Well, one can deny it no longer: the season is upon us. The season of snowdrifts and blizzards and brilliant blue skies. The season of children throwing snowballs at each other and throwing themselves down hills on toboggans and sleighs. The season of hot, mulled apple cider; of long, lazy evenings spent adrift on the couch in front of the blazing fire and the season of baking to beat all baking. The kitchen here at lick your own bowl has been a beautiful scene of domestic industry the last few weeks. I find that even people who don’t usually do any baking will pop a batch off cookies in the oven at this time of year. I love the baking, even after a week in the kitchen mixing and rolling and washing, when my shoulders are tender and my back is aching. Last year I stuck to fairly traditional Christmas cookies: gingerbread men, peanut butter cookies, molasses drops and choc orange harlequins. This year I decided to mix it up a little and add a bit of Grown-up to the mix. I made Italian Amaretti, Spiced chocolate sandwiches with cinnamon and chili and Pepparkakors. I also whipped up a batch of mice pies from Nigella Lawson’s ‘Domestic Goddess’ and a batch of mini apple tarts in a cheddar pastry for our Christmas party.
I do love the Christmas/Holiday/Winter season. Whatever your roots and however you like to celebrate it you have to admit that if you take advantage of all the season has to offer you can not help but love it. Living in a foreign country with no family near by has brought me to the conclusion that this season is very much what you make of it. Am I going to let a silly thing like being far from home stop me from Christmassing myself and those around me ’till the cows come home? I think not. And part of that is either creating your own new traditions, or continuing on those that have been with you since childhood.
When I was a little girl my grandmother used to live with us. Aren’t I lucky? Well, more than you know! While the granny-flat my grandparents lived in didn’t have a big old kitchen, and granny didn’t do an awful lot of baking in it, at Christmas time there would be cookies galore and most important of all, a few, big Christmas Puddings hanging above the window waiting for the day we each got a bowl of the warm, sticky, sweet pud and tucked through it to find the hidden coins somewhere in there. Some of us children (and there was an entire gang of us on Christmas day) didn’t really like the more adult flavours of the pudding, but boy, that didn’t stop any of us if there was money to be found! Now, I haven’t resurrected that particular little gem of a tradition before, but by golly a Christmas dinner is just not a Christmas dinner without a pudding.
I asked my Mom if she still had the original recipe for the pudding, but life being what it is, it has gotten lost in the drift of various house moves and general life. After much research and a kind gift of a recipe from a honest-to-goodness British family friend, I concocted a new recipe that I’m hoping will be made for many years to come.
So, a few things about Christmas pudding: I’ve found that the Canadians I’ve encountered so far don’t really know what to do with a Christmas pud. I gave a bunch of little ones away last year as gifts, with illustrated instructions, and you can imagine my horror when I discovered that all were thrown away because (a) nobody knew just what to do with the pud (b) the instructions seemed too foreign and (c) they all figured that after a week/month of the pud sitting in the cupboard it would surely no longer be any good. Oh my. I still have one small pudding in my cupboard that I saved from last year, religiously sprinkling with brandy every now and again, that I intend to eat with the gleeful Mr P on boxing day. Le sigh.
Now, you can pop off to your local deli/gourmande and pic up a ready made little plastic tub of pud, which you could nook on the day. And take all the joy out of it while you’re about it. Look, it really isn’t that difficult a thing to make and once you’ve done it once you’ll wonder why you ever thought it a chore. So, in the hope that it will encourage a few folks out there to make their own this year, I set out a little photo essay on making Christmas Pud.
I’m not going to give you the recipe this year, just the basic technique. There are plenty of good recipes out there. I like the ones that use Guinness, or some other dark stout, and I like to use a lot of different types of dried fruit, not just raisins, currants and dates. I particularly like dried cherries, blueberries, apricots, cranberries and lots of dried figs. The hardest part is the mixing of the pud, which does take a little elbow grease, but traditionally a family lets everyone have a stir, making a wish while doing so, to impart all the joy and hopes of each family member onto the pud (sweet, huh?) so it can be a lot less work, and more fun that way.
Once the batter is all mixed up, you divvy it out into pudding basins (I prefer the cream ceramic ones, but glass or plastic will do if that’s what you have), seal the bowls with a layer of foil and parchment, and steam for 6 – 8 hours. Once the puds are steamed, you uncover them, prick holes all the way through with a skewer and tipple a little brandy or rum over the top, reseal the puds and put in the cupboard. Once a week you can open them up and check, tipple a little more brandy/rum and reseal. You can (in fact, you should) make these babies well in advance to let the flavours develop. I use these as my introduction to Christmas baking, making them up towards the mid/end of November, but you can make them as early as October if you like. They last as long as you can bear to not eat them, just keep checking them once in a while (about once a month or so is fine) and keep adding a little alcohol to the top.
The easiest way to steam a pud is in a pot with an upside down saucer on the bottom, with water coming half way up the pudding basin sides. With the stove on a low setting, a and a very, very gentle simmer going on, you can happily leave the puds steaming merrily away for the 6 – 8 hours while you carry on with life en general. On the day you want to eat them, they do require a further steaming of around 2 hours before serving.
I unmould the pudding onto the serving plate, top with a sprig of holly and flambe with some brandy/vodka at the table. Traditionally one would serve it with brandy butter, but I personally find this too rich and prefer plain, whipped cream.
Fill your pudding basin, leaving about an inch to the rim:
Layer a piece of foil over a piece of baking parchment, large enough to cover the top of the pudding basin with a good two inch over hang. Fold a pleat down the middle so there’s space for steam and pudding to expand while steaming:
Cover the basin firmly:
Cut a piece of kitchen string long enough to wrap around the top of the basin four times. Now wrap the string around the basin, under the rim, twice and secure with a knot, leaving a long piece of string, like a tail:
Pull the ‘tail’ back over the top of the basin, giving a little slack:
Tie the tail firmly to the string wrapped under the rim, to create a handle:
Now you ca safely lift the pudding into and out of the pot for steaming. Trim the overhanging foil/parchment to a bit less than an inch.
When you’ve steamed the pudding, remove the cover, skewer and tipple with your choice of booze and allow to cool. When cool, recover (you may want to cut new seals, with the pleat and all, if the first ones were ruined in the steaming) and retie the string. I leave the handle tieing until the day I want to steam them again, so that I can more easily unseal them to add some brandy.
Here’s wishing you all a very merry, safe and warm holiday season wherever you may be. May you be well fed and a little plumper at the end of it all.
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