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Adventures in Christmas Pudding

This year, to make things easier on my mother-in-law, the family is doing Christmas pot luck style. On Tuesday, my Sister-in-law asked if we knew what the plans were and when we said no, she explained and then asked me if I could be assigned the desserts/pudding. I agreed, and so the brain started to churn…

When we got home, I asked Tim what he thought I should make and after a few suggestions got thrown out, Christmas Pudding was brought up. Now, it’s not really a “family favourite”, but it is Tim’s favourite. Most years we’ll pick up a few minis for Tim to have throughout the season and his mum will indulge him and get a pre-made one to go alongside whatever other dessert she’s made. Since the only thing I am responsible for this year is dessert, I have decided to make Christmas pud from scratch….with a little help from my friends.

I posted to Facebook, and my friend Vicky responded with some suggestions and answered all my questions. Some people make their puddings up to a YEAR before Christmas, and some only do theirs a few days in advance. I have decided to make mine this weekend, giving it plenty of time to ferment.

First, I needed a recipe. I have one from Jamie Oliver but no one I know has made it and I wanted a tried-and-true recipe. My friend Nicky linked me to recipes from the BBC and Delia, but she hadn’t tested those, either. Vicky came through for me again, and suggested a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I’ve never heard of him, but Vicky’s used his recipes in the past, so I was off to Google.

The next day I had Tim drop me off at Waitrose, armed with my grocery list. The most puzzling thing to find? the Brandy and Ale. There are LOADS of options. Again, I heeded Vicky’s advice and grabbed a hobgoblin to use.

Once home, I began measuring out the fruit — all 900g of it. It wouldn’t fit in my bowl by itself, let alone once I mix in everythng else! A check of the recipe shows that it makes two puds, so I’m going to half the recipe (I will post it below) where appropriate. Oh, and I may have just dumped 200ml of Brandy on the fruit even though the 2 pud recipe calls for only HALF the brandy (100ml)….I hope it’s not swimming in extra brandy!

As it turns out, I didn’t have to worry about extra brandy. A family emergency meant that my fruit soaked for 36 hours and they soaked up nearly all the brandy in the bowl.

I dutifully halved the recipe (that leaves a LOT left in a pint bottle of ale!) and the resulting mix was hideous. I wrapped the top in clingfilm and am leaving it alone for overnight…

The next morning, I peeled back the cling film and the mixture looked decidedly dry, so I gave it a quick stir and topped it up with a glug from the ale bottle.

I packed it into my buttered basin and I was shocked to discover I have LOADS of pudding mix leftover. I might wind up with two after all, or maybe I can do a mini pud for a taste test.

I prepped the crock pot for steaming, and made a single size pupping to cook on the stovetop.

the mini pud was a FLOP. I only steamed it for about an hour/hour and a half because the instructions on one of the mini puddings from M&S say to steam for 1/2 hour, so I thought as those are pre-cooked and the instruction for re-heating a full-size pud are to steam it for half the time you originally steamed it for that I would do it for an hour. Probably more like an hour and a bit. Tim didn’t like it. He made faces when he tasted it….and I made a face when I tasted it as I could taste the raisins and suet. Ew. So my conclusion is that I didn’t steam it for long enough so as there is LOADS of mix leftover, I’m going to try another mini pudding tomorrow. But the big one is still in the crock pot (been cooking since 4PM, so now about 6 hours). The water level is fine and apparently you can’t oversteam, so I think I might leave it go overnight or at least until I wake up in the middle of the night to use the loo.

I set my alarm for 7, but I woke up around 5, and then again at 6, so I decided to get up and check it. The downstairs smells “like Christmas” as some of the other blogs suggest and peeking through the small gap of the foil I can see a dark colour – much darker than the mini pud I turned out yesterday. The water level has barely moved (though I did top it up last night a little higher than the original instructions say to), so I flipped the crock to high for the last hour, and got to work making another tester mini pud.

And after 15 hours of steaming….I declare it done. you know how you’re supposed to make a handle out of string? Yeah, my string got wet and HOT. Owwwww. The pudding is now cooling in it’s basin. I noticed some water has gotten in through the foil around the bottom, and the foil that was submerged in the water has gone black. Mini pudding is still steaming away.

