Pudding steams ahead

Old-fashioned sponge cake with plum jam and custard.
Old-fashioned sponge cake with plum jam and custard. Photo: Kate McKay

We are selling our house and I have packed many boxes full of treasures to declutter the house. You know all the little precious bits that sit here and there on the kitchen window sill, the mantle piece and in the bowl by the phone. All my favourite old, maybe a bit chipped short-black cups, the odd extra plates, of which I had a whole drawer in case I was going to have a party.

Despite this clearing, I was walking through a junk shop just checking whether there was anything in there I need. There is. A round pudding tin with a lid. Such a good shape and the lids snaps on really well. Perfect for the steamed sponge I remember mum used to make.

These were on the menu all the time when my family ran a restaurant. They were very popular year round. It is funny that such a simple thing can be so loved. They were made in little individual portions and were crowded into many layers of an Asian-style steamer. Handy, as no oven is required, leaving the oven free for the many other many things on the go.

I have made this steamed sponge with a plum jam since that's what I had on hand, but a good tart Seville orange marmalade would be good too. You really need the rich homemade custard with it, too.

>>  Kate McKay is co-owner of Lynwood Preserves.

Steamed sponge

140g butter

140g sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract


3 eggs

1 tsp of lemon zest

230g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

50ml milk

3 tbsp good tart jam

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer at a medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and making sure they are incorporated after each addition. Stir in the lemon zest. Fold in the sifted flour and baking powder, then the milk.

Grease a pudding bowl well with butter. Put the jam in the bottom then pour in the batter. Mum always used a ceramic bowl. She made a lid out of buttered baking paper and foil, folded over a few times, and tied under the rim of the bowl with string.

Put a trivet, plate or similar in the bottom of a large saucepan and sit the pudding bowl on top. Pour enough boiling water into the saucepan to come three-quartes of the way up the side of the pudding bowl.

Cover and bring to steady simmer on the stove top. Steam for at least one and a half hours. To check whether the pudding is ready, uncover and insert a skewer into the middle of the sponge, It should come out clean. To turn out, remove the lid, place a plate over the top and turn upside down. Serve with custard (recipe follows).


200ml of milk

200ml thickened cream

75g sugar

1 vanilla bean, scraped

5 egg yolks

Put the milk, cream and vanilla pod and scrapings into a large saucepan and warm to just below boiling point. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until light and frothy. Gradually add the warm milk and cream to the egg mix, continuing to whisk. Return the custard to the saucepan and continue to stir while heating gently. It is ready when it thickens enough to coat the back of the wooden spoon.