I'll be honest, I haven't really enjoyed the past few of these weeks of challenge. I mean, I love baking, but how jazzed can I really get over diet flan? Over meat pie? Cheap rum-soaked bread? Season 3 has been a bit of a disappointment. But I think the second half of the season is going to be surprisingly pleasant, starting with this dish. And hey, next week is jelly doughnuts.
But let's start with the name: the queen of puddings. I tell you, after I finish this project, I'm going to have to find a non-British set of bakes to do, because that has to be the most British name I've ever heard. Much as I tried to find the origins of such an odd name, I came up blank. But I don't blame the inventors for using such a regal title for such a pedestrian dish--at the end of the day this is stale bread and custard, so it's not exactly a sophisticated dish.
But boy is it easy, and delicious. It's a three-part dessert, which might be intimidating to some, but if you take each one on its own, it's really quite an easy dessert, and hard to mess up. Step one is the custard: head up some milk with sugar and stuff, throw it in some yolks, and pour it on top of breadcrumbs. Anyone can do that.
Step two honestly should just be "pop open a jar of jam," but I believe they had to make their own on the show, and who am I to break from tradition? I also have never made jam before, and while this is more of a "quick jam," I thought it best to expand my horizons and learn a new skill. And it couldn't be easier: cook some berries, add some sugar, let it hang out until it thickens. The end. I chose blueberries because that's what I had in my freezer, and it was raining outside so going to the store was a negative.
A bit about this custard: it's kind of weird. It seems like a normal custard here, and in baking it, the dish behaved like a normal custard. But once it cooled and once I scooped out a serving, and especially when I had leftovers for breakfast the next day (and the next day, and the next day), the custard became much more solid. Not that it wasn't delicious, and not that it wasn't creamy, but something about baking the custard soaked in breadcrumbs gave the custard a much firmer texture than most (such as flan) have. It wasn't necessarily bad, and it actually made it easier to scoop out servings later, but just be forewarned that you're not going to get the same smooth, creamy texture you would get from most custard recipes.
Step three is the only "tricky" step, and it's only tricky because meringue scares people, when honestly it shouldn't. Especially in this recipe. For starters, you only use the yolks in the custard, so you already have three whites laying around: this recipe is economical. And don't be afraid of meringue! All it takes is a little elbow grease (the hard way) or a machine (the easy way), and if you can't muster the strength to whisk for five minutes, then you probably shouldn't be eating this anyway (not fat-shaming, just saying stamina is important if you want to bake)
Now for putting it all together, which is something I used to detest before starting this project, but is actually what I'm looking forward to more and more. It's kind of fun to have your various components all laid out, ready to put into a final dish in which the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Construction here is simple: spread the jam on the custard--and remember to be careful here. While this is a sturdier custard than most, it's still delicate, so if you spread the jam out with the same reckless abandon as frosting on a cake or butter on bread, you're going to mix the jam in with the custard and it will become a mess. Not that mixing the jam in would taste any different, but Mary Berry would most certainly not approve of your technique.
Finally, pipe or spoon the meringue on top and bake for another short span of time to brown the marshmallow goodness. To be honest, my meringue was too runny (especially after watching Mary's Master Class), but so long as it doesn't overflow your dish and make a mess in your oven, I don't see how that would make much of a difference.
Honestly, I'm happy I got to use this baking dish. I am usually very particular when it comes to my cookware: I always buy All-Clad and ScanPan (even if it means I buy fewer pans), I always consult Cook's Illustrated for any of my tools, and I appreciate the value bright colored Le Creuset dishes bring to my kitchen. And while this is a very handsome dish, I have no idea who made it or where it came from. It was my Grandma's baking dish, back from who-knows-what-year when she used to bake. I'll save a special entry to talk about her and how she influenced my love of cookery, but suffice to say I get giddy whenever I can use something of hers in my kitchen. Most often, it's her well-annotated copy of the Fannie Farmer Baking Book, but using this dish was a genuine pleasure.
