To me, January always smells of marmalade – the frantic rush to make as much as possible during the sour Seville orange’s fleeting season, and the herculean effort to finish up last year’s stock in preparation. Not that you need any such excuse to make this deliciously citrussy pudding, as warming and fluffy as a big bobble hat and equally welcome on a cold winter’s evening.
Like syrup sponge and jam roly-poly, marmalade pudding belongs to a category often rather dismissively referred to as “nursery puddings”, a term that carries an offputting whiff of the Rees-Mogg. Whether or not you grew up with them, such dishes are our finest culinary hour – I would say export, except we don’t really. Perhaps you have to live in the UK’s peculiarly damp, grey climate to truly appreciate them; as historian Dr Annie Gray writes in the foreword to Regula Ysewjin’s glorious survey Pride and Pudding, “pudding and Britishness are inexplicably linked”. Stodgy and sweet, comforting and solid – whatever happens this year, at least we’ll always have pudding.
Even leaving aside the modern usage as a synonym for dessert, puddings are a remarkably wide class of foodstuffs. Ysewijn lists no fewer than six categories in her introduction, from haggis to jelly, and recipes for marmalade pudding show a similar diversity of form. Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Food, Joyce Molyneux’s The Carved Angel Cookery Book and Shirley Spear of Skye’s Three Chimneys restaurant all go for the traditional steamed version, with Molyneux making it in roly-poly form. I’m unable to find a hinged pudding sleeve of the size Molyneux recommends, which makes me doubly sad: first, because I can’t try her recipe, and, second, because there seems to be no demand for such things. Whither the roly-polys of yesteryear?
Moving on swiftly, Nigella Lawson makes a baked sponge, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall a kind of creamy flan and Clarissa Dickson Wright a batter pudding she attributes to her Aberdonian grandmother – “Scotland is, as you probably know, the home of marmalade as we know it” (a controversial claimI’ll step hastily away from).
All are, of course, very different beasts, and delicious in their own right, though the unfortunate combination of vagueness about cooking vessels and precision about cooking times leads to a bit of a disaster involving liquid batter in Dickson Wright’s case. The cooked edge I try, as I scrape it sadly into the bin, is pleasant enough, though, like all decent egg-heavy batters, undeniably stodgy. Lawson’s is far more successful. Fluffy and buttery, it’s simplicity itself to make, especially if you happen to have a food processor and, unlike Fearnley-Whittingstall’s luxuriously rich version, works well with custard – a must, as far as I’m concerned.
Most popular of all, however, particularly among those who didn’t have to tend them for two hours, are the steamed puddings, which have a pleasingly open texture that forestalls any accusations of heaviness, and the kind of moist, sticky texture you just don’t get in the oven. Though they take longer to cook, they’re generally quicker to prepare, and, really, topping up a saucepan with boiling water every 30 minutes is hardly the most onerous of tasks.
Many of the recipes I try make use of stale breadcrumbs, much like a treacle tart. Spear mixes them with a little wholemeal self-raising flour, while Fearnley-Whittingstall and Boxer rely on crumbs alone. Lawson’s straightforward sponge recipe uses just flour, as does Dixon-Wright’s batter. Although it’s perfectly possible to make a steamed sponge rather than a baked one, we all agree that we rather like the slightly drier, chewier texture that the crumbs bring to the party, but a little flour is very helpful as a binder, especially if your homemade breadcrumbs aren’t quite as fine as the commercial variety (ahem). White bread is fine, of course, but Spear’s brown gives a better flavour and, more noticeably, colour – and if you use a seeded loaf, as I did in extremis, a more interesting consistency, too. In fact, the odd crunch proves such a hit with testers that I’m moved to add a handful of coarse oatmeal for your textural pleasure.
Boxer uses suet, Spear and Lawson butter, and Fearnley-Whittingstall double cream and egg yolks to enrich the mixture. Double cream, so rarely a bad idea, dulls the sharp flavour of the citrus; and, much as I like the airy texture suet provides, here the combination of butter and marmalade feels too good to miss.
