Before I even get into it, let me credit my original source for this recipe. Thank you NPR All Things Considered and Debbie Waugh of the Historic Green Spring House in Alexandria, VA! To see the original recipe and listen to the original story, click here!
Christmas pudding is a rich concoction of dried fruits, bound together with eggs and fat, enhanced with a little brandy, steamed and aged to bring out the flavor and then set on fire Christmas day. I make it Thanksgiving weekend so that it can age 4 weeks. While you can make it the day before Christmas, aging it makes it taste better. Wine gets better with age and so does Christmas pudding. In this case, the brandy is drawing out all the flavors in the dried fruits. (In the olden days people would have these hanging in sacks around their kitchen for up to a year! We're only talking 4-5 weeks here. And no, you don't need to refrigerate it!)
Christmas pudding is great because nothing that you've eaten in the past year will taste anything like it, it's a great spectacle for guests and it will make you feel like you're Martha Cratchit.
However, before you start making this, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have time to be at home all day?
- Am I willing to give up one of my ceramic/pyrex mixing bowls for the month of December?
- Will said bowl fit in a larger pot so I can steam it?
- Do I want an intimate knowledge of suet?
- Do I have parchment paper in the house?
- Do I have something like twine?
If you answered "no" to any of the above questions, you may want to reevaluate some things before you start.
What is suet? Well, suet is beef fat from around the kidneys. It is a very hard fat and thus can withstand 6 hours in a steamer. No, you cannot substitute butter. I'm sure there are vegetarian pudding recipes out there, but if you want to go traditional Dickensian, go for the suet.
Suet can be bought online. Be aware that it may take a few weeks to deliver since this product comes from England. Even if you see it on Amazon, observe the delivery times at checkout. You can also buy it ungrated at a butcher shop (call ahead). I purchase mine from Paulina Meat Market. They will give you a big old chunk that you need to grate yourself.
Last year I laboriously shredded the suet with a grater. This year I remembered that I had a Cuisinart and did it that way. Beware that suet is tough on any grater, so proceed with caution an patience.
Other things that might prove challenging to get are candied orange peel and dried black currants. Whole foods might have both, or try a specialty shop or a place like Middle Easten Bakery for the dried currants, also called zante. If you can't find one of the dried fruits, just make up the weight in a different fruit, like the raisins, so that you have the same amount in the whole recipe. As far as brandy goes, don't worry about whether it's cheap or expensive. You do you. This is a great recipe to get rid of that weird stuff someone brought you back from their travels that you probably won't drink. Now that we've dealt with the most challenging ingredients, here's the rest of the recipe! (Fun fact, many old recipes have 13 ingredients to represent the 12 apostles and Jesus Christ.)
- 9 oz brown sugar
- 9 oz suet, grated
- 14 oz golden raisins
- 14 oz raisins
- 9 oz dried black currants
- 5 oz candied chopped orange peel
- 5 oz plain flour
- 5 oz bread crumbs (white or brown)
- Grated zest of one lemon
- 6 eggs beaten*
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg*
- Pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup brandy*
*These are adjustments I made to the original recipe. The extra egg and extra 1/4 cup of brandy help cover all the dry ingredients and I cut down on nutmeg because, by god, a little goes a long way.
Use a LARGE mixing bowl, my biggest pyrex nesting bowl is great. And I use the next size down in the nesting bowls to put my pudding in. Add flour, bread crumbs, sugar, spices, lemon zest and salt. Get these ingredients good and mixed. Add suet and get it good and coated.
Next, add in ALL your dried fruit. Your flour mixture should nicely coat it.
Once that is set, add your brandy in and stir. This will help wet the dry ingredients so the eggs can be incorporated more easily. This will also be when your kitchen starts smelling like Victorian Christmas. Next add in your eggs. You should end up with a sticky mess.
Next comes the pudding basin. NOTE: They sell metal ones online. Being that this recipe calls for aging it for 4 weeks, using metal makes me extremely nervous. You don't want your pudding to taste like pennies. I've also read that a lot of these molds rust. This is a lot of work for your pudding to taste like rust. You can buy an official ceramic pudding basin like one of these with a nice big lip to tie your string around. But I just use the second biggest pyrex nesting bowl.
Butter your bowl. I take a tablespoon of butter and use my hands to spread it around. Then transfer your pudding to your pudding basin and pack it down with the back of a spatula. Get a sheet of parchment paper and make a fold down the middle. This paper goes over your pudding and tied down with twine. The fold allows the pudding to expand without ripping the paper. Having a larger lip on your bowl makes this easier. The pyrex bowls are not ideal, but they work. See pictures below!
Now you're ready to steam. Put your bowl into a steamer. If you don't have a steamer, use a regular pot with something like a trivet at the bottom. Fill with about 2 inches of water. Since there are a lot of minerals in tap water, filter yours, or even buy distilled water since the mineral deposits will often bake on to the bowl. (This is not a huge deal, it comes off!) Steam the pudding for 5-6 hours and make sure to keep an eye on things because you may need to replenish the water. Nobody likes a burnt pot.
When you've successfully sat drinking wine and listening to Christmas music for 6 hours, turn the burner off and wait for the pot to COMPLETELY COOL DOWN. This is important since you are going to have to reach in and pull that bowl out. Please don't burn yourself. Even if you are excited to peak at your pudding (it's actually not much to look at). You can also use oven mitts.
Once it's safe to get it out, replace the parchment paper and twine and put somewhere cool and dark until Christmas. Last year I literally just had this on my counter top. I have a new cat this year and I don't trust him, so I'm going to put it somewhere that I can close the door.
To serve, re-steam for an hour. Use nice big old over mitts to get this out of the steamer. Turn onto a plate. It will be heavy and it should release from the bowl nicely.
Now here's the fun part. You are now going to set the pudding ON FIRE to represent the passion of the Christ. Get a METAL ladle. Do NOT USE PLASTIC. Put about 1/2 cup of brandy in it and set on fire and pour flaming brandy over the pudding. You really need a visual for this so here it is.
Please note that while using more than 1/2 cup of brandy might sound like fun, you don't want your pudding to be on fire for that long. It will get a little burnt on the outside.
I like to serve this with a really dry champagne and some whipped cream while listening to "We Wish You A Merry Christmas".
PS The most important part about this is the company. For one, it's Christmas, spread the love. Secondly, this pudding is deliciously rich and dense and despite what the original recipe says, I could have easily served 16 people a slice of this last and still had leftovers.