January can feel so bleak: dark mornings, dark afternoons, Christmas festivities already a distant memory, and summer holidays a lifetime away. But there’s light on the horizon: we begin to spy bright fruit and vegetables in the shops, and days really are getting longer, even if that extra daylight can seem imperceptible. Soon, our thoughts will turn to Spring bulbs, and before you know it, it will be Summer again, and we’ll be moaning about the sweaty commute and saying that it’s too hot to cook.
So rather than wishing my life away – which I know I have the tendency to do both in the kitchen and outside of it – I am embracing it. Bringing something golden, sweet and uplifting into your kitchen and life is exactly what is required at this time of year. And it doesn’t get more golden, sweet or uplifting than a syrup sponge. A syrup sponge is a steamed pudding, laced with golden syrup. The pudding itself is made by pouring a cake-style batter into a basin or bowl, sealing it with paper and foil, and then placing it in a half-filled pan of water, where it is gently cooked by the steam, until the sponge is light and risen.
Golden syrup is an inverse sugar, which means it is created in the process of refining sugar, or after a sugar solution has been treated with an acid. Its flavour is distinctive: lighter than honey, like the palest of caramels, with a clean sweetness which tastes almost metallic. It was first made by brothers Charles and John Joseph Eastwich at what was the Abram Lyle & Sons sugar refinery, and later became part of Tate & Lyle. It was originally given or sold cheaply to the refinery factory workers, but has been commercially sold since 1885. Guinness World Records has named the Tate & Lyle golden syrup tins the world’s oldest packaging – although if you look closely at your green tin, you might spot that that the illustration is, in fact, a dead, decomposing lion surrounded by flies. Delicious!
As it’s Burns night next week, I’ve introduced a Scottish twist to this pud – or, more accurately, a Scotch twist: whisky. Whisky and golden syrup are a perfect match, neither dominating the other, but bringing out the sweet, smoky notes in the whisky, and tempering the zinging, filling-singing sugar of the syrup. The whisky is folded into the pudding batter, but it has the added bonus of thinning the golden syrup that sits at the bottom of the pudding basin and will, when the pudding is served, dribble down from the top of the pud. If you’d rather a tee-total pudding, try swapping the whisky for lemon juice.
Like all good old-school puds, this should be served with thick custard.
Whisky syrup sponge pudding
Makes: Enough for 6
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 1.5 hours
160g golden syrup
150g light brown sugar
150g self raising flour
½ teaspoon fine salt
3 tablespoons whisky (replace with lemon juice if desired)
- Place 100g syrup in the base of a 16cm pudding basin, and stir through a tablespoon of whisky to loosen it.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy and noticeable lighter in colour than when you started. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure to completely combine each into the mixture before adding the next. Add the remaining 60ml of the golden syrup and stir through. Fold through the self-raising flour and salt until the mixture is homogeneous. Loosen with 2 tablespoons of whisky.
- Fill a large pan half full with water and bring to the boil. In the meantime, cut a disc of baking paper and a disc of foil, both double the size of the top of your bowl. Fold the discs to create a pleat in the centre of the discs.
- Spoon your pudding mix into the basin on top of the golden syrup layer. Place the baking paper, then the foil on top of the basin, and tie tightly with string, to create a waterproof seal.
- Place a teatowel or a small saucer on the bottom of the pan, to stop the pudding basin touching the base of the pan. Lower the pudding into the water, cover with a lid, and simmer for an hour and a half, checking every so often to make sure the pan doesn’t boil dry.
- Lift out the pudding, and carefully remove the coverings. Run a knife gently around the inside of the basin to loosen the pudding, then place a serving plate and confidently invert it. Serve immediately.