HYDE PARK, N.Y. - Synonymous with the holidays, gingerbread tempts the senses and warms the soul. Young and old alike are drawn to its spicy fragrance and subtle sweetness.
When it's served warm in the form of steamed pudding, the magic of gingerbread transcends mere cookies. Flavored with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger, and dotted with currants and candied citrus, gingerbread pudding provides a beautiful and delicious centerpiece for festive holiday tables.
The word pudding generally brings to mind a thick and creamy concoction served in a bowl, eaten with a spoon. But the term can also describe a moist, cakelike dessert that can be eaten with a fork.
Steamed puddings are nothing like the dairy-based custardy puddings familiar to many of us, such as chocolate, vanilla, tapioca, rice and bread. Those dairy-based puddings usually include a starch for thickening and are either cooked by stirring over direct heat or baked in a casserole in the oven.
Most steamed puddings contain little, if any, dairy products such as milk or cream. They tend to be based on cake crumbs and butter and are prepared by steaming on the stovetop or in the oven in a hot water bath. Steaming protects the pudding from curdling, cracking or overcooking, and produces a soft texture and plump garnishes.
Steamed puddings are prepared in either pudding molds, sometimes referred to as pudding basins, or soufflŽ dishes. Some molds have deep ridges or decorative patterns on the side. Others have rounded bottoms that create a domed pudding.
Because the pudding is usually unmolded before it is served, it is important to grease the mold liberally. Scattering bread or cake crumbs, granulated sugar or chopped nuts over the inside surface also helps to release the pudding easily from the mold.
If the mold doesn't have a lid, protect the upper surface of the pudding as it bakes by covering it with a large piece of buttered parchment paper or aluminum foil. Use twine to tie the covering in place if necessary.
Steamed puddings are ideal for the busy holiday season because they can be prepared up to a week in advance, according to Marc Haymon, lecturing instructor in baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America.
"Simply cool the pudding after baking, wrap it well with plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator," Haymon recommends. "Reheat before serving by wrapping the pudding in aluminum foil and baking in a 300 F oven until warm, about 20 minutes."
This recipe is from the Baking At Home With The Culinary Institute of America cookbook (Wiley 2004, $40).
Warm Gingerbread Pudding
Butter for greasing
1 1/4 cups crushed gingersnaps, about 20 cookies (divided use)
1 cup ladyfinger crumbs, about 14 three-inch ladyfingers
6 large eggs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dried currants
1/4 cup candied lemon and/ or orange peel plus extra for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring a teakettle of water to a boil. Generously coat a pudding mold or 2-quart soufflŽ dish with butter and coat with 1/4 cup of the crushed gingersnaps. Set the mold on a kitchen towel in a deep baking pan.
Mix together the remaining 1 cup of crushed gingersnaps and the ladyfinger crumbs. Set aside. Separate the eggs. Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, confectioners' sugar, lemon zest and spices on medium speed until light in texture and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks in 2 or 3 additions, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition and mixing until very smooth. Add half of the crumb mixture to the butter mixture and blend on low speed until evenly mixed.
In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on low speed until frothy. Increase the speed to medium and add the granulated sugar gradually. Increase the speed to high and continue to whip until medium peaks form.
Fold the remaining crumb mixture into the egg whites. Fold the egg white mixture into the butter mixture. Finally, fold in the currants and candied citrus peel. Spoon the batter into the prepared dish. Cover the mold with its lid or with aluminum foil or parchment paper tied into place with kitchen string.
Place the pudding mold or soufflŽ dish in a deep baking pan on a pulled-out rack in the oven. Add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the mold. Carefully slide in the rack and bake the pudding, checking for doneness after 1 hour. The pudding is done when it is puffy and the sides have begun to pull away from the dish (a skewer inserted near the center of the pudding should have only a few moist crumbs clinging to it when done).
Serve warm, garnished with candied citrus peel and whipped cream or vanilla sauce if desired.
Makes 8 servings.
Nutrition information per 4.5-ounce serving: 450 cal., 6 g pro., 72 g carbo., 16 g fat, 330 mg sodium, 60 mg chol., 2 g fiber.