All the ingredients for puddings should be fresh and of good quality. It is a false economy to use for them such as have been too long stored, as the slightest degree of mustiness or taint in any one of the articles of which they are composed will spoil all that are combined with it. Eggs should always be broken separately into a cup before they are thrown together in the same basin, as a single very bad one will occasion the loss of many when this precaution is neglected. They should also be cleared from the specks with scrupulous attention, either with the point of a small three-pronged fork, while they are in the cup, or by straining the whole through a fine hair-sieve after they are beaten. The perfect sweetness of suet and milk should be especially attended to, before they are mixed into a pudding, as nothing can be more offensive than the first when it is over-kept, nor worse in its effect than the curdling of the milk, which is the certain result of its being ever so slightly soured.
Currants should be cleaned, and raisins stoned with exceeding care; almonds and spices very finely pounded, and the rinds of oranges or lemons rasped or grated lightly off, that the bitter part of the skin may be avoided, when they are used for this, or for any other class of dishes; if pared, they should be cut as thin as possible.
Custard-puddings, to have a good appearance, must be simmered only, but without ceasing; for if boiled in a quick and careless manner, the surface, instead of being smooth and velvety, will be full of holes, or honey-combed, as it is called, and the whey will flow from it and mingle with the sauce. A thickly-buttered sheet of writing-paper should be laid between the custard-mixture and the cloth, before it is tied over, or the lid of the mould is closed upon it; and the mould itself, or the basin in which it is boiled, and which should always be quite full, must likewise be well buttered; and after it is lifted from the water the pudding should be left in it for quite five minutes before it is dished, to prevent its breaking or spreading about.
Batter is much lighter when boiled in a cloth, and allowed full room to swell, than when confined in a mould: it should be well beaten the instant before it is poured into it, and put into the water immediately after it is securely tied. The cloth should be moist and thickly floured, and the pudding should be sent to table as expeditiously as possible after it is done, as it will quickly become heavy. This applies equally to all puddings made with paste, which are rendered uneatable by any delay in serving them after they are ready: they should be opened a little at the top as soon as they are taken from the boiler or stewpan.
Plum-puddings, which it is now customary to boil in moulds, are both lighter and less dry, when closely tied in stout cloths well buttered and floured, especially when they are made in part with bread; but when this is done, care should be taken not to allow them to burn to the bottom of the pan in which they are cooked; and it is a good plan to lay a plate or dish under them, by way of precaution against this mischance: it will not. then so much matter whether they be kept floating or not. It is thought better to mix these entirely (except the liquid portion of them) the day before they are boiled, and it is perhaps an advantage when they are of large size to do so, but it is not really necessary for small or common ones.
A very little salt improves all sweet puddings, by taking off the insipidity, and bringing out the full flavour of the other ingredients, but its presence should not be in the slightest degree perceptible. When brandy, wine, or lemon-juice is added to them it should be stirred in briskly, and by degrees, quite at last, as it would be likely otherwise to curdle the milk or eggs.
Many persons prefer their puddings steamed; but when this is not done, they should be dropped into plenty of boiling water, and be kept well covered with it until they are ready to serve; and the boiling should never be allowed to cease for an instant, for they soon become heavy if it be interrupted.
Pudding and dumpling cloths should not only be laid into plenty of water as soon as they are taken off, and washed afterwards, as we shall direct, but it is essential to their perfect sweetness that they should be well and quickly dried (in the open air if possible), then folded and kept in a clean drawer. We have known them left wet by a careless servant, until when brought forward for use, they were as offensive almost as meat that had been too long kept. To prevent their ever imparting an unpleasant flavour when used, they should be washed in a ley made as follows; but when from any circumstance this cannot be done, and soap is used for them, they should be rinsed, and soaked in abundance of water, which should be changed several times.