This time last year, I went to my first Christmas pudding party. Alas, not a party where all guests eat Christmas pudding for the duration (would anyone like to invite me to one of those? No Christmas calendar clash is too important for me to abandon it in favour of this), but rather a party where we made Christmas puddings. 8 women stood around a large dining table, diligently grating dozens of carrots and apples, chopping fruit and measuring booze.
We were being directed by Kate Young, food writer and chef, who was teaching us her great- great-granny’s Christmas pudding recipe. Only in mammoth proportions. At one point, Kate and I stood over an enormous plastic crate, each armed with an electric whisk, trying to cream kilos of butter and muscovado sugar together. Perhaps it was the company, or the intoxicating smell of candied peel and sultanas sitting in a pool of golden rum, or the satisfaction of making something in a group, but it was one of my happiest afternoons. We each left with three handsome Christmas puddings, ready to steam at home.
This year, in lieu of a Christmas pudding party, I spent an afternoon at home, making my own. There are a number of ways of making Christmas pudding: some use suet, some a sponge base, some breadcrumbs. Kate’s is a combination of sponge mix and breadcrumbs, and my Christmas pudding is heavily based on her wonderful recipe, with three small exceptions. I’ve introduced a bunch of larger dried fruits – prunes and figs and dates, with their particular dark muscovado toffee taste – alongside the more traditional mixed currants, sultanas and peel, which makes for a tender pudding, soft and moist, and packed full of flavour.
For the alcohol, I’ve opted for a stout or porter: I like the treacly flavours as they meld with the sticky fruit, but if you’re looking for a stronger, boozy hit, you can sub in the same quantities of brandy or, like Kate, golden rum. Finally, Kate makes round bowling-ball puddings, tied up in calico and boiled. I am too cowardly for this. You have to ensure that, once cooked, you dry out all the folds of material, but I don’t trust myself to manage this and the prospect of not properly drying out the material and finding a mouldy pud is simply too upsetting. Instead, I steam hemisphere-shaped puddings in a pudding bowl.
Christmas pudding is a commitment – you can’t leave the house when the pudding is steaming, and you need to periodically check on water levels. But as commitments go, it’s a pretty bearable one. Beyond those water-level checks, it really doesn’t need you attention. And, even better, the actual mixture itself is very straight forward – certainly no trickier than a simple sponge. And if you’re going to commit, I think you might as well go all out.
I’ve given the recipe for one 2 pint pudding but let me level with you: having been spoilt last year with a crop of puddings, this year I made another three. They keep forever, providing you wrap them well and place in a cool, very dry place. And as long as you have a large bowl or pan, or a clean plastic box, it’s just as easy to make three puddings as it is to make one. My fat, fruit-stuffed children will sit in the cupboard, until we work our way through them. It turns out a Christmas pudding isn’t just for Christmas Day.
Makes: 1 2 pound pudding, serves 6-8 (recipe easily doubled, or tripled)
Takes: 30 minutes, plus steeping time
Bakes: 5 hours steaming (in advance), 2 hours steaming (on the day)
100g prunes, chopped
120g dried soft figs, chopped
70g glacé cherries, halved
100g dates, chopped
150g mixed dried fruit
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tablespoon mixed spice
1 small apple, cored and grated
1 small carrot, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon bitter orange marmalade
1 tablespoon golden syrup
50g flaked almonds
100ml stout or porter
175g soft brown sugar
80g self raising flour
80g plain flour
- Mix all your dried fruits, grated carrot and apple, marmalade, spice and syrup together with the stout in a saucepan, stir, bring to the boil, turn off the heat, and leave for an hour.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until pale brown and fluffy in texture. Add the eggs one at a time, completely combining with the mixture before adding the next. Stir through both flours and the breadcrumbs. Stir in the almonds, soaked fruit and any residual stout.
- Spoon the mixture into a 2 pint pudding basin or heatproof plastic bowl. Cover the bowl with a sheet of baking paper and a sheet of foil, both double the size of the top of your bowl. Fold the discs to create a pleat in the centre of the discs– this allows the pudding to expand as it steams. Tie these securely with a piece of string around the rim of the basin; you can also create a string handle to make moving the pudding in and out of the water more easily.
- Place a large pan, filled halfway with water over a medium heat and, when simmering, introduce the pudding and cover the pan with a lid. Steam for five hours, keeping an eye every so often on water levels to make sure the pan doesn’t boil dry.
- When your pudding is cooked, remove the foil and greaseproof paper and leave the top off the pudding to cool and then dry out. Once dry, place a new, clean covering of greaseproof paper and foil in the same way as before, and store the pudding in a cool dry place.
- When you’re reading to eat, steam the pudding in the same manner for 2 and a half hours. Once the time is up, remove the covering, and run a knife round the edge of the basin: the pudding should slip right out. Serve with brandy butter, thick brandy cream (my favourite), brand sauce, or ice cream.