How to make suet pastry

Suet puddings need to make a revival as they have been shamefully neglected and they really are the ultimate in comfort food.

To make a savoury or sweet suet pudding to serve 6, first sift 12 oz (350 g) of self-raising flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.

Add some freshly milled black pepper (omit if making a sweet suet pudding), then add 6 oz (175 g) of shredded beef suet – half the flour's quantity – and mix it into the flour using the blade of a knife.

When it's evenly blended, add a few drops of cold water and start to mix with the knife, using curving movements and turning the mixture around.

The aim is to bring it together as a dough, so keep adding drops of water until it begins to get really claggy and sticky.

Now abandon the knife, go in with your hands and bring it all together until you have a nice smooth elastic dough, which leaves the bowl clean. It's worth noting that suet pastry always needs more water than other types, so if it is still a bit dry just go on adding a few drops at a time.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface, and cut away a quarter of it and put it to one side for the lid. Lightly dust a rolling pin with flour and place it in the centre of the dough. Place the flat of your hands lightly on each end of the pin and begin to roll, re-dusting the pin and the surface lightly with flour if you need to stop the pastry sticking. What you need is a fairly thick circle about 13 inches (32.5 cm) in diameter, so give it quarter-turns as it expands and, provided you roll backwards and forwards, not side to side, it will roll out into a round shape.

Now line a well-buttered, 2 pint (1.2 litre) capacity pudding basin with the pastry. You need to squeeze and tuck the pastry into the bowl, pressing it well all around.

If you find you have some thinner areas around the edges then just patch them with spare pastry. Also I tend to reinforce the base of the pudding with pieces from the overhang, because although it's not traditional, I like to turn my puddings out.

Add the filling of your choice, then roll out the pastry lid, dampen its edges and put it in position on the pudding. Seal well and cover with a double sheet of foil, pleated in the centre to allow room for expansion while cooking. Now secure it with string, making a little handle so that you can lift it out of the hot steamer. Then place it in a steamer over boiling water.

Steam for the recommended time in the recipe, topping up the boiling water halfway through. You can either serve the pudding by spooning portions straight out of the bowl, or slide a palette knife round the edge and turn the whole thing out on to a serving plate (which is more fun!).

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