It’s (almost) that time of year again…
Believe me: bringing up the subject of Christmas before December pains me as much as it does you. However, exceptions can always be made when it comes to food. So, let’s seize the day and get this Christmas pudding on the go. Why now, I hear you ask? Well:
a) Because we all know that the longer you can leave your pudding to mature, the better it tastes.
b) Because we all equally know that the decrease in the number of days before Christmas exactly correlates with the diminishing amount of spare time we seem to have.
c) Because then you have full smug-face-pulling rights for the rest of the year for being so darn organised.
Over the centuries, Christmas pudding has (thankfully) evolved from boiled-meat-and-grain porridge (bleugh) into a scrummy, beautiful-looking pudding we spend an age slaving over before setting fire to (well, some traditions you just have to accept without explanation).
Time is a crucial ingredient in the recipe for the contemporary Christmas pudding, and you’ll find that more is most definitely more. This is because the longer the spices and flavours have to mellow and intensify, the more delicious it’ll taste. Also, preparing it early means there’s plenty of time to keep feeding your pudding with brandy or rum for a deliciously boozy result on the big day – just think of it as fattening up your turkey before the roasting.
We hardworking little elves have done our research to find the most straightforward, least disaster-prone and, above all, crowd-pleasingly tasty recipe. OK, so Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall deserves some credit too – he came up with it, after all. Well, his gran did, anyway. Best thing about it? This recipe makes two, so you can keep one for next year. Hurrah!
Purchase, assemble and measure out the following:
900g dried vine fruits
200ml brandy, plus extra for feeding and flaming
110g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2½ tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
170g light muscovado sugar
55g flaked almonds
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp marmalade
225g fresh white breadcrumbs
4 eggs – beaten.
300ml ale or stout
Butter, for greasing
Now get started (after soaking your fruit overnight in brandy, of course):
Mix up the flour and baking powder with the salt and spices before adding the pre-soaked, boozy fruit along with the suet, sugar, almonds, marmalade, breadcrumbs and lemon. Once that’s all combined, stir in the beaten eggs and ale.
Tradition now dictates that you must rally up the rest of the family and lead them into the kitchen, where you shall each take a turn stirring of the mixture while simultaneously making a wish.
Butter two pudding basins (about one litre each in capacity) and fill with the mix. Cover with greased paper and foil, being sure to pleat both in the middle (this bad boy is going to get bigger) and secure by tying string around the rim.
Get your hands on a large pan and put something heat-proof in the bottom to act as a platform to stand the basin on – like the lid for a jam jar or something similar. This prevents the basin touching the bottom of the pan, thus aiding an even heat throughout the pud as it cooks. Boil the kettle, whack the basins into the pan and pour in the boiling water until it covers the basins just under halfway.
Cover the pan and simmer for six hours. Yes, six. And don’t think you can just leave it and pop out to get your roots done or catch up with your mates at the pub, either; you’ll need to be topping it up with water to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.
When the timer (finally) goes off, set the puddings aside. Once cool, peel back the paper and foil to reveal your masterpiece. Get a sharp, slim implement (a knife, a skewer, a knitting needle – you get the picture) and poke holes in the top of the cakes. Now give them their first boozy drink by pouring over the brandy or rum.
Tuck your puddings up all tight and snug in clingfilm blankets, and leave in a cool, dry place for them to hibernate. Feed with more booze as and when you feel they may need it.
On Christmas Day, extract one of your puddings, unwrap, and press a coin inside (best to wrap it up in foil or something to avoid choking-related casualties). Wrap it back up in a double layer of clingfilm, and simmer again for 2-3 hours.
Then turn it out, douse in brandy and set the fruits of your labour alight. (NB: before beginning the fireworks, do take the pudding out to the dining table so everyone can enjoy it – this part’s purely about the show.)
Cut the pud, dollop on some brandy butter and try and remember where the lucky coin was so you can serve it to yourself and enjoy the ensuing good fortune and wealth.