vintage christmas postcard
There is no getting away from the fact that Christmas is definitely coming! Everywhere I turn I am bombarded with reminders, starting with the twinkle-y sea of every iconic symbol of Christmas covering the entire lawn of my neighbour’s house, and ending with even the meat in the grocery store bound up in shiny cellophane and strung with red ribbons like some special present to be placed under the tree. To mention everything in-between would be an exercise in how poetic and tacky I could be at the same time. I may write something about this a little later, but for now I am really excited to talk about Christmas Pudding and share the recipe
I love any holiday or celebration that involves food, and Christmas dinner is the ultimate feast as far as I’m concerned. So yes, even though this one meal is one month away, I am already planning the menu and soaking the dried fruit for my Christmas pudding as we speak.
soaking the fruit, an important step in making a great pudding
Depending on what part of the world you are reading my blog from, you are either salivating at the thought of a slice of warm fruity pudding smothered in equally warm custard or brandy butter, or, you are puzzled as to why I would make a pudding a month before eating it! If the former, I suggest you get started, if the latter, it’s time to be exposed to a deliciousness enjoyed on Christmas day in most Irish and English households (and I suspect in strongly transplanted countries like Australia, India and North America).
Well, this deeply rich, dense steamed pudding, bejeweled with all sorts of dried fruits, came into its own in Victorian England (although apparently has existed in less evolved forms from the 15th century). It is traditionally made about 5 weeks before Christmas and used to be the highlight of the Christmas feast eaten on December 25th. In the early 19th century the most precious ingredients were spices and fruits, and this pudding was deemed special enough to have it all. The fruit most commonly used was raisins, but today people like to add their own particular favorites.
The recipe for this pudding varies greatly from household to household, region to region, and like every Italian “Mama” who is adamant that the best red sauce must have onions, (or absolutely not have onions), the serious pudding makers have strong opinions too! I am more the go-with-the-flow type and use what I like, and what is available in my supermarket on the day I take upon myself to buy the ingredients.
The one step that is of the utmost importance is to let the dried fruits soak in alcohol before being mixed into the batter. Then the pudding needs to be steamed for hours, stored for a month, and then steamed again before finally being served. The reason that this pudding is worth all the trouble is to witness it’s grand entrance to the dinner table. It is served flambeed in alcohol amidst the hopefully cheering and applauding guests. There is nothing like a little indoor fire to get the party started.
I am not a culinary traditionalist by any stretch, and my sinful admission is that I hardly ever make a Christmas pudding! My Christmas desserts have ranged from trifles to cheesecake, to a wild assortment of handmade chocolates. My problem is I never remember in time enough to let the pudding age before it is eaten. The only reason I remembered in sufficient time this year is because I was thinking about my mother’s traditional dessert for this special day, a christmas cake (next year perhaps?) while also walking by a shelf with a bottle of rum on it collecting dust, which she gave me several years earlier.
Christmas table (at my friend Tom’s last year)
She brought it over on one of her visits and we never opened it. When she died I swore to only break the seal if it was for a special reason, and, as I was thinking of how she went “all out” for Christmas I decided it was time to use it as a loving remembrance. That’s when dried fruit soaked in alcohol popped into my head, followed by the thought of a flaming Christmas pudding.
This pudding is a snap to make and you can pretty much bind any kind of fruit into bread crumbs, flour and eggs and it will work. The only inconvenience is that it steams for hours so you are more or less held captive in your kitchen and surrounding area until it is done (great time to read, or clean the bathrooms!).
I encourage you write down my list of ingredients below (take note of the bowl you will need for the pudding to cook in) and make this wonderful fruity, festive dessert for the big day next month. I will be sure to post pictures of my pudding (in full flame) soon after Christmas!
*The pudding needs to be steamed in a “pudding basin” which is essentially a strong plastic bowl with a fitted lid, or a thin metal “plum pudding mold” which also has a lid. (I could not for the life of me find a pudding bowl anywhere close to me, and in fact got lots of funny looks from shop assistants when I asked. I did manage to find a metal mold which I have never used before, but am confident it will do the job. do not use a mold with a hole in the center.)*
my new metal pudding steamer
*One more point: If you do not want to flambe your pudding, that is totally fine. The process has nothing to do with flavor. It’s all about being dramatic!*
You will need:
1 cup mixture dark raisins, golden raisins & dried cranberries
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup chopped dried prunes (pitted)
1/3 cup chopped dried dates (pitted)
3/4 cup rum or brandy (I used Bacardi Gold, but any rum will do)
1/2 cup self-raising flour
3/4 cup fine white bread crumbs
1/2 cup, plus 2 tbs vegetable shortening
1 medium apple, peeled and grated
1/2 cup, plus 2 tbs dark brown sugar
zest of 1 orange or lemon (or some of both)
1/2 tsp all-spice
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup vodka or brandy (to flambe before serving)
decoration for the top (holly, berries or some non-flammable ornament)
Equipment: 1 pudding bowl or mold (see note above in red ) to hold about 4 cups of batter.
1 – Soak fruit in rum or brandy in a covered container overnight, or up to a week.
2 – In a big bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients (except the vodka or brandy) together.
add fruit to batter
3 – Add the fruit and mix well.
cover with wax paper
4 – Turn pudding into greased bowl or mold and place a piece of parchment over the top, before putting on the lid.
cover entire bowl with foil
5 – Cover the whole bowl in tin foil and set in a saucepan of gently boiling water (the water should come halfway up the bowl. Put lid on pot and cook, checking every now and then to see if water needs to be topped up, for 3 1/2 hours.
6 – Remove from pot and allow to cool before removing the tin foil. Leave in the container in a cool dark place (not the fridge) for 3 to 5 weeks. *Some people add a little more alcohol to the pudding every week or so, and you can do this if you like (I don’t as I’m not a big fan of alco-tasting desserts)
On the day you are serving: re-steam the pudding (wrap in foil again) for another 3 hours. If you want to flambe the pudding for presentation purposes, put the brandy or vodka into a pot and place it on medium heat. Just before it comes to a boil, turn the heat off and set it alight. Immediately pour the flaming liquid over the pudding and serve. Serve warm with custard, brandy butter or fresh cream (recipe for custard and brandy butter will be posted before Christmas!)