Pudding basins (aka “pudding bowls”) are dishes designed particularly for steaming puddings in. They will have thick walls and tall, thick, pronounced rims around the tops of them.
The thick walls help to provide steady heat; the rims are designed to allow a cover to be tied securely on top.
Sometimes you have to grease the inside of the basin before putting the ingredients in it, sometimes you don’t. Your recipe will tell you.
Pudding basin designs
They are typically made of glazed earthenware, or tempered glass and typically have no lid. Some modern ones are made of stainless steel with clip-on lids. These metal ones of course have much thinner walls.
Some designs will have grooves on the bottom, both to help hold string used to secure the covering, and to allow air trapped under the bowl to escape.
Purchasing a pudding basin
In England, pudding basins can be purchased wherever you would purchase kitchen supplies.
“In virtually every kitchen in every home in Britain you will find a deep bowl with a thick rim that we call a pudding basin. Into the basin goes the basic mixture of flour, butter and eggs, mixed to a batter and flavoured in many different ways.” Bailey, Adrian. The Cooking of the British Isles. New York: Time Life Books. 1969. Page 150.
In North America, they are usually sold in higher-end cooking supply stores, or can be ordered online.
They come in various sizes.
A 2 pint / 4 cup / 1 litre pudding basin will make enough dessert pudding for 8 to 10 people. Some people, such as the English food writer Delia Smith, regard basins around this size as standard size for a pudding basin. She writes, “Pudding basins have caused something of a problem with regard to their size — a bit of confusion that needs to be unravelled. If you pour water right up to the brim of a so-called 40 oz (2 pint) basin, it actually takes 2 1/2 pints! The measurements for this standard size are as follows: 3 1/2 inches (9 cm) base diameter, 6 1/2 inches (16 cm) top diameter and 4 1/2 inches (11.5 cm) deep.” Smith, Delia. Delia’s How to Cook: Book Three. London: BBC Worldwide. 2001. Page 172.
If puddings, savoury and sweet, are something you plan on adding to your bag of cooking tricks, it can be useful to have a few sizes.
Larger ones may also be used as mixing bowls for other uses.
Pyrex bowls can work as substitutes.
In a pinch, you could also use a cleaned-out coffee can. Leave the bottom on, discard any plastic top covering, of course, and get rid of any paper on the side, leaving just a plain big tin with the bottom still on. Grease it, cook the pudding in that, and when it is done, tip it over on a plate, cut the bottom open with a can opener, and then use the tin bottom to push the pudding through and out onto your plate. Be careful as the tin will be hot. You will may wish to present the pudding lying sideways like a log, rather than standing up, but that shape is traditional, too, as many steamed puddings were shaped like that back when they were cooked in cloth rather than pudding basins.
Do not freeze in pudding basins; the extremely-cold temperature and expanding contents can break them.
Do not use pudding basins in dry heat such as baking in ovens. They were designed to be used in moist heat. The glazing on the porcelain may discolour and craze, and the pottery itself may crack.
Pudding basins with cracks in them may eventually shatter on you during cooking, causing the wastage of what you had made.
In England, these are called “pudding basins”. In the US, these are called “pudding bowls”. In Canada, usage appears to be split half and half.