Delicious vegetarian suet pastry filled with lemon-flavoured butter and sugar, these little puddings are surely the epitome of Britishness and the very definition of comfort food. Serve them with homemade crème Anglaise in front of a roaring fire. (Each pudding will serve one or two people, depending on appetite.)
Sift the flour into a bowl and add the breadcrumbs, lemon zest and suet. Mix the milk with 50ml water, then stir into the flour mixture, to a soft but not sticky dough. Knead for 1–2 minutes, then divide the dough in half.
One piece at a time, break off a quarter of the dough half, cover and set aside. Roll out the larger piece on a lightly floured surface until it is 7mm thick and will line the first pudding mould with a 2cm overhang. Line the mould.
Repeat with the other half of the dough – breaking off, covering and setting aside one quarter and rolling out three quarters, so that both pudding moulds are lined and you have 2 smaller pieces of dough set aside.
Make the filling. In a bowl mix the butter and sugar together, and place one quarter of the mixture in the base of each pudding mould.
One lemon half at a time, place the cut side down on the work surface and make two horizontal cuts: one quarter of the way down and three-quarters of the way down the lemon half, cutting almost but not all the way through. Rotate the lemon through 180°, still facing downwards, and make a similar cut halfway down, in the opposite direction to the other two – you’ll end up with a concertina-like lemon half. Repeat for the other half. Place 1 lemon half pointed end down in each pastry-lined mould. Cover with the remaining filling.
Roll out the remaining pastry to make 2 lids, each the same thickness as the base. Brush the pastry around the rim of the moulds with water, then top with the lids and press together firmly to seal.
Fold a pleat in the centre of each disc of baking paper and each disc of foil (to give the puddings room to expand), then cover the pudding moulds first with a disc of pleated paper and then with the foil. Secure with string, looping it first around the rim and then across the top to make a handle.
Place the moulds, covered sides upwards, in a steamer and steam for 2 hours, topping up the water from time to time, if necessary.
About 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time, make the crème Anglaise. Heat the milk, cream and vanilla seeds in a pan over a medium heat to just below boiling point.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar together until pale and fluffy. Pour the warmed milk mixture over the egg mixture, whisking continuously until combined.
Pour the mixture into a heavy-based pan and cook over a very low heat for 3–4 minutes, stirring continuously, until smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and set aside.
When the puddings are ready, use the string handle to carefully remove them from the steamer and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Remove the string, foil and baking paper. Place a serving plate over the top of each pudding mould, then carefully invert the pudding out onto the plate. Serve with the crème Anglaise on the side.