How They Made It: Claire’s Spotted Dick with Vanilla Custard
Welcome back to our occasional series, “How They Made It,” where we explore the food and drink of Outlander. This time we’re back in Claire’s rustic Fraser’s Ridge kitchen as she makes spotted dick steamed pudding. Slainté!
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Once again, across the pond, it means something else entirely…
Okay, let’s get this out of the way immediately: what’s the first thing you think of when you hear of spotted dick? If you’re on the US side of the pond, you probably thought the same thing as I did, and it wasn’t food. Remember how the term flapjacks meant something different to the Brits than the Yanks? Here’s another example of how the English and the Americans are two peoples separated by a common language; here spotted dick is a steamed pudding usually served with a custard sauce.
(Huh?!? Is that supposed to help?)
Okay, let’s back it up.
An old dish, pudding
Steamed (or boiled) puddings have been around in some form for centuries. Originally meats were boiled with fruits and grains and cooked in some sort of animal-derived casing (think haggis and sausages). As sugar became more available, the dishes swung more to the sweet side (and the meat disappeared). Boiled (then steamed) suet puddings came into being, albeit cooked in a cloth rather than a sheep’s stomach or pig’s intestine.
Steamed suet puddings really came into their own during the Victorian era, morphing into versions that people would recognize today. The traditional Christmas pudding of A Christmas Carol being one such example – a dried fruit-studded, alcohol-laden sponge usually made weeks ahead in order to mature. Indeed Christmas puddings are similar in style to the black bun served at Hogmanay, though not encased in pastry. Because we talked about black bun last year, I decided to focus on another steamed suet pudding I came across, spotted dick (which I had never heard of before, let alone tried). At first I thought they were one and the same (the reason I thought to write about it in December), but I soon found out that spotted dick was served year-round. Oh well, that’ll teach me to do my research earlier.
Suet, by the way, is beef fat that is taken from around the liver and imparts a rich flavor that doesn’t detract from the other ingredients. You can sometimes get suet from a butcher’s counter (you have to render it yourself, then grate it), or you can just buy it already prepared. I did the former, wanting an “authentic experience” (silly, me). It wasn’t hard to render and grate, mind you, it just added time. You can also substitute butter for the suet, and your pudding will probably cook faster (suet has a higher melting point than butter). The ultimate flavor profile will be altered, so be aware.
Back to that name…
As I said before, spotted dick is a funny name to the American ear, and I wondered why was it called that? The “spotted” part is easy, referring to the currants and sultanas (raisins in the US) traditionally used (easy enough). But the “dick?” Well, numerous searches had differing opinions, and none of them mentioned a man named Richard or a part of male anatomy, spotted or otherwise. Instead, most sources I read said the term “dick” derived from the word “dough” and referred to the pudding itself. How very… deflating (yes, I went there!).
Even though spotted dick isn’t technically from the 18th century, I can imagine that Claire would have been familiar with spotted dick and accustomed to having it with a custard sauce. Since the denizens of the Ridge would have known about boiled puddings, I thought it acceptable that she might have made it herself or told her (soon-to-be-revealed) cook about it. The recipe I chose for Claire’s spotted dick came from Sorted Food (here’s their accompanying video). Whether she made it for Christmas or at another time is a different subject altogether.[Side note: Every Nook & Cranny had a good Christmas Pudding troubleshooting guide that gave a lot of tips. It was especially useful for a newbie like me.]
Pudding bowl, pudding basin…pudding batter bowl?
I had to make do with a 1-quart batter bowl rather than a traditional 0.9-litre pudding basin. It was the right shape at least, and it fit inside an 8-quart stockpot. From all the videos I watched on preparing a steamed pudding, I actually think it was easier because there was more room to maneuver the bowl inside the pot. I didn’t have to come up with make-shift handles to get the hot bowl out of the pot at the end of cooking. Given all that I learned on making a steamed pudding, I counted this as a point in my favor.
By the way, even though currants, along with candied citrus, are traditional in spotted dick, you can substitute any dried fruit you’d like. In a nod to my being in New England, I used a combination of dried cranberries and blueberries (much as I did in the aforementioned black bun). I don’t think Claire would object.
