Baking challenge: dethroning the Queen of Puddings

This post is part of my challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the technical challenge for week six (pudding week) of series three: a Queen of Puddings.

Queen of puddings

I like British food. I always feel bad that it has such a poor reputation globally, since the decline of British cooking really comes from the hardship of rationing during – and after, of course – the Second World War, when British cooks had learned to rely on powdered egg, corned beef and old heels of leaden bread to keep themselves and their families fed. Before that, British food was creative, adventurous, and even sustained a good reputation in Europe – it wasn’t all the boiled vegetables of popular imagination. I’ve leafed through plenty of original magazines from the 1910s in the British Library and some of the recipes are surprisingly fresh and modern sounding. Contemporary British cooking, of course, draws on influences from around the world as well as relying on local, seasonal and traditional flavours and techniques.

Mary Berry's Queen of puddings

But for all that I believe British food is irrationally maligned, I don’t like, or even understand, Queen of Puddings (and this ain’t my first time at the Queen of Puddings rodeo). Like many recipes with a long history, it is breadcrumb-based, consisting in this case of a lemony breadcrumb-thickened custard, topped with a river of red jam, topped with a crown of lightly toasted meringue. The end result is gloppy, sticky, and very sweet, and it doesn’t keep well, either, as the meringue starts to droop and weep into the other components if it sits out for a bit. For me, this is no queen, but a mere pretender to the throne – the Perkin Warbeck of British desserts, if you will. On account of its acute sweetness, however, I can imagine children liking this. And if you do like Queen of Puddings, Mary Berry’s recipe (below) is certainly a good and reliable one, producing pretty picture-perfect results.

Queen of puddings
The recipe is Mary Berry’s, from the BBC Food site

You will need an oval dish with a capacity of about 1.4l which fits inside a roasting tin for this recipe.

For the custard base

  • 600ml full-fat milk
  • 25g butter, plus extra for greasing the dish
  • finely grated zest of one lemon
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 75g fresh white breadcrumbs

For the meringue

  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 egg whites

For the jam

  • 500g frozen mixed summer fruits (or 200f fresh)
  • 200g caster sugar (or to taste – I used quite a bit less, but it can be hard to get a good enough set on a jam if you use very little sugar)
  1. Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease a 1.4 litre shallow ovenproof dish with butter.
  2. On a very gentle heat, warm the milk in a small saucepan. Add the butter, lemon zest and the sugar and stir until dissolved.
  3. Lightly whisk the egg yolks in a bowl. Slowly pour the warm milk into the eggs, whisking all the time.
  4. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the base of the buttered dish and pour over the custard. Leave to stand for about 15 minutes, so the breadcrumbs absorb the liquid.
  5. Carefully transfer the dish to a roasting tin and fill the tin halfway with hot water from the kettle. Bake the custard in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes until the custard has set. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool a little.
  6. While the base is baking, make the jam. Put the mixed summer fruits into a pan; warm over a gentle heat. Once they’ve softened and released their juice (which will take a lot longer if using frozen fruit), add the sugar and cook for a further three minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  7. Heat gently until you have a jam-like consistency. If you are using frozen berries they will release more liquid so you might need to cook for longer to thicken to the right jam consistency (it does need to be fairly set so it won’t leak out everywhere).Whisk the egg whites using an electric hand whisk on full speed until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed. Add the remaining 175g/6oz sugar a teaspoon at a time, still whisking on maximum speed until the mixture is stiff and shiny. Transfer the meringue mixture to a piping bag.Spread 4-5 tablespoons of the fruit jam over the set custard, then pipe the meringue on top.

    Lower the oven temperature to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and return the pudding to the oven (not in the roasting tin with water) for about 25-30 minutes until the meringue is pale golden all over and crisp. Serve at once with pouring cream.

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