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A SMART GUIDE TO THE ULTIMATE CHRISTMAS PUDDING

Wed 11 Nov 2015

The Christmas pudding is the traditional end to the British Christmas dinner. Over time, many variations have been generated and perfected from the original 14th fruit porridge recipe. The heart-warming, flavoursome and rich qualities remain in most recipes, with modern twists in cooking methods and ingredients constantly reformed. Despite the tease of easy access, shop bought puds, there’s nothing more satisfying than the reveal of your fermented sticky pudding on Christmas day, flaming with brandy and served with a slice of self-pride.

TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS PUDDING

Reports are that the traditional Christmas Pudding has fallen out of favor for lighter, healthier, desserts. Not so. It is still as essential to a British Christmas as it ever was. The pudding comes at the end of the largest dinner of the year and demands a huge appetite and a staunch constitution but is still very much loved (don't listen to the marketeers trying to get you to buy yoghurt).

EARLY CHRISTMAS PUDDINGS

Early Christmas Puddings contained meat usually mutton or beef as well as onions, wine, spices and dried fruit. The tradition of Christmas Pudding did not appear in England until introduced to the Victorians by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. By this time the pudding looked and tasted much as it does today and the point if difference between a traditional Christmas Cake and a Christmas Pudding is the pudding contains suet and is steamed rather than baked.

WHEN AND WHAT IS STIR UP SUNDAY?

This is the day the Christmas pudding is made and is about five weeks before Christmas; the last Sunday before the Christian season of Advent. The delicious aromas which float through house as the pudding steams on the stove are the start of the festivities.

The customs surrounding making pudding brings the whole family together as each takes a turn to stir the mixture and make a wish and add coins; the finding of them on Christmas day purportedly bringing wealth, health, happiness, and ensuring everyone at least eats some to find one!

WHY DO WE FLAME THE CHRISTMAS PUDDING?

Flaming the pudding is another tradition, believed to represent the passion of Christ, and again is an essential part of the theatre of Christmas day. Eating Christmas pudding was banned by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century because he believed the ritual of flaming the pudding harked back to pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.

THE EASIEST & SAFEST WAY TO FLAME THE CHRISTMAS PUDDING

The flaming of the pudding needs a steady hand and for safety reasons, not be someone who has enjoyed too much wine. 

  • Half-fill a metal ladle, or similar, with brandy and carefully heat over a gas flame or lit candle.
  • When the flame is hot enough, the brandy will light.
  • Pour the flaming brandy over the pudding. Make sure the lights are out when taking to the table for a grand entrance.
  • Once the flames have subsided, serve with a brandy butter, brandy butter, brandy sauce, cream or home-made custard.

HOW TO MAKE THE PERFECT TRADITIONAL PUDDING

The perfect pudding should be dense, moist and oozing decadence of rich fruits and brandy. Making one does take time with at least 13 ingredients (to represent Christ and his disciples) to weigh, time to marinate and steaming which takes at least 7 hours. But, once made, put away in a cool, dry place, needs only a further hour steaming on the day itself.

Ingredients

110g shredded suet
110g white breadcrumbs
1 level teaspoon ground mixed spice
¼ level teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
good pinch ground cinnamon
225g soft dark brown sugar
110g sultanas
110g raisins
275g currants
25g whole candied peel, finely chopped
25g whole almonds chopped (skin on is OK)
1 small cooking apple cored and finely chopped (no need to peel)
grated zest ½ large navel orange
2 tablespoons rum
75ml barley wine
75ml stout
2 large eggs
50g self-raising flour, sifted

Begin the day before you want to steam the pudding.

Take your largest, roomiest mixing bowl and start by putting in the suet and breadcrumbs, spices and sugar. Mix these ingredients very thoroughly together, then gradually mix in all the dried fruit, peel and nuts followed by the apple and the grated orange and lemon zests.

Don’t forget to tick everything off as you go to make sure nothing gets left out.

Next in a smaller basin, measure out the rum, barley wine and stout, then add the eggs and beat these thoroughly together.

Next pour this over all the other ingredients and begin to mix very thoroughly. It’s now traditional to gather all the family round, especially the children, and invite everyone to have a really good stir and make a wish!

The mixture should have a fairly sloppy consistency – that is, it should fall instantly from the spoon when this is tapped on the side of the bowl. If you think it needs a bit more liquid add a spot more stout.

Cover the bowl and leave overnight.

Next day stir in the sifted flour quite thoroughly, then pack the mixture into the lightly greased basin, cover it with a double layer of baking parchment and a sheet of foil and tie it securely with string (you really need to borrow someone’s finger for this!).

It’s also a good idea to tie a piece of string across the top to make a handle. Place the pudding in a steamer set over a saucepan filled with simmering water and steam the pudding for 8 hours.

Do make sure you keep a regular eye on the water underneath and top it up with boiling water straight from the kettle about halfway through the time. When the pudding is steamed, let it get quite cold, then remove the baking parchment and foil and replace them with some fresh ones, again making a string handle for easy manoeuvring.

Now your Christmas pudding is ready for Christmas Day. Keep it in a cool place away from the light. Under the bed in an unheated bedroom is an ideal place.

On Christmas Day: Fill a saucepan quite full with boiling water, put it on the heat and, when it comes back to the boil, place a steamer on top of the pan and turn it down to a gentle simmer. Put the Christmas Pudding in the steamer cover and leave to steam for 2hrs 15 mins. You'll need to check the water from time to time and maybe top it up a bit.

When you are ready to serve the pudding, remove from the steamer and take off the wrapping. Slide a palette knife all around the puddig and turn it out on to a warmed plate. Place a suitably sized sprig of holly on top. Now warm a ladleful of brandy over direct heat and, as soon as the brandy is hot, turn out the flame and ask someone to set light to the brandy using a long match.

Place the ladle, now gently flaming, on top of the pudding - but don't pour it over until you reach the table (if you don't have a gas hob, warm the brandy in a small saucepan). When you do, pour it slowly over the pudding, sides and all and watch it flame to the cheers of the assembled company! When both flames and cheers have died down, serve the pudding with Christmas Rum Sauce, Cumberland Rum Butter or Brown Sugar Brandy Butter - see below.

If you have any left over, it will reheat beautifully, wrapped in foil, in the oven next day.

If you want two smaller puddings, use two 570ml basins, but give them the same steaming time.

If you want to make individual Christmas puddings for gifts, this quantity makes eight 175ml pudding basins. Steam for 3 hours, then resteam for 1 hour before serving. They look pretty wrapped in baking parchment and muslin and tied with attractive bows and tags. 

DRINKS FOR CHRISTMAS PUDDING

The favorite is a Vintage Port, the fruit cake flavors and chocolaty richness works very well with the pudding but good matches are also a Muscat liqueur or rich Madeira.

ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS PUDS

If you really must, or you have guest who don't like the traditional pud then there are some tasty Chistmas Pudding alternatives out there.

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