And so we arrive at the taste. It was far better than I expected. Contrary to what I said earlier about the jam, the homemade jam here really did the trick. The custard was firm, as I've said earlier, but it was also rich, and the sweet tartness of a homemade jam (most commercial jams are far too sweet) cut through the richness in a way that was a perfect complement. And don't even get me started on meringue. I am one of the biggest marshmallow fans you will ever meet, and would (and often do) eat marshmallow desserts (such as meringue--cooked or uncooked) alone. This topping, with its crunch exterior and its still soft and pillowy interior, gave the textural element that was needed to keep this dessert from being a boring experience for my mouth. Yes, this dish has multiple steps and components and needs care in construction, but it's honestly no more difficult than baking cookies. I highly recommend you trying it, and I hope this inspires you to do so. I know I never would have thought to make a queen of puddings were it not for this challenge, so let me be your test monkey and say that this is definitely worth it.
Queen of Puddings
makes one dish, serves 8
2 cups (600 milliliters) (1 pint) MILK
25 grams (1 ounce) (1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons) BUTTER
1 zest LEMON
50 grams (2 ounces) GRANULATED SUGAR
3 large EGG YOLKS
75 grams (3 ounces) BREADCRUMBS
200 grams (7 ounces) FRESH FRUITS [or, 500 grams FROZEN FRUITS]
200 grams (7 ounces) GRANULATED SUGAR
3 large EGG WHITES
175 grams (6 ounces) GRANULATED SUGAR
1. Preheat the oven to 325F and grease a shallow ovenproof dish that can fit into a roasting tin or deep pan
2. Warm the MILK in a small saucepan
3. To the milk, add the BUTTER, LEMON ZEST, and SUGAR, and stir until sugar is dissolved and butter is melted
4. Lightly whisk the EGG YOLKS in a bowl, and slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the eggs, starting with a splash and whisking, then pouring the rest in gradually to create a custard base
5. Sprinkle the BREADCRUMBS over the base of the buttered dish
6. Pour the custard base over the breadcrumbs and let stand 15 minutes
7. Transfer the dish to a roasting tin or pan and fill it halfway with hot water
8. Bake the custard for 25-30 minutes, or until the custard has set, then remove from the oven to cool a little
1. Put the mixed FRUIT into a pan and warm over gentle heat until softened and they begin to release their juice
2. Add the SUGAR to the fruit and cook for 3 minutes
3. Heat the mixture gently until you have a jam-like consistency (heat longer if using frozen berries, as they will release more liquid)
1. Whisk the EGG WHITES on high until stiff peaks form
2. Add the SUGAR gradually, while continuing to whisk on high until the mixture is stiff and shiny
1. Heat oven to 300F
2. Spread the fruit jam over the custard in a thin layer (note: you'll probably only use half of the jam that the recipe above makes)
3. Place the meringue on top of the jam-covered custard in heaping spoons to cover the top, or pipe in large dollops, making sure there are peaks and valleys of meringue across the whole surface of the dish
4. Return the pudding to the oven for 25-30 minutes until the meringue is pale golden all over and slightly crisp
5. Serve warm and fresh from the oven or the next day, optionally with light or heavy cream drizzled on top
This week was a disaster. The pictures below look pretty, but making this pie was a nightmare. It was a bake made out of obligation, that I had to make twice out of obligation to this project (not because it tasted good).
The hot water crust is why I had to make it twice. If you'll remember, I was introduced to hot water crusts back in season 2, with the pork pie, which was a delightful project that introduced me to quail eggs. The hot water crust was a novelty then, and it was baked in a muffin tin. The hot water crust here was not quite as quaint. And it does not get baked in a muffin tin.
The hand-raised pie is special because it is not baked in a baking tin of any sort, but a free-standing container of dough that holds a filling, both of which are baked simultaneously. if you haven't ever worked with crust dough, particularly a very fatty dough such as a hot water crust, let me warn you that it is slippery and wet, and does not generally like to stand on its own.
Thus, I had to make it twice. The first time, perhaps I had too much water, or too much lard (is there such a thing?), but it would just sag when I tried to release it from the glass I was molding it around. The key is to chill the dough thoroughly, and let the fats harden until you can more or less mold the dough into whatever shape you like.
