A comforting pudding for a cool April day

This dish initially caught my attention while browsing April menus to see what was served at this time of year. Pouding au Pommes was in fact served several times in different seasons (February, August and December as well as April).

Once the ‘custard-like variants’ and types ‘better suited for a pastry-cook’ are passed over, Escoffier distinguishes eight varieties of pudding, of which the English fruit pudding is one. Escoffier and Mrs Beeton include similar recipes for a boiled apple pudding, involving a suet or butter based pastry, enclosing sliced apples flavoured with lemon. I am curious to try making a boiled pudding for the first time, being lamentably fond of old-fashioned and even stodgy desserts. Mrs. Whistler also wrote down two recipes for apple pudding, the first being another boiled pudding (this time with a potato pastry, which might beat even my desire for stodge) and the second, a baked pudding involving a shortcrust pastry case filled with a sort of apple custard. I embarked on the latter for our family dinner on Easter Sunday.

Mrs Beeton recommends the russet apple for use in cooking in spring as well as autumn. While these are one of my favourite apples for eating, Bramley cooking apples have the capacity to turn almost instantly to flavourful mush, which is ideal for this recipe. Bramleys were apparently first exhibited in 1876, in the same year that this dish was served at Whistler’s table.

Pouding au Pommes (or, Mrs. Whistler’s Apple Pudding)

Shortcrust pastry made with two cups of flour

6 large cooking apples

4 tablespoons water

170 grams or 3/4 cup butter

170 grams or 3/4 cup sugar

6 eggs, beaten

1/4 nutmeg, grated

 

First make the pastry. I used a plain recipe for shortcrust from a recent copy of Mrs Beeton’s cookbook (with no added egg and sugar). Crumble the butter into the flour as finely as possible using your fingers. Add small quantities of cold water and mix to make a smooth, not too sticky paste. Roll out thinly and line a pie dish (I had pastry left over and made a second little pie).

 

Peel and chop the apples, and add them to a saucepan with the water. Cook them on a low heat for ten-fifteen minutes, until mushy.

Nutmeg grating with assistant

 

Mash the apples with a potato masher (I had no intention of forcing apple gloop through a sieve and it is smooth enough anyway). Add the butter to the apple gloop and mix it until it melts. Combine the apple, sugar and beaten eggs, and nutmeg, and pour the mixture into the pastry shell.

Bake in a medium oven (180 degrees Celsius) for an hour.

The end result had an appetizing golden crust, crisp pastry and a rich, slightly tart and spicy filling. Serves about twelve people, including a hungry toddler.

SOURCES:

Whistler Menu, 8 April [1878] and 18 December 1876, http://www.whistler.arts.gla.ac.uk/correspondence/  #06953 and  #02813

Please see the Bibliography for all other sources.

 

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Katharine MacDonald

Katharine MacDonald is an archaeologist, food and art lover. As daughter of art historian Margaret, she has been familiar with James McNeill Whistler all her life, and has a very strong appreciation for his taste in art, cuisine and places to visit.

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