We have had a brief hiatus from Christmas preparations with Halloween and Bonfire Night, but this weekend I’ve got back to the task of preparing for Christmas. This weekend was the turn of the pudding.
I started making my own Christmas puddings several years ago as an experiment and you know what – it’s way better than the things that you get from the shops. It also gives you a great sense of achievement. It does takes ages to steam though. Also, the recipe does make masses of Christmas pudding, but then we usually make two and give one away to great friends of ours, the McMurrays.
I like to be a bit nerdy with the stout or beer that I use. I like to find something a bit special, slightly quirky. This year I have used Titanic Stout from the Potteries, brewed at the Titanic Micro-brewery run by Dave and Keith Bott in Burslem Stoke-on-Trent. It is the CAMRA Champion Bottled Beer of Britain for 2009. Titanic Stout is full-tasting and full of character, with a roasted grain, coffee, licquorice and tangy hop resin aromas.
Another great thing about using beer rather than the brandy that most chefs use is that (and anyone who’s done the maths will see where I’m going) you’ve bought a 500ml bottle of gorgeous beer but only need 150ml, so in the best “waste not want not” attitude I think I better enjoy the rest of the beer myself!
This year I am also reviving an old tradition and have stuck some Christmas favours into the Christmas pudding. Silver charms were popular in the past, with the traditional shapes like a boot (for travel), ring (for marriage), a button (lucky for men) or silver sixpences for general good fortune. To stop them tainting the pudding, I have wrapped the coin tightly in baking paper.
The recipe I’ve got down below is an evolving recipe. I think that my original recipe came from a Keith Floyd book, but I’ve looked back at his books and I must have changed it a heck of a lot over the years as it bears no relation to his recipes anymore.
That’s one of the things I love about real cooking – you start with the germ of an idea (either from a book, something your mum does or just something that seems to fit with the ingredients you’ve got in front of you) and then you play with it, changing ingredients for those that you’ve actually got in the cupboard or just because they seem to have the right taste, then (when it works) you’ve got your own recipe. I guess what I mean is don’t be beholden to a recipe book, you’re your own best cook – experiment and play and the more enjoyment you have in doing the experimentation the more happiness will flow into your food.
This recipe does 2 x 1.2 litre puddings, so if you want only the one pudding, simply halve the quantities.
25og/ 9oz vegetarian suet (you can use Atora if you want)
350g/ 12oz sultanas
350g/ 12oz raisins
250g/ 8oz currants
50g/ 2oz almonds
100g/ 4oz mixed peel (I use Crazy Jacks)
75g/ 3oz glace cherries, snipped with scissors (use Crazy Jacks as it includes no horrible added colours)
75g/ 3oz crystallised or stem ginger, snipped with scissors
350g/ 12oz Fairtrade dark Barbados sugar, such as Traidcraft Muscovado
2 grated eating apples
250g/ 9oz fresh white breadcrumbs
175g/ 6oz plain flour, sieved (we use Sunflours who are a fab local hand miller of flours)
1tsp Steenbergs organic Fairtrade mixed spice
1tsp Steenbergs nutmeg powder
½tsp fleur de sel
6 free-range organic eggs
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
Grated rind and juice of 1 orange
1tsp Steenbergs natural almond extract
150ml/ ¼ pint pint stout
Toast the almonds in an oven for 5 minutes or so. Mix all dry ingredients together. Beat the eggs; add lemon, orange, Steenbergs almond extract and stout. Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in all other ingredients and stir thoroughly.
Now make a wish! Cover and leave somewhere cool overnight.
Turn into greased basins, cover with butter papers and a double layer of cloth. Sneak a silver coin into the mixture; I wrapped a cleaned 20p or 50p piece in some baking paper and push it into the mix. Tie securely with string going right round the bottom of the bowl to make a strong handle to lift the bowl.
Steam for about 7 hours.
On Christmas Day, steam again for about 1½ hours or until heated right through.
To flame the Christmas pudding, place the cooked pudding on a plate with a decent curve. Then warm 2 – 3 tablespooons of brandy or whisky (I use whisky) without boiling. Pour over the Christmas pudding then set alight with a match, being very careful not to set yourself alight! I am sure there was a useful purpose for the flaming ritual but nowadays it’s just for the flamboyant show.