So, the dough was difficult to work with, but thanks to the pork pies, I knew it would be a halfway decent tasting dough. But in preparing the filling, here's where things turn sour. Chicken? Cool. Bacon? Sweet. Thyme? Herbaceous.
Enter the dried apricot. First of all, does anybody actually like dried apricot? Second of all, do they like it in a savory, meaty dish? I was dubious, and unlike when I've been dubious in the past, I was actually correct this time.
Dried apricot did nothing to help this dish. It added this odd sweetness that infiltrated the filling, making the chicken and bacon lose their meaty quality and take on a pungent sour flavor. I could tell the potential was there wish the savory, meaty filling, but it was masked by this cloud of dried fruit.
Despite this failure in flavor, and now that I look back on the baking experience two days later, I am glad to have stuck it out and finished. I mean, even on GBBO, sometimes contestant have to start over from scratch, and that's nothing to be ashamed of. And sometimes their flavors suck, and that's nothing to be ashamed of (though I suppose I expected more in terms of flavor profile from a Paul Hollywood recipe). Making a hand-raised pie was a true challenge, and I can't imagine the bakers on GBBO having to do this without a full recipe and YouTube tutorials handy--if someone can find the episode online for me, I'd love to watch it.
Things I would do differently next time? Leave out the apricot, for godssakes!! But additionally, don't be afraid to rest the dough in the fridge for as long as you like. I left it to chill 20 minutes before sculpting, and I wish I had let it hang out another 10. And I would have chilled the filled pastries in the fridge as well, so that they might have kept the crimped edge I was so proud of (and so the pie in the back wouldn't have sagged so badly).
But overall, a dish well worth knowing how to make. As I mentioned in the pork pie post, savory pies made with hot water crusts are meant to be durable and last, easily made in advance to take with you to the coal mine (er... cubicle farm). These are the technical bakes, which means the point is to stretch your technical prowess and learn new techniques. The filling is truly secondary to learning how to make a free-standing, hand-raised pie crust. And that skill I could see coming in handy, should I ever become a coal miner. Or a contestant on The Great British Bake Off (or The Great American Baking Show -- Mary, call me?)
makes 2 individual pies
240 grams (8 1/2 ounces) ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
50 grams (1 3/4 ounces) (3 1/2 tablespoons) BUTTER
1/2 cup (130 milliliters) (4 1/4 fluid ounces) WATER
1 teaspoon SALT
60 grams (2 1/4 ounces) LARD
1 large EGG, for egg wash
300 grams (10 1/2 ounces) CHICKEN, cut into chunks
300 grams (10 1/2 ounces) BACON, cut into chunks
2 sprigs THYME
240 grams (8 1/2 ounces) DRIED APRICOTS, chopped
SALT and PEPPER
1. In a large bowl, combine the FLOUR and BUTTER and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
2. Mix together the WATER, SALT, and LARD in a small saucepan and heat until the lard melts
3. Pour the lard mixture on top of the flour mixture, stirring with a spoon until everything comes together
4. Pour the dough out onto a floured surface and bring it together into a ball, then divide into two equal pieces and chill in the fridge about 20 minutes, until firm
5. Prep your area--take two drinking glasses or jars, and flour the outside of them, and flour your work surface and a rolling pin
6. Take one of your chilled doughs and reserve 1/4, then place the remainder on the work surface, then take the drinking glass or jar and press it down into the dough until the bottom is about 1/4" in thickness.
7. Use your hands to gently press the dough up the sides of the glass, rotating the glass and applying pressure to keep the dough from falling--if you notice it not holding its shape, chill the dough more so it becomes stiffer
8. Roll out the reserved 1/4 of the dough into a circle with a diameter slightly larger than the drinking glass and poke a hole in the center
9. Repeat the process with the other half of the dough, and chill in the fridge about 20 minutes
10. Preheat the oven to 400F
11. Keeping the proteins separate, season the CHICKEN and BACON with SALT, PEPPER, and THYME
12. Dealing with one crust at a time, remove the drinking glass or jar by lightly rubbing your finger between the dough and the glass and lifting the glass out
13. Pack the filling into the pie with a layer of bacon, a layer of chicken, and a layer of APRICOTS, and repeating until the crust is full
14. Place the lid on the crust, seal the edges, and crimp with two fingers and a thumb
15. Brush the lids and sides of the crust with the EGG WASH, place on a baking tray, and cook for 50-60 minutes, until the pastry is browned and crisp
16. Leave to cool and serve room temperature
With such a fancy French name, you'd think this week would bring us a complicated recipe that would take three days and involve at least 5 pounds of butter. After making the crème caramel, however, I believe the name is a misnomer. There are basically three ingredients to this dish, and "creme" is generous. A better name, in my opinion, would be "diet flan."
