Episode 7, GBBO 2013, Signature

A Suet Pudding

When I think of suet, I think of birdseed. Indeed, if you do a Google Shopping search for suet in the U.S., nearly all of the entries are for suet cakes packed with birdseed. So when I heard this week’s GBBO challenge to make a suet pudding, I had to do a more intensive Google search.

I knew that suet was fat, but what is the difference between suet and lard? I discovered that suet is the fat that’s found around the kidneys of animals, most often beef and mutton, whereas lard is pig fat. You can get a vegetarian version of suet, made from refined vegetable oil, and that’s what I chose to use in my suet pudding. Fortunately, suet comes in shelf-stable packets, which I was able to order on Amazon, since it is very difficult to find in the U.S. It looks like little white pellets coated in flour.

Suet puddings have a long and storied history in Britain. The first written recipe containing suet was for an English Cottage Pudding served to students at Oxford and Cambridge in the early 17th century. But Christmas puddings, traditionally made with suet, date back to the 1420s. They were often steamed, as ovens weren’t found in most lower-class homes at the time. Today, suet puddings can be steamed, boiled or baked. They may also be sweet or savory.

Two popular forms of suet puddings are spotted dick and roly-poly. Spotted dick is a steamed suet pudding studded (i.e., spotted) with currants or raisins. The term dick, or sometimes dog, is most likely derived from the dialectical word for pudding. Roly-poly puddings are rolled up like a Swiss roll and filled with jam, dried fruits, or treacle and breadcrumbs. Unlike a Swiss roll, however, the roly-poly’s filling is added before it is cooked. At one time, because it was often steamed in an old shirt sleeve, roly-poly pudding was also called shirt-sleeve puddingdead man’s arm or dead man’s leg.

Two of the six bakers left in the Great White Tent for this episode chose to make roly-poly puddings for this challenge, as did I. Ruby made a plum jam roly-poly with ginger ice cream, and Frances made a figgy roly-poly with caramelized walnut and honey ice cream. I followed Frances’ recipe, but I used vegetarian suet like Ruby did, and I adapted an apricot-walnut filling from this recipe. I also made a lemon and walnut ice cream to go with it. (Though nothing was said on the television show about making a sauce or ice cream accompaniment to the pudding, all of the bakers did, so I decided to make a no-churn ice cream based on Frances’ recipe.)

Suet pastry is similar to an American biscuit or scone dough, using self-rising flour or, in my case, flour and baking powder. Frances added a bit of ground almonds to her dough, which she said adds moisture and a nutty flavor. Mary Berry was a bit skeptical, but in the end she said it had a “lovely texture.” My filling made use of both apricot jam and dried apricots, which I soaked in brandy and simple syrup. I also added chopped walnuts to the filling.

I chose to bake my roly-poly, because I wasn’t thrilled with how my last attempt at a steamed pudding turned out. This time around, the pastry split somewhat during baking, but after reading several recipes online, I realized it’s not that unusual and may actually contribute to its rustic charm. I decorated the roly-poly with caramelized walnuts, another nod to Frances’ inspiration for my bake. 

I really like the method Frances uses for her ice cream. Simply whipping heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk together until soft peaks form, adding flavorings and any mix-ins you like, then freezing it in a freezer-proof container results in a rich, creamy frozen dessert without the fuss of using an ice cream maker. The flavors of walnut and lemon zest that I added to mine played off each other nicely, making for a refreshing complement to the roly-poly.

The roly-poly itself, while not overly sweet, was a bit stodgy, as the pastry is heavy and the apricots dense. The flavors were nice, but one can’t eat too much in one sitting. My suggestion would be to make it for a family or when having guests over.

Apricot Walnut Roly-Poly with Lemon Walnut Ice Cream

Pastry and ice cream recipes adapted from PBS.org
Filling recipe adapted from Epicurious.com

For the ice cream:

  • 1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 20 oz. heavy cream
  • 3/4 c. chopped walnuts
  • Zest of 1 lemon
    • For the filling:

    • ¼ c. water
    • ¼ c. sugar
    • 1 c. chopped dried apricots
    • ¼ c. brandy
    • ½ c. apricot jam
    • ½ c. chopped walnuts
      • For the pastry:

        • 1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
        • 2 t. baking powder
        • Pinch of salt
        • ¾ c. shredded suet (I used vegetarian)
        • ¾ c. ground almonds
        • Zest of 1 lemon
        • ½ c. whole milk, divided
        • 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
        • 2½ T. honey
        • 1 t. vanilla extract
        • 1 egg, beaten
        • Vanilla sugar* (for sprinkling)

          For garnish (optional):

          • ½ c. superfine (baker’s) sugar
          • ½ c. walnut halves
          • 2 T. honey


            1. To make the ice cream, combine sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream in large mixer bowl. With electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, mix well on low speed, then gradually increase to high speed, whipping until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted out of the bowl. Fold in the walnuts and lemon zest and transfer to a freezer-proof container. Leave in freezer till cream has frozen, preferably overnight.
            2. For the filling, bring water and sugar to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and pour over apricots in a heat-proof bowl. Add brandy and stir. Allow to cool while you make the pastry.
            3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place flour, baking powder, salt, suet, ground almonds and lemon zest into a large bowl and stir well to combine. In a separate bowl or measuring pitcher, combine all but 1 tablespoon of the milk (reserving 1 tablespoon milk for sealing the dough), egg yolks, honey and vanilla, and mix well. Slowly add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing to form a soft but not sticky dough. (You may not need all the liquid.) Tip dough out onto a floured surface and roll it into a rectangle about 8 by 12 inches.
            4. Spread the apricot jam onto the dough, leaving a ½-inch border all the way around the edges. Sprinkle the ½ c. chopped walnuts evenly over the jam. Drain the liquid off of the apricots (reserving liquid for another use, if desired) and sprinkle the apricots over the walnuts. Gently roll the dough up from the short end, brushing the edges with milk to seal. Carefully transfer the roll to a parchment paper–lined cookie sheet, seam-side down. Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with vanilla sugar.
            5. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown. If the top appears to be browning too fast, cover loosely with foil. When it’s done, remove it from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
            6. To make the caramelized walnuts for garnish, place the superfine sugar in a small, heavy saucepan and heat over medium heat without stirring until the sugar starts to melt. When it starts to melt, swirl the pan gently until all the sugar has melted and the amber-colored caramel forms. (Don’t let it get too dark!) Stir in the walnut halves until they are well-coated, then transfer them to a sheet of foil or waxed paper and separate with a spoon or spatula before the caramel hardens. Let cool.
            7. When the roly-poly has cooled, drizzle with honey and arrange caramelized walnuts on top. Slice and serve with ice cream.
            8. *I make vanilla sugar by putting vanilla beans in an airtight container with a cup or two of sugar and letting it sit for at least a week. This is a good way to use bean pods after the seeds have been scraped out. If you’d like to make vanilla sugar in a hurry, try this recipe: https://www.theclevercarrot.com/2014/12/making-vanilla-sugar/

            Next week: Religieuses


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