Cynthia Wong's Steamed Pudding with Vanilla Custard

A Christmas Eve tradition.

Cynthia Wong’s Steamed Pudding
Photo: Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis
Cook Time:
15 mins
Active Time:
25 mins
Steam Time:
2 hrs
Cool Time:
10 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 50 mins

When I was a child growing up in South Carolina, I was always turning fruit and other produce into baked goods. So, later in life, I followed the path I loved and attended a culinary school called École Lenôtre on the outskirts of Paris.

While traveling through Europe, I met my husband, John David Harmon, a fellow Southerner, at a free Spanish class in Barcelona. We returned to the States after a very meaningful stint in London, where I worked for restaurants in various leadership roles. While I enjoyed it, the grueling schedule was not the life I wanted, especially with two toddlers in tow. I quite literally needed a life raft to get out, and that was when Life Raft Treats, my specialty ice-cream business, was born.

I've always loved the process of inventing, and that's likely why this English pudding means so much to me—it was unlike anything I'd ever made. I remember seeing the recipe for the first time when we lived in London with our first newborn son and thinking to myself, "I've never steamed a whole cake before!" It's quite remarkable how it bubbles along on the stove, with its gooey, buttery texture taking form to resemble a hot and fluffy pound cake.

Although this pudding isn't traditionally made for the holidays in England, I make it for my family every Christmas Eve. The way it comes together still has me rapt all these years later. I serve it with a marmalade made from pink grapefruits off our backyard tree in Charleston. The dessert reminds us of the first Christmas we spent together as a family across the pond. It's the most delicious keepsake of the joy that slowing down brings, especially during the holidays.

Cynthia Wong is the chef and owner of Life Raft Treats in Charleston, SC (@life.raft.treats)



  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing

  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup, honey, sorghum, or cane syrup

  • 1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

  • 1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder

  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar 

  • 3 large eggs

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)

Vanilla Custard

  • 4 large eggs yolks

  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream

  • ¼ cup granulated sugar

  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped and seeded (or 1 tsp. vanilla)


  1. Grease a 1-quart ceramic pudding bowl or 4 (8-ounce) ceramic ramekins with butter. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit bottom of bowl or ramekins. Place parchment in bottom of bowl/ramekins. Drizzle golden syrup into bottom of bowl, or divide among ramekins.

  2. Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Beat butter and sugar at medium speed in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, 45 seconds total. Add vanilla paste and lemon zest until combined, 15 seconds. Gradually add flour mixture on low speed until just combined, 30 seconds. Scrape batter into prepared bowl or ramekins; gently tap on a towel to remove any air bubbles.

  3. Cover top of bowl or ramekins with a piece of buttered aluminum foil large enough for overhang and loose enough to allow space for pudding to rise. Crimp foil tightly just below outer rim. Secure foil with kitchen twine, running it all the way around bowl or ramekins, just below rim. Tie another length of twine to the twine wrapped around rim; run it over the top and tie to twine on other side to form a handle to lift pudding out of the steamer. (Make sure twine on top is long enough to allow space for pudding to rise.)

  4. Place a steamer rack or a heat-proof bowl turned upside down into a pot large enough to hold pudding with room for it to rise covered with lid. Fill pot with boiling water to halfway up the side of bowl. Steam over low, keeping water at a simmer, until a cake tester poked through center comes out clean, about 2 hours (8-ounce ramekins will cook in 45 minutes).

  5. Meanwhile, prepare the Vanilla Custard: whisk egg yolks vigorously in a medium bowl until eggs start to turn light pale. Combine heavy cream, granulated sugar, and vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. vanilla) in a small saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Using a ladle, gradually add half of the cream mixture into yolks while whisking constantly. Pour yolk mixture back into saucepan, using a spatula to scrape sides of bowl. Cook over low, whisking constantly, until custard is thick enough to coat back of a spoon, 15 to 18 minutes.

  6. Lift pudding out of steamer with twine handle. Cool on a kitchen towel 10 minutes. Carefully unwrap pudding; place a large plate over bowl or a small plate over each ramekin. Invert pudding onto plate. Serve warm with Vanilla Custard.

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