I approached this recipe thinking I was to be making a flan, which I am well-acquainted with, as my mother-in-law makes quite possibly the best leche flan on the face of the planet. Hers is Filipino in origin, using sweetened condensed milk. Others I've eaten have been Mexican, using heavy cream or half-and-half, and solely the yolk of the egg.
This one was different. It used the whole egg: yolk and white. And it called for just 1 tablespoon of sugar per ramekin in the custard. And it called for milk--regular milk. Not sweetened condensed. Not heavy cream. Not even half-and-half. 3.25% fat milk. What I put in my coffee in the morning. Could this really be rich enough to be classified as dessert?
Just a few tips in making this: make sure you don't let your caramel get too dark (I cooked mine a little too much -- aim for a dark copper, not a near-burnt sugar), let it cool in the ramekins at room temperature so the sugar doesn't get soggy, and cool the custard at room temperature once out of the oven (if you throw it into the fridge too soon, you'll get brains like in the last picture in this post). The one tricky part is the same whenever you're cooking custard: knowing when it's done. What you're looking for is an outside rim that is set, and a center that jiggles, but does is not liquid. With this one, it's better to slightly overcook than undercook, but try to take it out just when the center is jiggling.
The result was actually quite delicious. Was it my mother-in-law's leche flan? Of course not. But it wasn't terrible. And it didn't overload me on sugar or fat and make me feel sluggish. It gave me the mild sugar rush I need at the end of the meal, without making me crave more. I stand by that this is a diet flan. But it's not in the same vein as a diet cake, which tastes like cardboard. This is actually worth eating.
makes 6 individual ramekins
160 grams (6 ounces) GRANULATED SUGAR
6 tablespoons WATER
BUTTER, for greasing the ramekins
4 large EGGS
1 teaspoon VANILLA EXTRACT
25 grams (1 ounce) GRANULATED SUGAR
2 cups (600 milliliters) WHOLE MILK
BOILING WATER, for the water bath
HEAVY CREAM, for finishing
1. Preheat oven to 300F and put the ramekins in the oven on a sheet pan
2. Pour the 160 grams of GRANULATED SUGAR and the WATER into a saucepan and dissolve the sugar slowly over a low heat
3. Keep the heat on low and do not stir, as the mixture starts boiling and turns a dark copper color
4. Remove the pan immediately so the caramel doesn't burn and distribute evenly into the warmed ramekins
5. Leave the ramekins out on the countertop to cool completely, until the caramel is hard (do not cool in the fridge, as the sugar will absorb moisture and not harden)
6. Once cooled, butter the sides of the ramekins
1. Whisk the EGGS, VANILLA EXTRACT, and SUGAR together into a bowl until well mixed
2. Pour the MILK into a saucepan and heat over low heat until hot to the touch, but not boiling
3. Pour the heated milk over the egg mixture, while whisking, and continue to whisk quickly until smooth
4. Sieve the custard mixture to separate any egg that may have scrambled
5. Pour the custard evenly into each of the ramekins and place them on a wet paper towel in a baking dish
6. Pour the boiling water into the baking dish until the water reaches halfway up the sides (this is easiest to do with the oven rack pulled halfway out and the dish placed on the rack, so you can just carefully push the rack in, instead of having to carry a dish of boiling water to the oven)--be careful not to get any of the water in the ramekins
7. Cook in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the custard has set around the edges, and is jiggly but not liquid in the center
8. Take the baking dish out of the oven and use tongs to carefully lift the ramekins out of the water and onto a cooling rack
9. Cool completely at room temperature (lest you want your custard bottoms to look like a brain, below), then place in the fridge to chill at least four hours (or overnight)
10. To serve, run a paring knife under hot water and dry the knife, then slip the knife around the edges of the ramekin to loosen; place a serving dish on top of the ramekin and quickly flip dish right side-up, then optionally pour heavy cream over the top
For all my American readers out there (apparently there are 149 of you, according to Google Analytics), I bring you a special bonus episode: golden syrup! What is golden syrup? It's basically a caramelized sugar syrup that is light, bright, and slightly tangy from the use of lemons (which serves both chemical and taste purposes). It's used when you need a liquid sugar that has a bit of thickness to it, and a light caramelization. I think. I'm not exactly sure. But I do know you can use it when making brandy snaps or treacle tart. So there's that.
