Good old-fashioned stodge: beef and ale pud and coffee, date and cardamom suet puddings. Photograph: Jill Mead/Guardian.
The irresistible, rib-sticking qualities of these suet pudding recipes will throw many a January diet into disarray. Relent and embrace this beef and ale pud and moist mini cakes wholeheartedly.
It's at this point in January when the few of my friends who were optimistic (or masochistic) enough to attempt a New Year's diet usually begin to falter and fade. As the winter chill sharpens and their hunger kicks in, one by one, they slip off the wagon and return sheepishly to the land of the gourmands where, keen to kickstart their rehabilitation, I welcome them with open arms - and a suet pudding.
Suet is the hard fat gleaned from beef or mutton. It boasts more fat, less water and a higher melting point than butter, so you should find that these suet pastries and puddings have a light, open texture when freshly cooked. They very quickly become waxy and dense as they cool, though, so it's best to get them while they're hot.
Beef and ale suet pudding
Making a steamed pudding is a labour of love, but if you can muster the energy you'll find the process - rolling pastry, swaddling the basin in baking parchment and rough twine and watching closely as it simmers and steams - every bit as comforting as the end result. This is food to warm, to cheer and to console.
3 tbsp oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, chopped into chunks
A pinch of salt
400g braising steak, chopped into large chunks
2 tbsp flour
200ml beef stock
1 tsp Marmite
Leaves from a sprig of rosemary
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
For the pastry
300g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and carrot with a pinch of salt and cook on a medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes, until the onion is meltingly soft.
2 While the vegetables cook, toss the beef with the flour to coat it, then fry it over a high heat for 1-2 minutes - just long enough for the edges to begin to brown. Don't brown it all over, or you risk overcooking and toughening it. Fry in batches to avoid crowding in the pan - and remember to stir constantly.
3 Transfer the browned meat to the pan with the onion and carrot, off the heat. Add a little of the stout and beef stock to the pan you fried the meat in. Let it bubble for a couple of minutes, while you scrape off any browned bits from the bottom of the pan (all of this will give the pudding more flavour). Add this to the beef and onions, plus any remaining stock and stout, the Marmite and the rosemary needles.
4 Simmer gently in a covered pan for 2 hours. With 30 minutes to go, add the diced potato. When the meat's tender, turn off the heat and leave to cool.
5 For the pastry, mix the flour, baking powder, salt and suet in a large bowl. Add enough water to bring the mixture to a firm, but pliable, dough. Use your hands, as you get a better sense of the consistency. Don't knead the pastry, though, or it risks becoming tough.
6 Grease a 750ml-1 litre pudding basin and line the base with a circle of baking parchment, to prevent the pudding sticking to the bottom. Roll out 3/4 of the pastry until no more than 5mm thick, then use it to line the pudding basin, pressing it neatly into the sides and trimming the excess. Fill with the cooled beef mixture, leaving room at the top so the pudding doesn't bubble over. Roll the remaining pastry into a circle large enough to cover the top. Brush a little water around the rim of the pastry then press it into place, pinching it together to seal it.
7 Cover the pudding with a sheet of baking parchment, pleated widely down the middle to allow room for the pudding to rise. Secure in place with a length of string. Repeat with a layer of foil.
8 Place a small jam jar lid or metal pastry cutter in the base of a large pan, fill with water to a depth of 10cm and set over a medium heat. When it has reached a steady boil, put the pudding basin on top of the jar lid or pastry cutter. Add or remove water as necessary until it reaches halfway up the sides of the pudding basin.
9 Put a lid on the pan. Steam the pudding for 2 hours. When it's ready, remove the pudding basin from the pan and gently tease off the baking parchment and foil. Gently loosen the tops of the sides with a small knife. Place a large plate upside down on top of the pudding and in one swift motion (easier than it sounds) invert the pudding on to the plate. Remove the pudding basin to reveal a golden brown pudding. Serve immediately.
Coffee, date and cardamom suet puddings
These soft cakes are made with vegetable suet - a combination of vegetable oils such as palm or sunflower oil - and are a far cry from the staid, stodgy Britishness that suet usually comes with. It's important not to over-bake these puddings as suet-based cakes are prone to drying out. To ensure a perfectly tender result, place a roasting dish half-filled with boiling water on the oven shelf under the puddings as they bake. The steam will help to keep them moist.
100g vegetable suet
200g plain flour
2.5 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Seeds from 4-6 cardamom pods, ground
120g soft light brown sugar
120g pitted dates, coarsely chopped
2 tsp instant coffee
2 tbsp boiling water
1 large egg
1 Set the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease 6 small pudding basins (150ml or 1/4 pint) well with butter and line their bases with circles of baking parchment. The effort it takes to cut the circles of parchment is well worth it - these can be tricky to unmould otherwise.
2 Combine the suet, flour, baking powder, salt, cardamom, sugar and dates in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, dissolve the coffee in 2 tbsp boiling water before whisking in the milk and the egg. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and stir gently to combine them.
3 Divide the batter between the lined and greased tins and bake for 20-25 minutes until well-risen, lightly browned and cooked through. Unmould the puddings immediately after baking and serve with a scoop of sweetened mascarpone or ice-cream.