When last I packed up and moved house the significance of it all didn't really occur to me. I was changing careers, the house needed sitting and so my taking the reins for a short while was a comfortable fit for everyone. But as the dust settled and I had time to take in my surrounds I became conscious that I had in fact returned to the place I last retreated when the world fell apart. Years have passed since then. I am stronger, I am different, and I know how to work with those memories so that they no longer wreak havoc. But the strings are still there, and while the impacts of past events occasionally flare up and take me unawares I am better focussed on gathering new memories and experiences that I now hold close and carry with me instead.
While many of these for me have at present been packed away the barest of essentials have of course been kept out; a small collection of creature comforts and those necessary items of retreat. Sometimes these are sought actively and with clear intent, at other times randomly uncovered to produce a most excellent pairing of chance. Like the day I happened upon my stash of last Christmas's fruit mince after indulging a spot of Nose to Tail envy with the one and only Mr Henderson and his delightfully dizzying prose.
His solution to excess fruit mince (or indeed excuse for making mincemeat well before Christmas) is brigade pudding, a handsomely rich and steadying dessert well-suited to the fire-lit depths of winter or, if you're getting in even earlier, a cool crisp autumn night. Akin to the spotted dick, the brigade is perhaps the more grown-up of these two puds, coming with slightly less innuendo and greater elegance, thanks to the striking effect of the pastry layers. Positively glorious with custard it must be served warm and with grandeur, a stunning centrepiece to help round out any fabulous, long feast.
So as we brace ourselves for another of those anniversaries we wish we didn't have to remember let's share in a brigade, to celebrate making it through another year with more smiles than the last and, more importantly, to enjoy a damn fine pud.
BRIGADE PUDDING (Adapted from Beyond Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson & Justin Piers Gellatly)
- 500 g all-purpose flour
- 2.5 tsp baking powder
- A pinch of salt
- 250 g suet, minced or chopped finely
- 250 ml milk, warmed
- fruit mince, leftover from Christmas
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and rub in the minced suet. Pour in the milk and mix until a soft dough is formed. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
Roll out the suet pastry to 1-cm thick, then cut into five discs as follows: 7-cm-diameter, 9-cm diameter, 11-cm diameter, 13-cm diameter and 15-cm diameter. Butter and flour a 2-litre pudding basin then start to assemble the pudding. First, place the smallest disc of suet pastry at the bottom of the basin. Follow that with a layer of mincemeat 1-cm thick, then with the next round of pastry and another layer of mincemeat 1-cm thick. Carry on until you reach the top of the basin, finishing with the largest disc of suet pastry. Top with a circle of baking parchment, then cover the basin with a piece of foil (with a generous pleat in the middle) and secure with string. Put in a deep roasting tin and pour enough hot water into the tin to come halfway up the sides of the basin.
Steam in an oven preheated to 160°C for about 2.5 hours, until golden brown and bubbling hot (remember to keep the water topped up). Turn out and serve hot, with custard or double cream.
** Be sure to butter and flour the basin well, especially the bottom, so that your brigade turns out in one piece.
** I've provided my recipe for fruit mince, here, in an earlier post but highly recommend availing yourself to one or all of the Nose to Tail series. Not only are they a most valuable and delicious cooking resource, but Mr Henderson has such delightful, engaging diction it really does deserve your immediate and undivided attention. So, off you go...