This is the best sort of comfort food, the flavours bursting out of that glorious suet crust with beefy, fruity bravado. I think I’m in danger of over-egging this particular pudding but honestly, give it a go before the quince season slips through our fingers, it’s really good.
It is inspired in equal measure by my research into historical food, by food historian Dr Annie Gray, who made a pork and quince pudding that caught my eye on Twitter and my love of North African tagines. I’m obliged to Regula Ysewijn for the suet pastry, which appears here (with permission) almost unchanged from her book Pride and Pudding and is by far the best I’ve tried.
You can pre-make the filling in advance and refrigerate it, or even freeze it, giving you less to do on the day you want to eat. As in a stew, an overnight rest helps the flavours mature and meld. I’ve tried, as some recipes suggest, putting the filling in raw, but on balance I feel pre-cooking makes it easier to adjust the seasonings to your taste and reduces anxiety levels for anyone unused to steaming meat puddings.
And although if you dislike suet pastry we can probably never be friends, you could eat this encased in the normal way in shortcrust or puff, as a casserole or even, as I did with some leftovers on a particularly weary evening, turn it into a sort of shepherd’s pie.
Beef and Quince Pudding
Oil, for frying
500g beef shin, diced into bite-sized pieces
1 large onion, red or white, peeled and diced
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp powdered cinnamon
A good pinch of cayenne
Grated zest of 1/2 small orange
3 tbsp plain flour
800ml hot beef stock (a stock cube is fine)
100ml orange juice
1 tspn honey
1 large quince
10 soft prunes, halved
For the suet pastry:
300g plain flour
1 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn salt
2 tbs lemon juice
200ml cold water
Heat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3.
Heat 2-3 tbsp oil in a deep frying pan or casserole, one with a lid. Brown the beef and set aside. Add 3 more tbsp oil and fry the onion, sprinkled with a little salt, until soft.
Add the garlic and spices and fry for a minute or two more. Add the beef back to the pan with any juices and stir in the flour. It may sound like a lot of flour and oil but you need thick gravy for the pudding and it’s good to have extra to serve on the side. Cook off the flour for a minute or so then gradually add the hot stock, stirring as it thickens.
Add the orange juice and zest and the honey, season with salt and pepper to taste, stir well, and bring to a boil.
Put a lid on top and cook in the pre-heated oven for one and a half hours, by which time the beef should be nearly tender. Remove from the oven and check the seasoning. Scoop out two or three ladles of gravy and save for serving on the side.
Wash any fluff off the quince and peel, quarter and core it, then chop into small dice and add to the pan with the beef. (I tried slices but it complicated the cooking process as it’s easy to either over- or under-cook them.) Gently stir in the halved prunes and set aside. Once cold, refrigerate if you’re not eating the pudding the same day.
Liberally butter a 1 litre pudding basin. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, with an upturned sauce in the bottom to act as a trivet. There should be enough water to come halfway up the sides of your pudding basin.
In a mixing bowl, place the flour, salt and baking powder and gently whisk together. Add the suet and lemon juice and mix in the water until you have a soft, pliable dough.
Turn onto a well floured board and knead lightly, then remove a generous quarter of the pastry to make the lid. Roll the larger piece out to a circle roughly the size of a dinner plate and about 1cm thick. Use it to line the pudding basin, rising about 1cm above the top edge of the bowl. Press gently into place. Spoon in your filling.
Brush the rim of the pastry with water. Roll the remaining pastry into a lid the same diameter as the top of the basin and place the lid over the filling. Pinch well to seal and trim neatly.
Take a doubled sheet of greaseproof paper and one of foil. Pleat both in the middle to allow the pudding to expand during cooking. Place over the pudding, the foil uppermost, and tie string tightly under the rim of the basin, using extra to create a handle over the top. Trim off any excess greaseproof and turn the foil up over the paper.
Lower the basin onto the waiting trivet in the pan of hot water, put on a lid and steam the pudding for two and a half hours on a fast simmer. Check the water levels now and then and add more boiling water if it needs topping up.
When the cooking time is up, remove the pudding from the water and let it sit for five minutes. Warm up your reserved gravy, thinning it with a little more stock if necessary.
Remove the foil and greaseproof paper from the basin and run a table knife gently around the edge of the pudding. Place a deep plate over the top and using oven gloves or a tea towel, carefully invert it. Remove the pudding bowl and serve straight away, with the gravy on the side and your choice of veg.