As much a part of a Christmas dinner for me as turkey and all the stuffings is Christmas pudding. It’s true, it can seem a bit odd to fill yourself up on a huge savory course and then try to fit in a heavy fruit pudding, but somehow there is always room. Maybe it’s partly because we always had it and knew to leave a little gap, or maybe there is indeed a dessert stomach. Either way, Christmas pudding is something I have always looked forward to at this time of year, although I admit I had never made it myself until last year as I always either had my mum’s or sadly did without. I say I hadn’t made it myself, but to be fair I more mean I hadn’t been in charge of making it – I think Christmas pudding is one of the things I most distinctly remember helping to make as a child, standing up on a chair and mixing. And, of course, licking the bowl clean after.
There are various different recipes for Christmas pudding, but a few things are constant – it is a sweet steamed pudding with various dried fruit in it, pretty much always with raisins in there. Mixed dried fruit peel is also pretty common, although when I made it last year I couldn’t find any for some reason and decided to try dried papaya in there instead, and I actually really liked it so have used that again here. It is generally fairly heavy and not necessarily the healthiest, it’s true, given all the eggs, flour and sugar, but it can be lightened by some of the ingredients – I have apple and carrots in partly for this reason as well as the flavor. I have drawn on a few recipes, in particular Nigel Slater’s in The Kitchen Diaries, but it is fair to say as I suspect a lot of recipes are, this is an evolution of a lot of the best bits from different ones I have tried.
It is probably worth mentioning that you don’t need to force yourself to eat it in one go, if that is indeed humanly possible. It will keep for a good few days and there are a couple ways to re-heat it (it definitely is better warm). My dad always preferred heating it in the microwave but personally I was with my mum in frying it in a little butter so that the outside goes nice and crispy. Both when you first have it and after, it is best served with brandy butter, as I have always traditionally had it, which does strangely seem to help lighten it as well – a recipe for this will come soon. You could also have it with cream or creme fraiche, but I personally don’t think this is as good.
Christmas pudding does look like it takes forever to cook, and well, it does, but you just leave it to get on with things and check the water every now and again so it really isn’t a big deal. The long slow cook is part of what helps the flavors come together. Some people give it a long slow cook to start, then a bit more to finish off, others have about half and half. I would say you want to give it a good seven hours or more in total, with at least two to two and a half on the reheat when you are serving it so split the time as works best for you. You can make the pudding initially up to about two to three weeks ahead of when you need it, just change over the greaseproof paper ‘lid’ and store it in a cool dark place.
As you’ll see from the picture below, the traditional way to serve it is with flaming brandy over the top. Sadly the flames don’t last long and often I can’t even get it from the kitchen to the table alight but even for a short time it looks dazzling and I am sure the extra little bit brandy helps the flavor. Well, maybe not so much, but it is already a pretty special dish, rich, fruity and delicious, so I hope you will give it a try.
- 1½ cups/ 225g raisins
- ½ cup/ 90g dried papaya chunks
- ½ cup/ 90g dried figs
- ½ cup/90g dried apricots
- ½ cup/ 65g dried cranberries
- ⅓ cup/ 80ml brandy
- 1 apple, grated (approx ¾ cup grated)
- 1 large/2 small carrot(s), grated (approx ¾ -1 cup grated)
- juice and zest of 1 orange
- 100g/4oz grated (or finely chopped) beef suet
- 100g/4oz fresh breadcrumbs
- ¾ cup/ 140g soft brown sugar (or ½ cup brown, ¼ cup granulated)
- ½ cup/ 75g all-purpose/plain flour
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp allspice
- DO DAY BEFORE: Chop the papaya chunks, figs (removing any tough stem) and apricots to roughly the same size as the raisins and mix all the dried fruit and brandy together. Leave overnight, stirring now and again so as much of the fruit as possible can soak up the brandy.
- In a large bowl, mix the remaining ingredients - apple, carrot, orange juice and zest, suet, breadcrumbs, sugar, flour, eggs, baking powder and spices. The eggs can either be beaten separately first or put in last and break them up a bit before you combine everything (my less washing up version!).
- Add the soaked dried fruit and mix well then transfer to a pudding bowl, pack down and smooth the top.
- Cover the bowl with greaseproof/parchment paper, making a fold in the paper over the middle and tie string/twine around the paper to hold the paper on. Make a string handle and trim the paper - see picture above.
- Place the bowl in a steamer - can improvise using a regular large pan and something to raise the bowl off the bottom - and steam for at least 3½ hours, checking the water level occasionally to ensure it doesn't go dry.
- Once finished, allow to cool, remove the greaseproof/parchment paper and put on a new paper lid and store in a cool dark place until ready to use. It will keep for a good few weeks.
- When ready to use, steam again for at least 2 to 2½ hours, making a min of 7hours in total.
- Once it has finished steaming, remove the lid, loosen from the bowl and place a plate over the bowl. Tip over the plate and bowl so the pudding falls onto the plate, helping it as needed as you remove the bowl.
- To serve, heat some brandy in a small pan, set light to the brandy and pour over the pudding. Once the flames have died down, cut slices and serve with brandy butter or cream.