|Christmas Eve at home. Probably not the same this year.|
To be clear - I haven't made my Christmas pudding yet this year, and I may even have a year off. Or as the Sheriff of Nottingham so memorably said, 'cancel Christmas and no more merciful hangings'.
However, a friend asked me about this recipe the other day, and since so many people seem to be keen on cooking and baking these days, I thought it would be nice to post it on here. I've been making this for years, and had to dig into the back of an old bakery book to find it written down. The book was inscribed from 'Auntie Vera, to Catherine, Christmas 1973'. But in fact my mum first found the pudding recipe in a Radio Times Supplement from December 1966, Fanny Craddock's Guide to your Christmas Table. (If you don't know about Fanny, she was a phenomenon!) Her pudding recipe was the one that the great chef Escoffier made. But in our family, we modified and changed it over the years, so like the proverbial axe that has had several new handles and blades, it's a new pudding with a long history.
Christmas puddings have a reputation for being ever so heavy, but our modified pudding has the advantage of being reasonably light. In fact it's a bit like a fruity bread pudding. And while you're cooking it, your kitchen will smell wonderful. The traditional Christmas pudding - such as Dickens describes in A Christmas Carol - is a more solid version of the kind of 'frumenty' that you will find in many cultures. This is a rich porridge made of boiled grains, fruits, eggs and honey for a time of celebration. My Polish dad occasionally made something called Kutia, which was a strange and wonderful mixture of wheat grains, ground poppy seed, raisins, honey and cream that was eaten on Christmas Eve.
Anyway, here's what you will need to make one very large and one smaller, or two medium sized puddings. I've translated pounds and ounces into grams. This will give you a lot of mixture. If you want to make smaller puddings, just halve these quantities.
500 grams fine white breadcrumbs. (Don't use wholemeal. The pudding will be too heavy if you do.)
250 grams suet (I use vegetable suet but either is fine)
250 grams SR flour
200 grams soft dark brown sugar
1 kilo mixed dried fruit, including peel (but leave it out if you don't like it.)
1 large cooking apple (or two ordinary eating apples) peeled and grated.
2 or 3 pieces chopped preserved ginger - the kind preserved in syrup (optional)
1 teaspoon of mixed spice
Juice of one orange and one lemon.
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
2 large or 3 smaller beaten eggs
A can of Guinness or similar 'porter' type beer.
Milk as needed.
1 large tablespoon of molasses (black treacle)
Put all the dry ingredients into a very large bowl and mix them together. You can use clean hands. It looks like a vast amount, but it will shrink later. Then, add all the liquids as far as the beer, which will foam up a bit. Once again, mix thoroughly, with either a wooden spoon or clean hands. I don't use a mixer for this, since it makes the whole thing too smooth. It should be quite sloppy. If it isn't, add a little milk and mix again.
Everyone in the house should have a stir and make a wish.
Cover the bowl and leave overnight in a cool place. The next day, mix it again. The breadcrumbs will have absorbed the liquid. It should be about the consistency of a thick cake mixture - you should be able to drop it from a spoon but not too easily. This is a very forgiving recipe so it you feel it's too sloppy, add a little more flour. At this point, stir in a good tablespoonful of nice sticky molasses or black treacle. I sometimes add a small glass of my favourite Crabbie's Green Ginger Wine at this point, to give it a little gingery kick, but it isn't essential. My mum used to add a grated carrot, as well as the apple, and that would be nice too. Some recipes use almonds, but in my experience not everyone likes them so I leave them out.
Grease two medium pyrex basins, or a single large and one smaller basin, put the pudding mixture into them in large dollops, smoothing down well. Then put two or three folded, greased layers of greaseproof paper over the top, tucked down inside the basin, and finally a double layer of kitchen foil, right over the top and folded down well at the sides. You can tie this down with thread or even with string, but I find that the foil sticks to itself pretty well. Old and canny cooks used to fashion a handle out of string to make the basin easier to lift in and out of the pan.
Heat water in a large lidded pan to simmering point - about a quarter to a third of the way up. No more than that. Two pans if you are making more than one pudding. Lower your basin in very carefully, using oven gloves and put the lid on. It's a good idea to use a low trivet if you have one, to keep the bottom of the basin off the pan, but you can do without as long as you don't let the pan boil dry! Make sure there is room between basin and sides of pan, because you are going to have to top up with hot water from the kettle from time to time.
You'll have to have patience because it takes hours. The water should be simmering gently all the while, but not going crazy. And it will have to be topped up occasionally. If you are making two or more puddings, you can have a production line of several pans going at the same time. Your kitchen will soon start to smell amazing. Smaller puddings take less time to cook and make great gifts.
After many hours, eight to ten for a large pudding, five or six for smaller versions, you should be able to see that the whole thing has turned a rich brown colour. Again using oven gloves, take the basin out of the pan, and remove the damp foil and greaseproof paper carefully. Tip a small sherry or liqueur glass of brandy or whisky over the top while it is till hot, and then leave it to cool. Once your pudding is cool, put more greaseproof paper and tinfoil on top, and store it away in a cool place, or at the back of your fridge. Some recipes will tell you not to do this, but it'll be fine. I've also frozen a pudding for the following year although you can keep them for ages in a cool cupboard or old fashioned pantry if you have one.
On Christmas Day, put the pudding back in a lidded pan of slightly simmering water, and leave it for a few hours to heat through. This doesn't take just as long as the first cooking, but there's no hard and fast rule. It should be hot all the way through. If you really want to follow tradition, just before it's ready to be served, turn it out onto a plate, put another few spoonsful of brandy or other spirit over the top, and - turning out the lights - set fire to it. But make sure the kids are all seated. On the other hand, tradition also dictates a sprig of holly on the top, but if you want to risk the brief beautiful flame effect, do remember to take the holly off first. Otherwise it will burn. And your smoke alarm will go off.
Serve with custard, brandy sauce, or home made brandy butter, made with butter, icing sugar and a good measure of brandy all creamed up together. Or thin cream.
Leftover pudding can be heated up in a frying pan with a little butter (horrendously calorific) - or you can cheat by heating it in the microwave, but be careful - it overcooks very quickly.
A little of this goes a long way. Best to have an alternative for the guests who don't like it.
Good luck. I'll post my family Christmas cake recipe - which is incredibly economical and very good - early in November.