The Dough Knows: Steak and Kidney Pudding

What the hell was I thinking. Clearly a string of at least moderate kitchen successes had gone to my head, and I thought I was untouchable. But deep down in my soul was a fear, an awareness of my many shortcomings, a gaping hole papered over with minor victories. But the dough knows.

I’ve never eaten steak and kidney pudding, and you probably haven’t either. Unlike a pie, the English pudding has a crust of flour and suet (the fat from around a cow’s internal organs), and is steamed not baked. I imagine only a few traditional restaurants go to the trouble of making it, and almost nobody at home would bother. But it sounds delicious, and Nigella made it look so easy. Make a stew, whip up a crust, steam, et voilà.  
Every past attempt at a crust, in fact with dough of almost any kind, has ended in tears as I throw the too-wet or too-dry lump of failure to the ground and pummel it with a rolling pin, sobbing. The dough just takes the beating, it feels nothing, no pain in the thrashing, no joy in the victory. Completely passive and submissive as it’s heaved into the bin, it knows the next batch of dough will just take its place. I knew this but chose to forget, and those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

 The filling– the steak and kidney part– went swimmingly. My friendly local butcher kept the rotund bulging little kidneys from every lamb that found its way into his shop until I had six blushing beauties. I chopped them up and threw them into the pot with some big chunks of beef, stock, herbs, a bottle of Guinness, and stewed them low and slow until they were mingled and giving. Kidneys are pretty powerful, so if you’re not crazy about the taste, maybe pick something else. I made the filling a day before and left it in the fridge over night to let the flavours get acquainted.
Next day I strapped on my apron, rolled up my sleeves, took a shot of brandy for courage, and got crusty. I grated the suet– this job is sticky but rather fun– and combined it with the requisite flour and salt. What next, Nigella? 

“Add enough cold water to make a firm dough.” 

 I’m sorry, what? You must be joking. Maybe experienced bakers know what this means, but to me that’s like suggesting I add enough chillies to make a curry hot, or add enough wine to make Chris Botti’s music interesting. It’s maddeningly imprecise. Becoming increasingly desperate I added more flour, then more water, then more flour until the word “firm” no longer held any meaning, then dumped the lot out onto my floured countertop and went at it with a rolling pin. The dough, sensing an irresolute spirit, latched on to one end of the pin and started absorbing it like a horse in quicksand. I grabbed the other handle and pulled with all my might, one foot up on the cutlery drawer, straining and sweating, but the dough never tires. The rolling pin was gone.
Determined to salvage the situation, I scraped the wet lumpy mess off the countertop and draped it down the sides of my pudding basin, patching yawning holes with wads balled from the crumbled leftovers. I slopped the steak and kidney inside, placed an ill fitting dough lid on top and sealed it with tears. I then left it to steam for two hours while I gazed out the window at an indifferent world and questioned my life choices. 

 It was clearly cooked. After two hours in the sauna it had to be. But as I removed the basin lid, the crust that I had imagined to be golden brown and flaky was still a depressing pale doughy colour, flaccid and lumpy. I peeled away the soggy unappetising top, tossed it in the sink, and decided to cut my losses. I grabbed a ladle and scooped the innards out, grabbed a hunk of bread and a glass of red and enjoyed a delicious steak and kidney stew. 

 But I know the dough is watching and waiting, patient and impassive, ready for the next time I get too big for my boots. For you can’t fool the dough; the dough sees deep into your heart. The dough knows.

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