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
Mary Berry.... Mary freakin' Berry.... Lemon soufflé?? Week four?? That's okay -- I'm up for a challenge.
Honestly soufflés get an unfair bad rep in the baking world. Generally, they are said to strike fear in the hearts of bakers. People are afraid of walking near the oven. They don't breathe as they handle the dishes. They would rather make (gasp!) pie crust. I'm here to tell you there is nothing to worry about when making soufflés!
They key with soufflés is really preparation. If you have all your ducks in a row, then putting together the soufflé isn't that hard. I will say that this recipe is weird. Mary Berry has us moving mixtures from bowl to pot to bowl to pot, whisking and mixing and folding all the while.
Regardless of your preparation, the first step is to create a custard base, and the key is to heat it over a low heat until it thickens enough so you can make a line along your spatula and the custard doesn't flood back. That's when you know your eggs are cooked, your cornstarch is activated, and you're ready for it to do... whatever magic it does when it's in an oven with egg whites. Speaking of egg whites....
Now, I'm not saying you have to beat your egg whites by hand, but what I am saying is you could probably use the upper body workout, and there's nothing quite as satisfying as seeing a bunch of sticky, soupy whites turn into a fluffy, soft, thick mixture (except maybe seeing bread dough rise).
I mean, would you really want to miss this kind of magic? That's what baking is all about! You take all these raw ingredients and completely transform them into something that has no visible relation to the parts you've summed up. If you want to get nerdy about it, you're literally changing the cellular makeup of these ingredients and rearranging molecules to get a texture and a flavor. With bread, you're taking short strands of gluten proteins and rearranging them to create long, stretchy chains of gluten protein. With egg whites, you're taking this sticky glob of protein and breaking apart all the bonds, separating them by tiny little pockets of air, and then quickly evaporating those pockets in the bake to create a tender, light and airy soufflé. If that's not real-life magic, I don't know what is (except maybe this).
Back to the whipping -- whisking your whites by hand also makes it less likely for you to over-whip your whites. You're looking for a mixture that is billowy like clouds, bubbly with air like Pellegrino, and holds a cute little peak when you lift the whisk slowly out of the mixture. You don't want your whites to get dry. And if you think that's a subjective term that will not help you in your actual baking, then you've obviously never over-whipped your whites. Dry whites are quite obvious. And awful.
At this point, you have the custard and the whites, and you're good to go. Mix a bit of the white into the custard to thin it, then fold in the rest of the whites until no streaks remain (the above picture needs a bit more folding), and you have your soufflé. It's at this point that you have to move quickly and the dreaded soufflé time crunch comes in.
Quickly, pour into ramekins, and this is an interesting spot to stop and talk about different techniques. Most soufflé recipes I have come across have you filling the ramekins 3/4 full, and then popping them in the oven. Theory being that it rises, and you don't want it to rise too much, be top-heavy, and tip over like a life-sized Barbie doll would do. As a novice baker, I accepted that theory because -- would a recipe ever be incorrect? My view on this changed when I saw this video by Chef Steps. They filled their ramekins to the brim, leveled it off with a knife, and then cleaned up the sides. I was very pleased when I read Mary Berry's recipe that she was already privy to that secret of soufflé-making. As far as I'm concerned, this is the only way you should make the dish. Otherwise, you're cheating your guests out of a taller soufflé. And a soufflé is all about the height.
Which is why most of your time spent while the soufflé is in the oven looks like this. Empty plate, waiting to be served. Soufflés generally keep their height for about 2 minutes, and then fall, and fall fast. Of course, by that time, they are still too hot to eat, so the idea is to wow the guests with a towering soufflé, then quickly distract them by pouring coffee or showing a good Gordon Ramsay meme, so they move on to some other subject while they wait for it to cool and then consume it.
So how did Mary Berry do? Wow, girl likes her lemon. This thing was tart. With juice and zest of two whole lemons, that means you're getting half a lemon per soufflé. You go juice half a lemon and chug it with the zest and tell me that's not a pucker-worthy concoction. Personally, I'd be less heavy-handed with all the lemon and add a bit more sugar (which could actually give it more structure and not be such a falling tower of soufflé), and like it much better. Or, even better, add a crème anglaise to pour into the middle and soothe a bit of the acidity. Maybe next time.
Mary Berry's Hot Lemon Soufflé
makes 4 individual soufflés
2 LEMONS (juice and zest)
2 LARGE EGG YOLKS
4 LARGE EGG WHITES
6 tablespoons GRANULATED SUGAR
3 tablespoons CORNSTARCH
1 tablespoon ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
1/2 cup (90 milliliters) HEAVY WHIPPING CREAM
1/2 cup (110 milliliters) MILK
MELTED BUTTER + GRANULATED SUGAR, for greasing ramekins
1. Brush the insides of the ramekins with MELTED BUTTER and add a small amount of GRANULATED SUGAR to each, turning to coat sides and bottom, set aside in fridge
2. Preheat the oven to 350F and place a sheet inside
3. Prep ingredients into 5 bowls: 1) lemon juice + zest, 2) egg whites (mixing bowl), 3) egg yolks + sugar, 4) milk (saucepan), 5) cream + flour + cornstarch (medium-sized bowl)
3. Whisk HEAVY CREAM, FLOUR, and CORNSTARCH to form a smooth paste
4. Warm the MILK in a large saucepan over medium heat until just boiling and mix a little at a time into the cream mixture until smooth and thick
5. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and place over a gentle heat, beating vigorously and constantly until thickened
6. Remove mixture from heat and add lemon juice and zest
7. Beat yolk mixture into a thick paste and add into the saucepan, then put back over the heat until it begins to bubble, and remove from heat to cool
8. Whisk egg whites until soft peaks begin to form and whites look like clouds
9. Add one large spoonful of the egg whites to the custard and beat well to relax the custard
10. Fold in the remaining egg whites in 2 or 3 batches, and combine until it's a pale yellow mixture with no white streaks
11. Fill the ramekins to the brim and level them off to flat tops, then run your thumb around the inner edge of the ramekin to clean it up
12. Place the ramekins on a baking tray in the middle of the oven on a sheet that has been heating for 14-25 minutes until risen and golden -- do not open the oven during cooking
13. Dust with powdered sugar, and serve within 2 minutes of cooking (otherwise...)
A personal challenge to conquer every technical challenge, and select signature bakes, from The Great British Bake Off
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