do that this year (steam the pudding in advance and microwave the heck out of it just before serving) when I came across the Fig Pudding recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook.

It still calls for suet, but it's treated differently--whipped with sugar instead of grated and left in small chunks. Not surprisingly, this allowed the suet to melt away beautifully, and the result was a light, moist, figgy cake (or pudding, if you insist) that got great reviews.

I did have some trepidation about changing the recipe, but realized that as long as it's in the same basic shape (I used the same pudding mold), is accompanied by hard sauce (which is what the Rum Butter is), and is on fire when it comes out, the specifics of the innards don't matter much.

NOW---my next problem to work out with this dish is how to get the darn thing to remain alight during its journey across the dining room. I've tried heating the metal platter, the pudding and the rum, I've tried putting little sugar cubes to "anchor" the alcohol (what Mrs. S. used to do)--the only other thing I can think of is to buy some seriously high octane booze next year and try that out.

Any pyros out there feel free to chime in on this cooking quandary.


Anonymous said...

How about trying Barcardi 151 next year? The high concentration of EtOH should really flame up for you.

Melissa Bach Palladino said...

I will absolutely do that next year. Thanks for the input!