My kitchen smells like hard liquor. I finally feel like a real live grown up.
This is the first year I’ve made my own Christmas puddings. I’ve been carried by the goodwill of others for far too long.
Growing up the puddings were the domain of the elder matriarchs of the clan. My diminutive-of-size-but-not-of-spirit English grandmother had some firm ideas on the importance of suet and the ratios of fruit to nut. The Christmas puddings of my childhood had hidden family trinkets and cleaned coins in their bellies and were eaten with hard sauce and ice cream while salt water from the pool dripped down our backs.
In the last couple few years the sweet punctuation to our Christmas has come from one of my best friends (and the maker of the most beautiful veil in the world). Each year without fail she has delivered to us an outstanding home made pudding as a present, studded with glace cherries and sopped in Orange Muscat and Flora dessert wine.
They say necessity is the mother of invention.
This year we’ll be 24 hours flying time away from those puddings and preparing for our first, proper English Christmas. The rest of the meal is currently up for debate ( any help talking The Hungry One out of the need for a turducken will be gratefully received), but a pudding is a must.
The brief from The Hungry One when quizzed on his likes was simple. “I’d like the flavours to go well with chocolate”, he said. He’s nothing if not predictable.
So on Stir up Sunday (the last Sunday in November) The Hungry One and I stood around a large bowl and sloshed 475 grams of dried fruit with 100mls of brandy and 50mls of Pedro Ximenex (an intense, raisin-sweet Spanish sherry).
We lovingly covered it up and put up on a dark shelf for a week so it could think about what it could do to improve itself. The kitchen smelled of liquor and sticky fruits. Out the window the lights of London twinkled and each day the sky shrank lower. (One becomes resourceful in the cold, my gloved hands are useless to Apple, so I’m getting better at using the tip of my nose to scroll through my phone).
A week later it was a simple process of tweaking a base recipe to suit out tastes. Suet is a must, though sadly it had to be from a packet (two of the four butchers at Borough markets didn’t know what it was …What is this world coming to?). The fruits we chose were dried cherries. cranberries, currants, figs and apricots. In our pud there there’s also heady a mix of spices, a dash of fresh apple and slivered almonds. Following The Hungry One’s brief the stout was a chocolate stout and we replaced the breadcrumbs with ground almonds, just because we thought it would be nicer.
We stood with one of our clan in London and measured and stirred. We poured the mixtures into two identical 600 ml ceramic pudding basins and carefully wrapped their tops in fluted brown paper and foil. We let them sit over night and then the next day I gently boiled them for five hours, listening to the hiss and tat of steam in the pot.
The house smelled like Christmas. As I pulled them out of the suet-soapy depths I may have even started singing some carols- off key, of course.
Now every fourth day as I water my baby Christmas tree I’m also remembering to sneak a little nip of brandy over the top, just to keep them lively.
So; below is not my granny’s recipe. It’s not Libby’s either. Somethings are just too sacred to be muddled with.
Whether ours is any good or not, we’ll see.
I guess the proof will be in the pudding.
The Hungry One’s Christmas Pudding
(Makes enough for a 1.2 litre pudding basin, or two 0.6 litre basins).
One 1.2 litre pudding basin, or two 0.6 litre basins.
Stockpots or casserole dishes large enough to put the pudding basins in.
Greaseproof paper, foil and string to tie the tops.
A novelty sized Christmas tree for achingly cute photos.
350 grams of dried cherries and cranberries
135 grams of currants
50 grams of dried figs (diced)
40 grams of dried apricots
(NB, you can alter the proportions to suit your tastes or substitute them for cherries, sultanas, prunes or dates etc).
40 grams of blanched sliced almonds
250 grams of almond meal
100 ml of brandy (plus 100ml more to feed the pudding)
50ml of Pedro Ximenex Spanish sherry
1/2 lemon, zested
1 orange, zested
1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into small dice
15 grams of cinamon
15 grams of mixed spice
2 tablespoons of chocolate stout (drink the rest)
250 grams of shredded suet
350 grams of brown sugar
175 grams of self raising flour
Here’s how we roll
1. A week before you plan on making the puddings soak all of the dried fruit with 100ml of brandy and 50 ml of Pedro Ximenex. Stir it all around and cover with foil and put it in a cool dark place soak in.
2. Add the citrus peel and dice of apple to the bowl of boozy dried fruit.
3. In a separate bowl combine the flour, almond meal, suet, spices, brown sugar and almonds.
4. Add the beaten eggs and stout to the dry ingredients. Fold that into the fruit mixture. When it’s all combined the mixture should fall off a spoon if tapped on the side of a bowl. You want it to be sloppy, like a slurry, not runny like a drink.
5. Butter the pudding molds. Pour the mixture in. Cover the puddings with greaseproof paper, which you’ve folded a pleat in the centre of. Put a cap of foil over the top, with a similar pleat.
6. Secure the ‘lids’ with string around the sides of the bowl. Tie tightly. Create a ‘handle’ for the puddings (which you’ll need to get them in and out of the pot) by wrapping them up like a present and having two long bunny ears of the bow.
7. Let the puddings sit overnight.
8. Put the puddings in a pot that fits them and fill with boiling water, a third of the way up the sides. Put the lids on and boil them at a slow, gentle plop for five hours (NB, check on the puddings ever now and again and top up with boiling water if needed- the last thing you want is for the pot to boil dry).
9. Take the puddings out of the water and allow them cool. Put them in a cool, dark place until the time for feasting.
10. To reheat we’re going to boil the puddings again for another hour and a half.
If we were in Australia we’d probably trample them through ice cream, refreeze in a loaf tin and have a slice with a very boozy chocolate ganache.
Here, where it’s bloody freezing, I think we’ll serve them with a spiced eggnog custard.