This guest post comes to us via Alicia of Jaybird fame. When she’s not making a mess in the kitchen, she tries her hand at home DIY projects and elaborate picnics. Go be friends! Twitter /Facebook.
“In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered: flushed, but smiling proudly: with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”
– A Christmas Carol
, Charles Dickens
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.
“Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage.”
No wonder one dish caused such a celebration: it turns out that traditional plum pudding is rather a project. The pudding is often made right after Christmas, then stored and regularly infused with whiskey or rum for months until the celebration rolls around again. Often, a key ingredient is suet, or beef or mutton fat, which is less common these days than it was in Dickensian England.
To introduce this classic Christmas food to a modern celebration, I chose a recipe that uses butter instead (making this a happily vegetarian pudding) and that takes just a week of time in the fridge before its unveiling. You’ll need two special pieces of equipment: a 2-quart pudding mold or metal bowl, and a large stockpot fitted with a rack or steamer to hold the mold off the bottom of the pot.
The welcoming smell of nutmeg, cinnamon and whiskey floats through the house as the pudding steams for six hours. Sticky dried fruit and bitter orange marmalade keep this cake-like pudding unbelievably moist as it cooks. Coincidentally, six hours is a perfect window of time to knock those holiday cards out of the way–clever girl!
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.”
Christmas Pudding (Plum Pudding)
– Serves 16 in one 2-qt. mold or two 1-qt. molds
3 cups packed coarse, fresh white breadcrumbs
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:
10 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
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.
Butter a 2-quart pudding mold or metal bowl. If you make two 1-qt. puddings, remember that you’ll have to go through the steaming process twice. Pour pudding into mold and top with parchment paper cut to the size of the mold. Cover tightly with heat-safe plastic wrap, then again with aluminum foil.
Fit a stockpot with a steamer or rack, place the pudding onto the rack, and fill the stockpot with water that comes ⅓ of the way up the outside of the pudding mold. Bring water to a simmer, then cover the pot and steam for 6 hours. Check every hour or so to make sure the water has not evaporated; if so, replenish.
After steaming, carefully uncover the mold to check for doneness. Press one finger to the pudding; if it springs back, it is done. Cool in the mold until room temperature, then cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for a week or longer.
To serve, prepare hard sauce by beating soft butter and powdered sugar together until fluffy, then adding salt and alcohol.
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.
For the optional flambé, slowly heat rum or brandy in a saucepan. Carefully light the alcohol on fire, then pour it over the hot plum pudding. Revel in the “oohs” and “aahs” of your guests.
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 saurce