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I rarely adapt bread recipes to gluten-free, because the results are so often disappointing compared to the real thing, but gluten-free steamed puddings are an exception. A traditional steamed pudding is essentially a quick-bread cooked in a very gentle and moist environment, and it never relies much on gluten for its success. Steamed pudding is also made of completely crumbled bread and is highly spiced, and so cleanly deals with two shortcomings of most gluten-free loaves. In Newfoundland, our “figgy pudding” is called figgy duff, and it is an old, old recipe. It is made with the kinds of sweeteners and spices brought to Newfoundland from the Caribbean by ships that were picking up salted cod on their way back to Europe. The recipe makes economical use of bread crumbs, and employs ingredients that do not require refrigeration, including cinnamon and raisins, which retard mold growth. It is very moist, chewy, dark, sweetened but not terribly sweet, and full of the wintery spices.

The traditional figgy duff recipe measures moistened bread crumbs that have been squeezed dry and rubbed loose again. That wasn’t feasible using my everyday store-bought gluten-free loaf: the squeezed crumbs remained too compact and a lot of water-soluble components dissolved and washed away. Gentler was wetting the crumbs, letting them drain in a sieve, and adjusting the batter consistency at the end with a little gluten-free flour. The inexactness of this wetter method doesn’t seem to matter: the batter is filled with thirsty raisins and hygroscopic brown sugar, and it is all cooked in a very wet environment. Likewise, I doubt it matters much which kind of bread or flour you use (I used a rice-potato-tapioca blend with a touch of xanthum gum in it); steamed puddings are very forgiving creatures. You may notice a great deal of baking soda in this recipe, but it is needed in such a dense and unbeaten batter, and the acid in the molasses finishes it off easily.

After having used a messy pudding bag in past years, buying a proper English pudding basin this season has been quite a revelation. If you haven’t seen one, a pudding basin is a ceramic bowl with thin sides, a grooved outer base that allows water to circulate beneath, and a thick outer lip that allows a paper top to be tied to it. Mine cost £3 and it turns out perfectly shaped, evenly cooked figgy duff. The recipe below could be poured into a pudding bag, but it would be less shapely. Probably, you could use any ceramic bowl put to rest over an inverted saucer (to keep it off direct heat) and covered with foil, but I haven’t tried that myself. gfhbe3.jpgI might recall metal pudding tins with lids in my mother’s panty, but perhaps I’m confused by a memory of jelly moulds and bundt pans. Perhaps your grandmother had yet another contraption for this cause. At any rate, as steaming is the closest I’ll come to baking this season, this post is for the Gluten-free Holiday Baking Event, as instigated by Kate of Gluten-free Gobsmacked, and hosted these few weeks by Sally of Aprovechar.

The traditional accompaniment to figgy duff is a molasses syrup called a coady, but I find molasses-on-molasses a bit cloying. For some contrast, whip cream to soft peaks, then whip in a little confectioner’s sugar, and finally a splash of chilled rum. Either coffee or tea are lovely with the spice-island flavours here.

2 hours, including 90 minutes steam; serves 6

Newfoundland (Gluten-free) Figgy Pudding (Figgy Duff)

4 cups fine (gluten-free) bread crumbs (about half a loaf)
butter for greasing
1 cup raisins (do not plump)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 cup melted butter
3 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp baking soda
gluten-free flour blend (eg. rice-potato-tapioca blend)

1. Put the bread crumbs in a large bowl. Fill it with water to the level of the crumbs. Turn the sodden crumbs into a sieve and let drain for twenty minutes.
2. Grease your pudding basin. Choose a pot with a tight-fitting lid, fill it with enough water to come half-way up the basin (a few inches, usually), and set it to boil.
3. In another large bowl mix the raisins, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Mix in the drained bread (you should have about two cups in the sieve).
4. Stir in the butter and molasses. Wait for the water in the pot to boil. Dissolve the baking soda into 1 Tbsp of room temperature water, and mix this into the batter.
5. Mix 1/2 cup of gluten-free flour into the batter and judge its thickness. You want a consistency like that of a medium cake batter – not runny, but not stiff. If it isn’t there yet, stir in another 1/4 cup and judge again. This is probably enough.
6. Turn the pudding batter into the basin.
7. Prepare the barrier that will keep condensation out of your pudding while allowing it to rise. Take a piece of parchment paper (or double two sheets of greaseproof paper) that is a few inches larger than the basin, and make a one-inch pleat in it. Centre the pleat over the basin and mold the paper down over the sides. Tie this little paper hat onto the basin by running a piece of twine under the lip. Trim the excess.
8. Lower the basin into the pot and steam for 90 minutes, checking every 30 minutes that your pot hasn’t gone dry.
9. Remove the greaseproof paper. Cover the top with a pretty plate and invert the basin. One good quick shake downward should release your pudding.

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