18 November 2012

Traditional Christmas Pudding

I remember that last year I missed the opportunity to make a Christmas pudding. I thought about it far too late and was preoccupied with present shopping and various parties. This year then, whilst fellow bakers were planning their Halloween masterpieces, I was reading up on Christmas puddings.

Basin Selection
I like things simple but pudding bowl selection is a little crazy. Basin can be specified in pints, litres, imperial pounds, kilograms, and even inches/cm. Also most recipes will specify just one measurement, but may include variations for a bigger or smaller pud. I decided to visit my local Lakeland store, and after speaking with their helpful staff selected a pack of 4 lidded 1 pint (600ml) pudding bowls. At just £5 I knew I'd not regret the expense. I'd considered the 2 pint bowls, but with all the other foods available at Christmas, a 1 pint pudding would be right for our table.

Recipe Selection
My research on traditional recipes that appealed to me left me a short list:.
I think my final selection was made on basic maths  By doubling Betty's quantities, I'd have enough mixture for three 1 pint puddings - Christmas day, New Year's Day, and one to mature for the Summer, or possibly next year.

Fruit Selection
Everything I read told me to use the best fruits I could get. For me this was Juicy Currants and Juicy Sultanas from Whitworths, Sun-Maid Raisins, and instead of glace cherries, Opies Black Cherries in Kirsch.

In addition to the 3 x 1 pint pudding bowls, you need a large mixing bowl, a zester/grater, a juicer, a large mug/small bowl, a fork, measuring spoons,a wooden spoon, some clingfilm, foil, 1-3 large saucepans (preferably with lids).

Fruit and nuts soaking in brandy
460g raisins
150g sultanas
100g currants
100g glace cherries
30g flaked almonds
200ml brandy
Zest of 2 oranges and 2 lemons
Juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon
100g vegetable suet
60g wholemeal breadcrumbs
100g plain flour
180g light brown sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp each of ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs

All mixed together
You want to soak the fruit in the brandy overnight; use your largest mixing bowl. Into this bowl you need to collect the zest from both oranges and lemons, but the juice of just one of each. The unused juice can be frozen in ice-cube trays for other recipes.

Add the dried fruit and almonds to the bowl. Pour over the brandy and mix roughly. Cover with clingfilm.

  • Break the eggs into a large mug or small bowl and beat lightly with a fork before adding to the mixing bowl.
  • Weigh or measure the remaining ingredients directly into the mixing bowl. Betty's recipe says to mix by hand. I realised before I got my hands stuck in that this means with a wooden spoon. Don't be tempted to use a machine. It is light work and won't damage the fruit like a machine could.
Filled and levelled
Large pans with foil cradles
Pudding ready for steaming
Drowning in brandy, well preserved
  • The plastic pudding bowls do not need lining, so now share the mixture evenly between the three bowls. Smooth them flat with the mixture sitting about 1 cm from the top of each basin.
  • Put the plastic lids on the basins.
The puddings will need to cooked in large saucepan(s). I had borrowed the widest pan I could find, but there was no way two would fit in at once. You'll need one per pudding.

I cooked two puddings on one day, and the third on the following day.
  • Making a cradle by folding a length of tin foil in thirds seemed easier than getting involved with tying a string handle, so I recommend doing that. Just make it long enough to sit across the inside of your pan.
These plastic basins can be sat directly onto the base of  the saucepan. I did try sitting one of the puddings on an upside-down saucer but found it to make little difference to the cook.

  • Pour water at least halfway up the basin. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat so it just simmers. Cover with the lid and simmer for 5 hours.
  • You need to keep adding boiling water from a kettle to keep the water level halfway up the basin. On the first cook I set the kitchen timer to check every 30 minutes. When I steamed the third pudding, I checked only every hour, which was fine.
During cooking the mixture expanded and pushed up against the basin lid. One did pop off, so must have been slightly over-filled. This didn't cause a problem. When the puddings cool the mixture shrinks back down.

The puddings should be stored in a cool dark place to mature. The plastic lids aren't airtight so I recommend you cover the basin with clingfilm. To get moist, rich puddings, I fed the puddings with additional brandy before storing.

The pudding will need to be steamed in the same way for a further two hours before serving.

The finished pudding is lighter golden brown. I was surprised how easy it was to make. The biggest commitment is staying in for five hours. I'm looking forward to Christmas Day to see how well this has turned out.

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