The late Marion Cunningham is probably best known as the author of several editions of the Fanny Farmer cookbook. Or for her years in working with James Beard, who plucked her out of obscurity when he chose her as his assistant.
I once met the preternaturally cheerful Ms. Cunningham in 1997 at a Thanksgiving-themed cooking class at San Francisco’s famed Tante Marie’s cooking school. She led the class with Chuck Williams (of Williams Sonoma), and each dish they made was delightful, but the highlight of the meal was this dessert.
I’d never heard of steamed puddings outside of a Dickens’ tale, but I went out and bought a mold and made it the next week for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. It was so popular, It’s been in demand every year since then, both at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
1 Cup pureed persimmons (~ 2 large persimmons, skins removed)
2 tsp. Baking soda
8 Tbs (1 stick) butter at room temperature
1 1/2 Cups sugar
1 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs+ rum
1 Cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. Cinnamon (I enhance with a pinch of allspice and a whisper of ground clove)
½ tsp. Salt
1 Cup broken walnuts or pecans
1 Cup+ raisins (I like to mix regular and golden) or add any coarsley-chopped dried fruit of your choice
This dessert can be started early in the morning and left to steam for as long as you remember to refill the water. Once lifted from its bath and the top of the mold is removed, it’s not unusual for the top of the pudding to be runny – ten minutes in a hot oven should be enough time to dry it out before un-molding.
Slice the persimmons in half, from bottom to top and lay open to expose the flesh (it’s not necessary to cut through the very tough stem). Use a soup spoon to scrape the flesh from the skin, collecting the contents of both persimmons in a bowl. The flesh can be pureed by hand or using a hand blender of mixer. Then add the baking soda and set aside to stiffen and lighten in color – it’s really a very odd little chemical reaction!
Find a pot large enough to hold a 2 Qt pudding mold (About $30 – $40. Click here to purchase). Fill the pot with enough water to rise halfway up the sides of the mold. (If no mold is available, two metal coffee containers covered tightly with foil will do, but only fill about ¾ full as the pudding expands a bit.) Let the water come to a boil while you mix the pudding batter.
Grease every nook and cranny of the mold very well. Butter is best, though cooking spray is faster.
Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar.
Add the eggs, lemon juice, and rum and beat well. Set the mixer to its slowest speed and add the flour, cinnamon, and salt. When well blended, add the persimmon mixture and beat until well mixed. Remove the bowl from mixer and stir in raisins and nuts just until well distributed.
Spoon the batter into the mold, cover, and steam for at least two hours (it’s nearly impossible to over-steam!) Remove the mold from the pot and let rest for 5 minutes (see opening note about drying in a warm oven). Use a long, narrow blade or skewer to make sure the pudding is separate from the sides of the mold, then top the mold with the serving plate of your choosing and invert both, turning the mold upside down onto the plate. If the pudding doesn’t separate from the mold immediately, let it sit for a few minutes. Even then, some may stick to the bottom of the mold – carefully remove them whole and patch back together (the pudding is very moist).
The traditional service for this dish is with a sprig of holly stuck into the top, then flamed with more of the rum.
To flame your rum, pour a generous ounce of it into a sauce pot, and THEN put the pot over medium heat. Swirl the rum to warm it for thirty seconds or so, then carefully light it and immediately pour the flaming rum over the pudding. It may be difficult to see the flame in strong light, so dim the lights for the 20 seconds or so before the alcohol burns off.
Serve warm with unsweetened whipped cream, or better yet, a crème anglais.
This dessert requires a very sweet wine – look for a late-harvest or ice wine or a port (shop here for dessert wines).
Dave the Wine Merchant
Quote for the Day
“Once again we come to the Holiday season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes in his or her own way, by going to the mall of their choice”
Dave Barry, American Humorist (1947 – )