And it couldn't be easier. It's a multi-step process, and it takes about an hour, but most of that time is spent on the couch watching TV, and it only has three ingredients. The first step is to take some sugar and a little water and let her cook over low heat. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to golden syrup.
You're looking for this first batch of sugar and water to become a caramel color -- light or dark is your preference, depending on how nutty/burnt you like your flavors to be. I'm a fan of anything that's a little over-cooked (except steak), so I let it go somewhat dark. Your big bubbles will turn into tiny bubbles, then into tiny brown bubbles, and you know it's time to move to the next step.
Which is to throw in your boiling water, the rest of the sugar, and as little or as much lemon as you want, though you have to throw in some lemon, because the acid keeps the sugar from crystallizing and becoming a chunky, gloopy mess (or so that's what the chemists tell me). Make sure your pot is on a low setting, so it's just barely bubbling (not boiling), and let it go for 45 minutes. At the end, you'll have golden syrup. Let it cool to room temperature and toss it in the fridge to thicken, and snack on the lemons, which have now become candied lemon peel -- don't you love a recipe with no waste?
makes 2 cups
100 grams GRANULATED SUGAR
3 tablespoons WATER
500 grams GRANULATED SUGAR
300 grams (3/4 cup) BOILING WATER
1 quarter LEMON
1. Dissolve first part of SUGAR into WATER over low heat, and cook until caramelized -- the darker your caramel color, the deeper your flavor, so personal preference wins out here, but I would aim for a dark golden orange color
2. When you've reached your desired caramel color, pour in the second part of SUGAR and BOILING WATER, and LEMON slice and bring to a boil, then down to a simmer, and cook for 45 minutes
3. Let mixture cool before pouring into a jar or can (preferably sanitized), and store in the fridge
I've been putting off this recipe. Part of it was that I definitely over-baked myself during the holidays, but part of it was just because I couldn't stomach the thought of eating a treacle tart. I mean, I love me a good pie, but a sugar syrup pie with breadcrumbs? I'd rather have a pecan pie and enjoy myself a whole lot more. So it took me a good 3 weeks to work up the motivation to say "Let's do this." And this past weekend, I did it.
And I didn't regret it. Sure, I messed up a little, which we'll get into, but the end result was surprisingly delicious. Would I still have preferred a pecan pie? Of course, pecan pies are amazing. But if you don't like the sickeningly sweet caramel heaviness of a pecan pie, and you're looking for something lighter, brighter, and a bit lemony, then a treacle tart is actually your best bet.
The first step was making the pie crust. The recipe is a standard pie crust recipe: cut the butter into the flour, and add the water until it comes together. I kept this dough drier than I usually do, because I noticed the past few times I've made pie dough (hi, lemon tart), I feel like I made it too wet, which left me with a droopy, shrinking, melty crust when cooked. I put in about 2 1/2 of the recommended 3 tablespoons of water, and while the dough came together, it was a bit crumbly when rolling out. So, negative points for difficulty, but on the other hand, positive points because it made the butter taste shine through. Lesson learned: I'm willing to put in work for butter.
So, mess up #1: the wrong size tart pan. I only have one tart pan, and it is 9" round. I assumed this was standard size and, against Mary Berry's constant advice, I did not read the recipe through fully before embarking on this technical. I also didn't even realize this mistake until I was writing this blog post and copied down the full recipe, tin size included. In retrospect, I did have to roll the dough out very thin to fit in my pan, and I didn't have nearly enough to do a beautiful lattice (the one I did was "meh" at best).
