As much as the country has been annoying me recently (Brexit, anyone?) I have to admit no-one does Christmas like the Brits. My English great-grandmother and international upbringing are likely to blame, but ever since my childhood, nothing shouts Christmas to me like silly hats and bad jokes from Christmas crackers, and a good slice of Christmas pudding doused in brandy butter.
Living all over the globe, catering to guests from all walks of life, and having to stick to a diet for medical reasons, I have created my own ‘recipes’ for many classic dishes that can be adapted not only on the preferences of you and your guests, but also on what is available locally where you live. With the current Marmite crisis caused by Brexit, you never know what is going to happen, so it makes sense to stock up on mincemeat and crackers before it's too late!
If you break down any recipe to basic food chemistry (I knew that MSc degree would have some use eventually), it is easy to see what can and cannot be substituted. The rest, particularly the flavourings, are simply a matter of taste. Something we Dutch know cannot be argued about. I love to use Dutch speculaaskruiden to stir things up a little.
Weren't they cute then?
Traditionally this pudding is made on stir-up Sunday, the last Sunday before advent, but my Dutch brain can’t do Christmas before St Nicolas has left for Spain, so just after the 5th works well for me. For luck, the whole family is supposed to take turns stirring!
Festive Pudding for all
900 g mixed dry fruit, chopped fine
100 ml liquor (brandy, or for non-alcoholics use fruit juice)
3 ts mixed dry spices (nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, ginger)
1 ts baking powder
pinch of salt
100 g chopped nuts (almond, macademia, walnut)
175 g dark sugar (palm sugar, or any other)
sugared lemon/orange peel
175 fat (suet, coconut, butter)
100 g flour (can be wheat or glutenfree)
225 g breadcumbs (can be glutenfree)
300 ml liquid (apple cider, fruit juice, sweet wine, port, sherry, dark beer)
The heart of the pudding are the dried fruits. Ironically for a pudding often called ‘plum pudding’ plums, or their dried version prunes, are not necessarily included, but they do work well. Raisins, currants and sultanas are your obvious choice, but I love dates, apricots, cranberries, apple, and dried mangos as well. There are really no limits. I’ve done a tropical version once with pineapple. Whatever you choose, dose them in brandy or your liquid of choice and soak overnight.
(I’m suddenly thinking up a gin & tonic themed pudding, well, there’s always next year… this year I opted for Middle Eastern with dried limes, apricots, mango and lots of cardamom)
For the fat, make sure to use one that is fairly solid, so olive oil is out. Even in the UK the traditional suet is getting harder to get (particularly if like me you boycott the nasty supermarket ‘vegetarian’ version of chemically hardened palm oil covered in wheat flour) If you want to be proper, do ask your butcher for suet, but by all means butter or coconut fat work perfectly fine too .
When the fruit is ready, add all the dry ingredients together in another bowl, then add the fat, eggs and last your liquid of choice. When mixed well toss the dried fruit in as well, let everyone have a stir and your mixture is ready to steam. All you need now is patience.
My first puddings I steamed in a earthenware bowl with some parchment, but water leaked in and they became soggy, so I invested in some plastic pudding bowls with lids. Place them in a pan with water, that does not reach the top of your bowl, as no water should get in. Add a lid and steam them for hours, at least five; the longer, the darker and richer the pudding will get. Then let it cool and rest in a cool dark place until Christmas. If you like your pudding proper boozy you can ‘feed’ it with a few spoons of brandy once in a while.
At Christmas dinner steam it again for half an hour to heat it up, or cheat by popping it in a microwave. Don’t forget to add brandy butter, which is butter mixed with generous slosh of brandy and some powdered sugar (mix 100g of room temperature butter with 100g icing sugar and 4 spoons of brandy, then stiffen in fridge). For a real show stopper heat up some brandy in a metal spoon, let it catch fire and serve your pudding flaming!
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