In a quarter century of Christmases, I have only experienced plum pudding through the pages of A Christmas Carol. Dickens’ classic tale of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation includes a vision of a traditional British Christmas celebration at the Crachit family home.
The highlight of their holiday is the emergence of Mrs. Crachit’s Christmas pudding, a steamed creation alight with flaming brandy. The rich dessert is a generous once-a-year indulgence for the poor Crachit family, and everyone rejoices when the pudding comes out.
Top each small slice with a generous helping of boozy buttercream, fancily known as “hard sauce”. Pro tip: when baking with spirits, make sure to use only alcohol that you would enjoy drinking.
The flavor makes a huge difference. Done right, the hard sauce is a light, fluffy contrast to the decadence of pudding made with sweet dried fruits.
“Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding.”
Plum Pudding recipe from ‘A Christmas Carol’
– Serves 16 in one 2-qt. mold or two 1-qt. molds
1 cup raisins
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup dried plums OR currants
¼ cup fresh cranberries
1 ½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon mace
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup or 2 sticks melted, unsalted butter plus more for greasing molds
½ teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
a few drops almond extract
½ cup bitter orange marmalade
½ cup bourbon or dark rum
* Hard sauce:
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons brandy or cognac
Optional: the flaming finale & garnish
½ to 1 cup rum or brandy
½ cup pomegranate seeds to garnish
Tear bread into small pieces and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the S-blade. Pulse 10x to form rough crumbs, then remove crumbs to a large mixing bowl. Add raisins, plums or currants and cranberries to the food processor and process on high for 15-20 seconds or until finely chopped.
Stop processing before fruits turn into a paste. Add the fruit to the mixing bowl. Put all remaining ingredients in the food processor and pulse until mixed. Pour the mixture into the mixing bowl and stir until evenly combined.
Pudding should be served warm. There are a couple options for this: you can reheat the pudding in the mold by simmering for about an hour, or you can unmold the pudding by bringing it to room temperature and warming the mold slightly, then turning the pudding out onto a deep plate.
Cover the pudding and plate with vented plastic wrap, then reheat in the microwave til very warm. A word of caution: the pudding is very sticky! Once you turn it out onto a plate, it’s best to keep it there and not try to transfer it to a different serving plate.
Serve with generous dollops of hard sauce and tart pomegranate seeds. Happy holidays!
Recipe: adapted from Making Life Delicious, originally by Julia Child
* Obviously, if you’re serving this at a family function, maybe keep the kids away from the hard sauce