However, if you get the right pan, this recipe is actually really easy, with just three main ingredients (besides the crust). A couple lemons, some breadcrumbs, and golden syrup.
As you may remember, golden syrup was a bit of a sticking point when I made brandy snaps a few months ago. We don't have it here in the US (add it to the reasons we suck), and I didn't have enough leftover from November to make this tart, so I made a new batch. I'll save my rhapsodizing about golden syrup for a separate (bonus!) post, but suffice to say it's a sweet lemony syrup that really cannot be replaced by molasses or corn syrup (much as baking sites and cookbooks say you can).
Mess up #2: again, not reading the whole recipe, and throwing my breadcrumbs in before I saw Mary specified fine breadcrumbs. I just took some panko (whole wheat, because it was on sale) breadcrumbs and tossed them in. Panko is a special kind of breadcrumb precisely because they are less fine. They left the filling looking... lumpy. And gross.
At this point, after the crust mistake, the breadcrumb mistake, and thinking that a weirdly tart sugar syrup filling would be way too... sweet? Sour? I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't good.
Fortunately, what I got was an amazing pie. A crispy crust and a toasty, crunchy, slightly sweet, slightly citrus filling. It wasn't too sweet at all, and wasn't heavy in the slightest. Would I make it again? Probably not, but that's because I prefer heavy, decadent desserts--why else do you think I have a second dessert stomach? To fill it up, of course. But, if you're looking for a summertime dessert, or some lighter fare for the vanilla crowd (no offense), this is a great option. especially topped with your favorite non-chocolate ice cream (I don't think chocolate would pair well).
Also: no soggy bottom.
makes one 7" round tart
250 grams (9 ounces) ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
130 grams (4 1/2 ounces) BUTTER, cold
2-3 tablespoons ICE WATER
400 grams (14 ounces) GOLDEN SYRUP
150 grams (5 1/2 ounces) FINE BREADCRUMBS
2 LEMONS, zest and juice
1 large EGG, for egg wash
1. Place the BUTTER and FLOUR in a large bowl and "cut" in the butter with a pastry cutter, pair of knives, or your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs with a few larger pea-sized pieces of butter
2. Add two tablespoons of the ICE WATER and mix until moistened; if the mixture does not hold together and become one mass of dough, add a third tablespoon and mix
3. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge at least 20 minutes
1. Remove 150 grams (5 1/2 ounces) of the pastry and set aside for the lattice top
2. Roll the rest of the pastry out thinly (~1/8") on a lightly floured surface, and line the pan, including the sides--make sure to press the dough firmly into the fluted edges, and cut off any pieces that hang over
3. "Dock" the bottom of the crust by pricking all over with a fork, creating tiny holes, to stop the base from rising up during baking
4. Roll out the reserved 150 grams of pastry to 1/8-1/4" thin and 9" in diameter (wider than the actual tart tin) and brush on beaten EGG
5. Place both raw crusts in the fridge to chill
filling & baking:
1. Preheat oven to 400F
2. Place the GOLDEN SYRUP into a pot and heat gently over medium-low heat (do not boil)
3. Once thinned out and warm add the BREADCRUMBS and LEMON JUICE and ZEST to the syrup
4. Allow to cool slightly, but not so cool as thicken, and pour into the prepared crust
5. Cut the reserved pastry into long strips, about 1/2" wide
6. Lay the strips in a lattice pattern over the top of the pie, then press the edges into the crust to seal
7. Bake on a pre-heated baking tray for 10 minutes, or until pastry is beginning to become brown, then turn the oven down to 350F, covering if the lattice top is browning too much, and baking another 25-30 minutes until filling is set and crust is brown
8. Remove from oven and let cool slightly--serve warm or cold (preferably with ice cream)
A personal challenge to conquer every technical challenge, and select signature bakes, from The Great British Bake Off
WANT TO STAY UPDATED? EMAIL
TO SUBSCRIBE TO UPDATES and
receive an email for every