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Thrifty Steamed Puddings

December 26, 1996|MICHAEL ROBERTS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Roberts is corporate chef of the Twin Palms restaurants in Southern California

When I prepare steamed puddings, I'm reminded that desserts can be simple to prepare, closer to a cook's "doing it by feel" than a pastry chef's precise, exact, measured mode of operation.

I especially like the fact that puddings are thrifty concoctions, often utilizing vegetables and starches cooked for another use.

My sweet puddings rely on rice, cornmeal or bread for their substance. Even stale cake can be broken up and used in place of bread in my bread and butter pudding. Vegetables such as carrots, corn or zucchini can be cooked especially for your puddings, but you can use what the family left from last evening's dinner, provided the food has not been cooked with garlic or onions. Even a little bit of herb can be brought into harmony by the sugar in the recipe.

During the fall and winter, fresh fruits, especially persimmons, pumpkins, guavas and citrus, are traditional, as are dried fruits such as dates and figs.

My version of fruitcake, uses a variety of dried fruits instead of the traditional candied fruit. If you've eschewed fruitcake (and so many of us have far from fond memories of them), use my recipe. You can vary it even more. Just total the weight of the dried fruits and use any combination you like--apples, pears, apricots, prunes, figs, dates, pineapple and/or banana.

FRUITCAKE WITH HARD SAUCE

FRUITCAKE

1/4 cup dried currants

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup dried apricots

1/4 cup chopped dried figs

1/4 cup chopped and pitted dates

1/4 cup candied orange peel, chopped

1 cup Madeira

1/2 cup brandy

3/4 cup dry bread crumbs

6 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1/2 cup butter

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 cup molasses

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

HARD SAUCE

1 cup butter, cut into tablespoon pieces

1 cup sifted powdered sugar

3/4 cup brandy

FRUITCAKE

Combine currants, raisins, apricots, figs, dates, orange peel, Madeira and brandy in large bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Combine bread crumbs, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves and ginger in separate bowl. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring with wooden spoon or whisk, until foam subsides on surface and butter turns brown. Immediately remove from heat. Stir butter into bread crumb mixture.

Add eggs, then molasses and vanilla and mix until blended. Remove fruit mixture from refrigerator and add to bowl, mixing well.

Fill buttered 1-quart pudding mold 3/4 full with pudding mixture and cover tightly. Place mold in deep roasting pan and then on middle rack of oven. Add hot or boiling water so that level of water comes 3/4 up sides. Bake at 350 degrees 3 hours.

Pudding may be stored in mold or unmolded and wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. To serve, place pudding in steamer over simmering water and steam 30 minutes or until completely warm.

HARD SAUCE

Using paddle attachment of mixer, cream together butter and powdered sugar until smooth and fluffy. Slowly add brandy 1 tablespoon at a time until incorporated. Spoon sauce into bowl and serve with warm pudding. Do not refrigerate Hard Sauce--it must be fluffy and should melt over warm pudding.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Each of 10 servings contains about:

614 calories; 381 mg sodium; 139 mg cholesterol; 30 grams fat; 59 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.77 gram fiber.

LEMON AND ROSEMARY STEAMED PUDDING

LEMON CURD

5 eggs

5 egg yolks

2 cups sugar

1 cup fresh lemon juice

Grated peel of 2 lemons

1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces

PUDDING

3/4 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 1/2 cups dry bread crumbs

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon baking powder

Grated peel of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

The balance between sweet sugar and tart lemon juice is what gives this pudding its strong character. The surprising addition of rosemary does not make this pudding at all savory. The rosemary diminishes as a flavor and, more important, as an aroma. This pudding is quite dense and hearty. Covered, it rewarms easily in the oven. This recipe calls for only half of the lemon curd. You can make a very good lemon tart by filling a 9-inch pie shell with Lemon Curd and baking it at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Or you can store the remainder tightly covered in the refrigerator for 1 week.

LEMON CURD

Combine eggs, egg yolks and sugar in mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Mix in lemon juice and zest. Place bowl over pan of boiling water or in top of double boiler and cook, stirring vigorously with wooden spoon, until mixture thickens. Mixture will not curdle so don't worry about overcooking it.

Remove curd from heat. Stir in butter until melted. Curd can be refrigerated up to 3 months. Makes 1 quart.

PUDDING

Bring 3-quart pan water and boil over high heat.

Cream sugar and butter in mixer bowl on medium speed. Add eggs and mix to incorporate. Add bread crumbs, milk, baking powder, lemon peel and rosemary and mix until smooth.

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