You can find the original recipe I followed here and the original crock pot instructions here, but here’s my modified recipe (remember: I cut the original in half and still have enough filling for 2 puddings and 2 mini puddings. It’s possible I have a small basin, but it looks like a normal one….)

Hugh calls his recipe Grandma Jane’s, so here is Rebecca Jane’s

You will need:

450g dried vine fruits (Waitrose sells a bag labeled vine fruits, otherwise a combination of raisins and sultanas will do. I also tossed in a handful of mixed peel and some craisins)
200ml brandy
55g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
85g suet (I used 30% less fat veggie suet)
85g dark muscovado sugar (aka brown sugar)
20g flaked almonds
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp marmalade
110g fresh white breadcrumbs (This equaled about 4 white finger rolls. I blitzed them with my stick blender to get a fine crumb)
2 eggs, whisked
150ml ale or stout (I used Hobgoblins). (You mght need extra, so don’t go drinking the rest yet)
Butter

Other things you need:
Pudding basin
Parchment Paper
Aluminum to me, Aluminium to some foil
string
2 mixing bowls
crock pot
boiled water
heat-resistant cereal bowl or saucer

Step One: Put the fruit in a bowl and cover with 200ml of brandy. Cover with clingfilm and leave overnight. Mine wound up soaking for 36 hours due to a family emergency.

The Next Day

Step Two: Sift together the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt. It’s a good idea to tick off the ingredients as you add them so you don’t get confused as the list is long. Mix in the rest of the items in this order: suet, fruit (add any dregs of brandy not absorbed), almonds, lemon zest & juice, marmalade, breadcrumbs, beaten eggs, ale. cover with clingfilm and let the mixture rest overnight.

Day Three

Check your mix. Give it a stir. If it looks too dry, add a splash more of ale.

Step Three: Butter your pudding basin. Cut a round out of parchment paper that fits the bottom of the basin, put that on top of the butter and then butter the paper, too. Fill basin with mix (I filled mine as high as a half inch from the top).

Step Four: Now, here’s where it gets tricky. You have to prepare the pudding for it’s steam bath. Take some parchment paper and make a pleat in it (fold it like a Z). Put the pleated paper on top of your pudding basin, and use string to tie the paper down. Trim off the excess paper. Next, you will need to use your Aluminum foil and if you are cooking this in the crock pot, you will want to completely wrap your pudding basin (save for a very small gap at the top) in foil. To make it easier to lift, you can make a handle by tying string package-style around the basin and leaving a loop on the top to lift with.

Step Five: Boil the kettle. Place your cereal bowl or saucer upside down in the crock pot and put the pudding on top of it. Check to make sure the lid will fit securely and that the pudding is not touching the walls of the crock pot. Add boiling water to the crock pot until it reaches 3/4 of the way up the pudding basin. Cover and cook on HIGH heat for 4 hours, LOW heat for 10, and switch it back to HIGH for the last hour. you should check the water levels about halfway through, but as I steamed mine on low overnight I topped up the water before I went to bed and it was fine.

Step Six: Carefully lift the pudding out of the crock pot by the string and set to one side. Be careful as water may have accumulated between the foil and basin. Allow to cool, then carefully unwrap the pudding. Poke holes in the top with a fork and pour on a few more tablespoons of brandy or ale. Tightly wrap in clingfilm and store in a cool, dry place (NOT the fridge) until Christmas day. I wrapped mine in two layers of clingfilm, a layer of foil, and put the whole thing in a Zipper-topped bag.

If you want to follow tradition, you can place foil-wrapped coins into the pudding before re-heating.

To re-heat on Christmas day you can re-wrap your pudding in an additional layer of clingfilm and then foil and steam in the crockpot for two and a half hours on high or you can microwave it to warm it up.

To serve: heat a ladle of brandy over a gas stove top (or heat in a pan). Carefully light the brandy on fire and tip over the pudding once at the dinner table.

Christmas Pudding is best served with brandy butter or creame. I bought mine pre-made at Waitrose, so I don’t have a recipe to share.

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