Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Classic English Dessert: Queen of Puddings

Every year about this time I start feeling like I need to brush the cobwebs out of the cracks and crevasses of my household. The first area to get the deep clean this year was my refrigerator. As usual, over the course of the winter everything had been sifted through and pushed around so many times we had all long forgotten what lived in the ten or so mystery jars at the very back.

Then there is the freezer. It has its big problems too. You know, the twenty half used bags of pizza rolls and chicken nuggets that are rolled up and secured with blue rubber bands and leak crumbs from an invisible hole everytime they are touched. And then there are the five or so boxes of random gooey, freezer burned popsicles that no one has any intention of eating ever again. So the time has come to reorganize and throw out. I plan on maybe getting on that sometime pretty soon. Maybe next week, or the week after that.

A couple of days ago I took a deep breath and pulled those jars from the back of the fridge and brought them out into the daylight. As it turned out, they weren't nearly as scary as I thought they were going to be. Mostly pickles (4 opened jars of them) and six (count 'em, six!) open jars of jams, preserves and jellies. There was also an ancient tub of sour cream, but I won't go into that now.

When the dust finally cleared I was able to salvage 2 jars of pickles and 2 jars of preserves, but since they've been hanging around for so long, I probably need to go ahead and use them up. I've been brainstorming as to what I could do with at least the preserves, and finally had a light bulb moment. I decided to use some of them in a classic dessert from England know as Queen of Puddings.

Despite its regal name, in all honesty this dessert is just one of those well loved down home classics, but this one can be traced back to the 1600s. I guess for lack of a better description, I would have to say that it is loosely related to an egg custard or a bread pudding. It is homey and comforting and best of all it is a great way to use up a bit of jam, a few frozen berries or some stale bread. Besides all that, I figure that anything that has been around for four hundred years is worth passing on to my friends.

Queen of Puddings

4 ounces fresh bread crumbs (about 4 slices of sandwich bread, grated or crumbled)
2 ounces plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large to extra large room temperature eggs, separated
1/3 - 1/2 cup jam depending on how much you like (I like cherry or strawberry)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Place bread crumbs, 2 ounces of sugar and lemon zest in a medium size bowl. Stir to combine; set aside.

Place the milk and butter in a small sauce pan set over medium heat. Heat the milk and butter just until the butter is completely melted.

Pour the hot milk and butter into the bowl with the breadcrumb mixture. Add the vanilla extract. Stir well to combine, cover and set aside for approximately 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the egg yolks into a small bowl and beat well. Pour into the breadcrumb and milk mixture and beat well to thoroughly combine. Pour mixture into a 9" round or square pan that has been buttered or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

Place pan into the preheated oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until it is set in the center.

Remove from the oven and gently spread with the desired amount of jam until the top surface is covered; set aside.

Place the egg whites in a meticulously clean and dry bowl. Add the cream of tartar then beat whites with an electric mixer set to high until they are fluffy and at the soft peak stage. While continuing to beat, very gradually add the remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Beat until the whites are stiff but not overbeaten and dry.

Spoon the meringue over the top of the jam or place it in a piping bag and pipe rosettes out over the top. Place back into the hot oven and bake for 10 - 15 minutes or until it is a golden brown on the top. For a springier pie-like meringue, you can remove it from the oven at this point and serve it. Personally, I like to leave the pan in the oven, turn it off, and let it sit until the oven is cool, about 45 minutes. This extra time in the oven isn't absolutely necessary, but it will dry out the meringue just enough so it is a tiny bit crisp around the top and edges.

Remove from the oven and serve while warm, room temperature or chilled. Serve as is or with cold heavy cream drizzled over.

Serves 6 - 8

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