Steamed Puddings (About)

By Cat, Jan 2008 (Photo, right, form Wikimedia Commons)

Christmas Pudding

Christmas Pudding 

Includes: 1. Puddings; 2. How Does Steaming Work? 3. Equipment for Steamed Puddings; 4. Heating the Water Bath; See also: Puddings & Frozen Desserts Menu

In general, pudding is a soft dessert thickened by incorporating flour, cornstarch, arrowroot, tapioca or other starch, or gelled with gelatin.  In the US, we think of puddings as a soft, creamy, thick Jello pudding, but around the world there are many more varieties.

The French are famous for their eggy custards (blancmange or crème) and mousse.  The English are famous for their cake-like puddings that typically contain fruits or dried fruits (Plum Pudding, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Bread Pudding).

There are several different way to prepare puddings, to cook or thicken them:

  • baked (e.g., bread pudding, rice pudding, pudding cakes, flan, crème caramel)
  • boiled & stirred with a starch on stovetop (e.g., rice, chocolate, vanilla and butterscotch)
  • gelled (e.g, mousse)
  • steamed (e.g., canary pudding, plum pudding, sticky toffee pudding)

Of all these methods, steaming might well be the most healthful.

Why Steam or Cook with Moist Heat?

All raw foods are degraded by exposure to heat (mainly oxidized and/or denatured), but the most harm to food comes from exposure to dry heat (refer to Glycation for more).  The presence of moisture during cooking protects the food by allowing it to heat gradually, and never above the boiling point of water. Next to broiling, it is probably the oldest form of cooking.  Think stews, porridges, soups, etc..

Other ways to cook with moist heat include:  steaming, poaching, cooking en papillote, simmering and braising.  While many of these methods bring to mind different ways of preparing meat (poached fish, braised brisket, etc.) they can be used for other foods as well, such as steamed puddings.

Steaming is generally quick, cost effective and labor-efficient.  It works for small-bath and high-volume cooking.  Steaming retains vitamins and enhances the appearance of food.  And, because moisture in food is preserved, shapes stay intact (1).

How does steaming work?

Most steamed puddings take hours to cook in a steam bath on the top of the stove or in the oven.  But the process uses low heat and is thus an excellent way to make a warm dessert when your heating resources are limited, or when you don’t have a whole lot of time to tend to the cooking (it takes a long time to cook this way, but requires a minimum of attention from you). You can also steam in a crock-pot.

To steam a pudding, you first combine the ingredients into a batter, and then pour the batter into a can, bowl or mold.  Do not fill all the way full; stop about 1 inch from the top, to allow room for the pudding to expand.

The mold is then covered securely and placed in a warm water bath (that comes ½ – ⅔ of the way up the side of the mold) and placed over a low flame for several hours.  The bath can be a Dutch oven or a roasting pan, with lid (to contain the steam), with a trivet or rack placed in the bottom to support the batter container.

Check the water bath from time to time, adding more water as necessary to maintain the depth of the water bath.

Check the pudding for doneness about 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time, as sometimes they cook faster than anticipated.

When the pudding is done (using a toothpick test), the mold (can, bowl or mold) is inverted onto a plate and allowed to rest a bit (5 – 30 minutes, depending on the recipe) before being lifted off the pudding.

Equipment for Steamed Puddings

To steam a pudding, you need:

  • covered water bath (a steamer)
  • rack or trivet
  • pudding mold with lid

Steamer (Covered Water Bath):

Crock pots make ideal steamers; some come equipped with a mold (or a mold can be ordered separately).  Or you can make your own mold out of a bowl, foil, waxed paper and string.  Just be sure that your mold will fit inside your steamer when the lid is applied.

A Dutch oven makes a good steamer.  Place a trivet or rack in the bottom of the dutch oven, upon which you will set your mold.  A roasting pan can also be used as the steamer.

I use a large vegetable steamer, that is basically a stock pot with an insert that dips down into the pot and has holes on the bottom so that the water can fill the insert as well as the pot.  Then I set my mold onto the bottom of the insert, and thus do not need a trivet.  You can view several different types of steamers on Amazon.

Pudding Mold:

Steel or tinned steel pudding molds are perhaps the best way to steam a pudding, as they typically have a central tube (like an angel-food cake or bundt pan) so that more surface area is exposed to the water bath, for more even cooking.  They also have a lid that locks in place using a clamp mechanism.  Check out Sur La Table (4) for molds.

Make your own mold:  

You can make a mold for your pudding out of a steel can or a bowl that you already have in your kitchen.  The famous Boston Brown Bread (5) is actually a steamed pudding made in a can.

You will need to make a lid for your container out of aluminum foil and secure it in place with a string.  When steaming a pudding that is slightly acidic (as are most batters made with flour), butter a sheet of bakers’ parchment and place it directly over the container, and then place the foil on top of that, to protect your batter from the toxic aluminum in the foil.  The parchment also helps to keep the steam out of your container so that it won’t dilute your batter.

One site recommends making a fold or pleat across your parchment/foil, to allow room for expansion in the lid, should your pudding need the extra space (2).

One very handy technique is to tie a string around the mold to form a handle (if the lid doesn’t have a handle), for ease in removing the mold from the bath.

Heating the Water Bath

Once you have your equipment gathered and assembled, you can decide whether to heat it on top of the stove or in your oven.  The choice is really up to you, but I find steaming on top of the stove to be the best for me, and easier to adjust the equipment if it’s on top of the stove.  I also like to set it on top of my wood stove (heater) on a cold winter day.

Generally, the water bath should already be at a simmer when you lower the filled mold into the bath.  But some recipes call for placing the mold in the cold bath and then heating to a simmer.  Once the water bath comes to a boil, lower the heat to maintain the water bath at a slow steam.  It should not be allowed to bubble furiously, unless you want to have to replenish the water quite frequently.


  5. Boston Brown Bread recipe (

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