Old English Apple Hat
If it's true there's a 'time for everything under Heaven', then midwinter is quite definitely the most appropriate time to make an old-fashioned steamed pudding.
There's nothing wrong with a cold, grey month in the calendar when it can justify such wonderful culinary indulgence. Here, I am offering you the real thing – a soft, steamy suet crust encasing fragrant and luscious apples, with a hint of cloves. It's no trouble at all to make, and you can leave it gently steaming away while you go for a brisk walk in the wintry chill, knowing all that soothing, comforting pleasure is awaiting you on your return.
This recipe is from Delia's Complete How to Cook. Serves 6-8
To make the suet pastry, all you do is sift the flour into a bowl, add the suet and a pinch of salt and mix them together. Now start to add a little cold water, sprinkling it here and there.
Then take a flat-bladed knife and begin to mix with it, still adding water, until the mixture looks like it is coming together. Finish off using your hands, adding drops of water until you get a smooth, elastic dough. There's no need to rest the dough, so you can straightaway reserve a quarter of the pastry (for the lid) and then roll the rest out on a flat, lightly floured surface to a 10 inch (25.5 cm) round, giving it quarter turns as you roll to keep the round shape.
Now transfer the pastry to the pudding basin and arrange it to form a lining, using your hands to press it round as evenly as possible. If you have some pastry above the rim, just squeeze it down to form a neat edge. Next, cut the apples into quarters. Now slice them into 1/2 inch (1 cm) chunks and, as you add them to the basin, sprinkle in the sugar and tuck in a clove here and there. Pack the apples down as you go and don't worry if they rise a bit above the top, as they will shrink in the cooking.
Now roll out the reserved pastry to form the lid, dampen the edge all round with water, then place it over the apples. Press the edge all round to weld it to the edge of the pastry lining the basin. After that, take a double sheet of kitchen foil, about 10 inches (25.5 cm) square, make a pleat in the centre and cover the top of the pudding with it.
Then tie it securely with string around the top of the basin, and make a string handle (to help you lift it into the steamer) by attaching a length of string to both sides. Now boil a kettle and pour the boiling water into a saucepan to about halfway, place it over a medium heat and when it comes back to the boil, fit the steamer over the top. Pop the pudding in, put the lid on and steam the pudding for exactly 2 hours, keeping the water at a steady simmer. After an hour, check the water level in the saucepan and, if necessary, top up with boiling water.
To serve the pudding, remove the string and kitchen foil, loosen the pudding all round with a palette knife, then turn it out on to a warmed plate. Serve cut into slices, with the apples strewn around the pastry and – it has to be said – lots of proper custard.