21/12/2006

Christmas Pudding

traditional Christmas pudding
Christmas Pudding
Serves 4-6 per pudding

Ingredients:
120g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch salt
150g shredded suet (regular or vegetarian)
120g breadcrumbs
60g ground almonds
120g demerara sugar
120g raisins
120g sultanas
120g currants
90g chopped mixed peel
1 lemon, grated rind and juice
4 eggs, beaten
330ml brown ale or beer

Method:
Grease two 600-ml overnproof basins (or pyrex bowls), or three 400ml ones. Place the flour, spices and salt into a bowl, then stir in everything else, to make a soft dropping consistency. Put into the basins evenly, leaving a gap at top of about 2cm. Cover each with a double layer of greasefree paper with pleats in it, to allow the pudding to rise, then cover with a similar piece of foil.

Secure with string round the rim, or ensure that the foil is tightly against the edge of the basin. Place each one in a pan with water to come half way up the sides, or a steamer, and simmer for about six hours, checking the water frequently to ensure it does not dry out.

Either serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate, then simmer a further 2 hours before eating. Turn out carefully onto a plate. Traditionally served with sweet cornflour sauce or brandy butter. 


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This is a traditional Christmas pudding, usually served as dessert in the UK and elsewhere on Christmas day. It used to be known as 'plum pudding', and some recipes contain dried plums or prunes, but this is closest to the variation I grew up with. For some reason it is not appreciated, generally by those from the USA, and shredded suet is not easily available there; so I have not included imperial measurements.

Note that the quantities of dried fruit included can be adjusted so long as the total remains the same. If you do not like dried peel, for instance, leave it out and include an extra 90g of other dried fruit. If you have bags of 'mixed dried fruit', often available in supermarkets in December, you can simply use 450g mixed dried fruit in place of the raisins, sultanas, currants and peel.

Do not worry that the mixture looks pale, gloopy and decidedly unappetising - something like this photo - when you have poured in all the ingredients and mixed them together. I was quite worried about it the first time I made Christmas puddings, and wondered if my recipe had somehow missed out some black treacle, or something else to give the dark colour I expected.

I then learned that the steaming process makes the pudding go dark brown as well as making it set. This is why it takes so long to cook; if you use pyrex bowls, you can check to see if it's done, although if you plan to re-steam it later, you can get away with about four hours the first time, so long as you give it a lot longer on the day you plan to eat it.

If you are going to steam the puddings individually in large saucepans, it's a good idea to use string around the sides, and to loop extra string over the top so as to make it easier to remove them, particularly when you want to serve them, as they will be hot. It's also vital to be in the house and to check regularly - water needs to come about half-way up the sides of the pan - no higher, or there will not be sufficient steam to cook them properly - but it must not be allowed to dry out, so you will need to keep topping it up with boiling water.

This is why I use my three-tier steamer, which switches itself off after an hour if nobody turns it on again, so it will not run out of water if it is forgotten. It has the advantage that you can see the colour of the puddings as they steam, so you should see when they start to go darker.

Some people like to set the puddings briefly on fire before serving; we have never managed to do this (and don't even try, usually) but apparently the secret is to pour a little hot brandy on the top, and then set a match to it. However, this is entirely unnecessary!

These puddings look rather small for six people, but they are quite rich, and if served after a large turkey meal nobody is likely to want a huge amount.

Christmas pudding can easily be re-heated, either by re-steaming, or in the microwave. If you use the latter method, note that the dried fruit can get VERY hot.

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