The reasoning behind it all was simple. A joint of beef, for many families, was an extravagance that went so much further if everyone was already full of batter pudding. Another recipe designed to achieve the same result was the suet pudding, sometimes known as a crispy pudding. Stodgy, yet tasty and (above all) filling and cheap, there was always plenty of crispy pudding, or a goodly heap of Yorkshires. Far from being a cut-price hors d'oeuvre, Yorkshire puddings were an essential element of making sure there was enough food to go round.
Nowadays, Yorkshire puddings are seen as an accompaniment to a meal, and occasionally double up as a kind of trencher. Small, bun-sized Yorkshire puds will fit nicely on the edge of a plate, and one or two per person is more than sufficient to accompany a main meal. Larger puddings will fill a plate and are capacious enough to contain the whole meal; a yorkshire pudding filled with mince, sausages and gravy or even baked beans is a common sight on café menus, and a meal worth sampling.
Another traditional British dish which incorporates Yorkshire pudding is toad in the hole, a delightfully-named recipe which features no amphibians at all, coming up trumps instead with pork sausages, poking alluringly through a landscape of batter pudding.
The actual creation of Yorkshire pudding seems, at first glance, to be suspiciously simple. You can make pancake batter? Then you can make Yorkshire pudding batter - just make it a little thinner. Put it in the oven and wait a while. And that's it. In theory.
Realistically, getting the hang of Yorkshire puddings can be a little tricky. Novice pudding-wranglers may end up with a set of entirely flat mini-pancakes or a large dome of batter. Promisingly large puddings may churlishly deflate upon being observed, or a previously docile mixture might suddenly develop rebel tendencies and attempt to escape over the side of the pan. The solution to all these problems is, unhelpfully, experience. Yorkshire puddings, for all their simple and subtle charms, can be bastards at times, and the key to their mastery is simply to try again.
Recipes for Yorkshire pudding vary wildly. One can produce passable, even delicious, Yorkshire pudding with either a thick, stodgy batter or a thinner, more milky batter, and you'll find people who swear on either type. The following recipe produces a batter of medium consistency. Should you be unsuccessful with this, you may wish to experiment with either more flour or more milk, though a more likely cause of problems will be the temperature of your oven or the type of flour itself. Don't even think of using flour that's been lying around for months - invest in some good, fresh plain flour. And get that oven stoked up! Yorkshire puddings may seem plain and boring, but they're just reclusive little minxes - they like it hot and they like it quiet; don't disturb them once they're in the oven, not even to peek!
I used to do the following:
- 4oz (100g plain white flour
- 300ml (1/2 pint) milk
- 1 egg
- Oil, lard or dripping (for cooking)
- The same volume of flour, eggs and milk
- Oil, lard or dripping (for cooking)
While it's resting, you'll want to get your oven to a high temperature - at least 425 degrees Farenheit, or 220 degrees centigrade. A little hotter won't hurt; it all depends what you have in the oven to begin with - your roast may not appreciate too high a temperature.
The tin in which the Yorkshire puddings will be cooked must be heated, too. Place a small amount of fat in each well if you're intending to produce many bun-sized puddings, or just grease out a larger tin if you're heading for a six or seven-inch pudding. Place this tin in the oven, and wait until the fat begins to smoke. Do not be tempted to add the batter before the fat has reached such a stage: very hot fat is an important part of the cooking process. Conversely, don't go to the other extreme - the fat should be slightly smoking, not billowing clouds of sooty malevolence.
When you have a hot tin of smoking fat you can safely add the batter. Cook it in the oven for ten to fifteen minutes if producing individual puddings. Larger puddings will require at least half an hour to cook. You may check after ten minutes or so, but do remember that a disturbed Yorkshire pudding will usually go flat. Allow it a little time on its own before checking - at least ten minutes.
Experience, a little tweaking, and a patient and systematic approach will easily produce excellent results. And once you've mastered a plain pudding, then the joys of toad in the hole are only a trip to the butchers away!