The raising agents
Only Boxer makes no attempt to lighten the load with raising agents. Lawson and Spear use baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, while Dickson Wright and Fearnley-Whittingstall both fold beaten egg whites into their batters. As Lawson and Spear’s puddings are the runaway favourites here, I’m going with the belt-and-braces approach and sticking in both baking powder and bicarb.
First, choose your marmalade. Lawson knows whereof she writes: “I love the bitter edge of a thick-shred, dark marmalade and so tend to go for a proper, glamorously auburn, tawny one.” Indeed, I’m accused of having forgotten to add it to the one recipe I try with shredless golden marmalade. Spear reckons that “homemade is always the best”, but then she’s written a whole book on the subject. There are many excellent commercially produced marmalades out there, and you might not want to use up so much of your hard-won stash on one pudding, so go with whatever you happen to prefer, though make sure it has at least some peel in it, to give both flavour and texture. (If you don’t like peel, this is probably not the pudding for you.)
One might imagine that, much like treacle sponge, the marmalade simply sits on top of the pudding, as in Dickson Wright’s version, but, in fact, it’s more common to incorporate it into the batter. As Spear notes apropos of hers: “It is not, as some people imagine, a stodgy suet pudding with a dollop of marmalade at the bottom of the basin. The marmalade is combined throughout, giving the dessert a rich, amber colour.” I miss the jammy, caramelised top, though, so, while I’ve based my recipe on her excellent one, I’m going to have my cake and eat it by adding a big spoonful of marmalade to the basin, too.
Unless you are very spartan of taste, you’ll also need some other sort of sweetener. Caster sugar is the most common choice, but I like the darker, caramelised flavour of Boxer and Spear’s light muscovado, which works brilliantly with the marmalade.
Flavourings and sauces
Dickson Wright adds ginger to her batter; a little spice is an excellent idea in a winter pudding. Sadly, none of us can taste the warming whisky in Fearnley-Whittingstall’s batter, while a grating of citrus zest is another nice optional extra.
Boxer, Spear and Dickson Wright all make sauces to pair with their puddings: Boxer a rich mixture of cream, marmalade and orange juice; Spear a Drambuie egg custard; and Dickson Wright a tangy orange and lemon juice number. All of which are very nice indeed. But, I must confess, I cannot be entirely objective here: puddings deserve custard. Plain custard, preferably cornflour-based custard to slip thickly over the fluffy batter rather than sinking in. Ice-cream or double cream are acceptable alternatives, at a push. All complaints should be addressed below.
Perfect marmalade pudding
- Prep 10 min
- Cook 2 hr
- Serves 6
- 120g butter, plus extra for greasing
- 150g coarse-cut marmalade
- 150g fresh fine brown breadcrumbs (ie not dried, though stale is fine)
- 25g coarse oatmeal (optional)
- 25g wholemeal self-raising flour
- 120g light muscovado sugar
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp fine salt
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Melt the butter and 120g of the marmalade in a pan, stirring to break it up. Set aside. Butter a two-pint pudding basin.
Put the breadcrumbs, oatmeal, flour, sugar, ginger and salt into a large bowl and stir together. Add the eggs and the orange zest, then stir in the melted buttery marmalade mix. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in a tablespoon of cold water and stir into the batter.
Spoon the remaining 30g of marmalade into the bottom of the basin, then pour in the batter. Cover tightly, either with a lid or a pleated piece of greaseproof paper and the same of foil, secured with a string handle (this video may help if this is your first time making a steamed pudding; the important thing is that it’s steam-tight).
Put the basin in a steamer (or a saucepan with a lid), and fill with boiling water to about halfway up the basin. Steam on low heat for about two hours, topping up with boiling water as necessary. Lift out the pudding basin, leave to sit for five minutes, then remove the lid and turn out on to a serving dish. Don’t worry if some of the marmalade topping sticks to the basin – just spoon it back on top.
Serve immediately, or leave to cool and reheat in a microwave or the steamer. Serve with custard, ice-cream or cream.
• Is this pudding the best use of marmalade outside hot-buttered toast, or do you have other dishes up your sleeve? And does anyone know what’s happened to roly-poly tins?