Once again with custard
We’ve talked about vanilla custard (aka crème Anglaise or vanilla sauce) before; it’s in the same family as pastry cream, egg custard, bread pudding and eggnog. Basically it’s a combination of milk and cream, egg yolks and sugar flavored with vanilla. You mix the egg yolks and sugar together, gently add warmed vanilla-flavored cream, then cook it on the stove until thickened. By the way, if you use a real vanilla bean to infuse your cream, you can have the extra benefit of saving the spent pods to make your own vanilla extract. Win!
Having not known what to expect, I really enjoyed the combination of spotted dick with vanilla custard. The inclusion of lemon zest brightened up the whole dish, and the overall texture reminded me of a fruit-studded vanilla scone. To clarify, not flaky and crunchy, but soft and chewy (I hope that texture was correct… maybe some kind soul will let me know?).
Anyway, whether or not Claire (or her soon-to-be-revealed cook) made a true Christmas pudding or a December spotted dick, I hope you’ll try and make one. Let me know if it’s your first time or an old family tradition, and how you do it. Happy holidays to all!
Does your family have a traditional dish you serve at your holiday gatherings?
Discovering Outlander after Season 1 first aired, Tammy quickly went down the rabbit-hole on social media and podcasts and found a world of like-minded fans who not only tolerated her obsession, but encouraged the madness! She combined her Outlander-inspired interest for scotch whisky with her continuing passion for baking and storytelling in her blog, Scotch & Scones…Explorations in a glass and in the oven. Joining the staff of Outlander Cast as the resident baker has brought Tammy full circle, from a podcast fan to a contributing writer. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest at @scotch_scones, and find her on Facebook at @scotchandsconesblog.
Spotted Dick with Vanilla Custard
- 1-quart pudding bowl (0.9 litre)
- Microplane grater
- large stockpot with a lid
For the steamed pudding
- 1-1/3 cup all-purpose flour, (7 oz, 200g)
- 2½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ¾ cup suet, or butter (3½ oz, 100g)
- ¼ cup light brown sugar, (2 oz, 56g)
- 1/3 cup golden raisins, see Recipe Notes (2 oz, 56g)
- 1/3 cup dried fruit, see Recipe Notes (2 oz, 56g)
- 1 tsp lemon zest, or amount from 1 lemon
- 2/3 cup milk, see Recipe Notes (5-1/3 oz, 152g)
- 1 Tbsp butter, for greasing
For the custard
- ½ cup heavy cream, (4 oz, 113g)
- ½ cup milk, see Recipe Notes (4 oz, 113g)
- 1 vanilla bean, scraped, or 2 tsp vanilla
- 3 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar, (2-1/3 oz, 66g)
- To start the custard, warm the milk and heavy cream in a saucepan with a vanilla bean (if using) to just simmering. Leave the cream to one side to infuse for at least 10 minutes.
- To start the steamed pudding, place a ramekin or heatproof silicone trivets in the bottom of a large saucepan with a lid (deep enough to hold a 1-quart pudding bowl). Place the pudding bowl in the pot and measure enough water to reach halfway up the sides of the pudding bowl. Remove the bowl and start heating the water to a boil.
Make the steamed pudding
- Add in the brown sugar, dried fruit, and zest; stir to combine. Mix in the milk until you have a dough ball.
- Grease the inside of the pudding bowl with butter and add the dough. Cover the dough with a circle of greased or greaseproof paper and then wrap a sheet of foil. Tie it with a piece of string to keep it sealed if required (I triple-wrapped my bowl with plastic wrap because of the handle).
- Place the wrapped bowl in the water. Reduce heat to simmer and steam until the pudding is done, checking back occasionally to make sure the pot doesn’t boil dry. The sponge will be done when it reads 165°F (75°C) on a digital thermometer, or when a skewer poked into the center and wiggled around comes out clean... this can take an hour or two (or more).
Make the custard
- While the pudding is steaming, make the custard by whisking the egg yolks with the sugar in a clean bowl until light in color. Heat the milk and cream to just simmering again, then remove the vanilla bean (save to make your own vanilla extract!). If you're using vanilla extract, add it to the warmed milk and cream now. Slowly pour the milk and cream into the egg mixture as you whisk continuously.
- Return the mixture to the pan and heat gently, stirring continually until it thickens to a custard (a finger pulled down the back of a spoon will leave a trail)the custard. Pour through a fine sieve into a cold bowl to stop the cooking. Chill in an ice bath until ready to use.
- Once the steamed pudding is done, turn it out onto a plate and serve whole at the table or cut into individual slice with a jug of custard. Enjoy!