Sunday 16 December 2007

SHF #38 Christmas Pudding

Last year I made the plum pudding for the family Christmas dinner for the first time. My mum was impressed with it but told me I should make it early enough for it to sit for a few weeks. So my dad put a reminder in this year’s diary that I was to make the pudding at the end of November. I didn’t get quite that organised but I did manage it last weekend.

It is only in the last year or so that I have realised the joy of steaming puddings but the others I have managed to make have been in a pudding basin, whereas I feel the traditional way to do the Christmas pudding is in a cloth. That is what my mum has always done. But this method presents me with many challenges.

Firstly, I would recommend having someone else about in case you need help – I did on a few occasions – and even if you don’t need help, they are good for venting your anguish when things don’t go smoothly. I have also added quite a few notes after the recipe to share what I have learned about making a Christmas pudding. It does seem a lot of work, but it does make me feel like a domestic goddess to be the creator of such a grand pudding.

However, be warned that if your companion(s) are not familiar with the art of making Christmas pudding, you may confront some ignorance, and even resistance. As E helped me hang the pudding, he grumbled that he felt like we were living in the dark ages and there should really be a Marks and Spencer where we could buy one. Later upon seeing my pudding in the cloth, he told me that it looked like something that eighteenth century ragamuffins would kick around a field. I was tempted to retain some air of mystery when he thought I was mixing the pudding in the washing machine (see Note 3 below) but I couldn’t be so cruel.

I have had a few conversations about how it is difficult to remember problems when you only make this pudding once a year. My plan is to return to my blog next year and remember all the problems before I repeat them. Hence my copious notes below.

It is still over a week til we eat it but I have had the opportunity to taste the pudding crumbs when we took it out of the cloth and it tastes good – decadently rich and fruity. And it smells divine – when I got home after it had hung a few hours, our house was fragrant with festive spices. I know it is not the prettiest pudding - reminds me a little of a nun at school who would call us suet puddings with raisins for eyes - but it tastes good. I am looking forward to a piece with custard on Christmas day and will report back.

Christmas Pudding
(adapted from The Essential Dessert Cookbook)
Makes 2 x 570ml or 1 x 1.2 litre pudding

200g currants and raisins
200g mixed fruit
200g dried figs, chopped
100g prunes, chopped
100g dried apricots, chopped
30g glace cherries
½ cup port (original recipe used brown ale)
2 tbsp whiskey (original recipe used brandy or rum)
Juice and zest of 1 orange
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
225g butter, grated (they use suet)
1⅓ cup soft brown sugar
3 eggs
2½ cups fresh white breadcrumbs (about 6 toast slices of bread)
¾ cup self raising flour
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp finely grated nutmeg
⅓ cup (60g) almonds, finely chopped

The day before you plan to make the pudding, place dried fruit, liqueurs, and citrus juice and zest in a large bowl. Stir well. Cover (I used a dinner plate) and leave overnight. See Note 1

Boil cloth for 20 minutes. Wring out (with rubber gloves or on spin cycle in washing machine). See Notes 2 and 3.

While the cloth is boiling, use a wooden spoon to mix fruit mixture with remaining ingredients. The recipe says if too stiff add some more brown ale, but I found mine was quite soft.

Prepare the cloth on a large clean space. See Note 4. I sieved about 1 ¼ cups of plain flour onto the cloth but should have used much more – maybe 2 or 3 cups next year (I was a bit worried about the butter in the water as it was boiling but there wasn’t too much and it didn’t seem to affect the final pudding).

Now tip the pudding mixture onto the centre of the cloth. Mine was a shaggy mess. Bring the points of the material together. My experience is that when you do this the flour slides down the sides – still haven’t worked out how to overcome this – maybe the cloth should be much wetter to allow more flour to stick to it. Gather the folds neatly together and tie a length of unwaxed string around the top, trying to leave as little gaps as possible, so no water can get in. See Note 5.

Now steam the pudding. See Note 6. Assuming you have a large saucepan with a steamer insert, pour a couple of inches boiling water in the bottom of the saucepan, place the pudding in the steamer and lower into the saucepan. Steam for about 5 hours, checking the water level every 30-60 minutes and top up as needed. Ideally, the water shouldn’t touch the pudding.

When you finish steaming the pudding, hang the pudding overnight in a well ventilated area where it will not touch anything else. See Note 7. This is to cool and dry out the cloth. Make sure the ends of the cloth are to the side and not dripping over the pudding.

The recipes says to unwrap the pudding , dry the cloth, rewrap and retie, and hang the pudding til you want to use it – apparently it will keep for up to 4 months. See Note 8 about how I stored it.

Steam pudding for 2 hours before you wish to serve it, hang for 15 minutes and remove from its cloth. If you have managed to have a floured crust serve wrinkled side down. Serve with custard, brandy butter and cream. This is a not a pudding for diets – it is a Christmas indulgence after all.


1. Preparation – Plan ahead. You need to soak the fruit overnight. But you also need to allow for 20 minutes to boil the cloth and about 5 hours for steaming the pudding. This is not a pudding to make on Christmas day – it is best to sit for a few weeks for the flavours to deepen. You also should make sure you have a cloth and string at the ready.

However, in some ways it is a forgiving recipe. I found you can put in the mixture of fruit that you like – just make sure it adds up to about 800-900g. You can also have some variation on the liqueurs and spices – as I did. If you forget to soak the fruit, it is possible to put the fruit mixture in a saucepan and gently heat til fruit warm and plump. And the steaming time doesn’t have to be exact – an hour either side of 5 hours should be fine. So plan but don’t stress.

2. Finding a cloth – this recipe calls for a cloth that is 80cm square. It seems odd to me that supermarkets seem full of ham cloths but I never see pudding cloths about. They suggest a piece of calico or an old teatowel. I don’t have odd bits of cloth about my place and I tried an old teatowel last year and it was too small. Finally in desperation I ripped an old pillow case open across the smaller seam and this has worked well for me.

3. Preparing the cloth – the pudding cloth has to be boiled for 20 minutes in boiling water so once this is finished the challenge is how to handle boiling pudding cloth. In my book they suggest wringing it with rubber gloves on. I prefer my mum’s way. It involves using taking it to the washing machine (which is in our bathroom), using tongs to get it out and put it in the washing machine on spin cycle. Much easier! Although you might get some strange comments from loved ones who think you are mixing the pudding in the washing machine (it took me a while to work out what E was talking about but I set him straight once I realised his misunderstanding)!

4. Flouring the cloth – this was a challenge. Last year it seemed too much and this year too little. Last year I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and found it difficult to get the flour evenly spread over the cloth and ended up tossing the cloth up in frustration. On no account should you do this – I had flour through my hair and all over the kitchen – if you are messy like me you end up with enough mess over the kitchen without adding to it. This year, I found that using a sieve helped to evenly cover the cloth with flour.

5. Tying the pudding. My other challenge this year was tying the pudding. My ball of string disappeared as I was about to tie the cloth and after a frantic search, E found me an unused shoelace (I trimmed it of the plastic ends). As soon as pudding was steaming away the ball of string miraculously reappeared from under a pile of receipts. Grrrr!

6. Steaming the pudding – this was not terribly difficult for me because I have a lovely steamer insert for my stockpot and I use this. The recipe gives quite complicated instructions about looping the string around a wooden spoon to lower pudding into pan of boiling water with a metal trivet set on its bottom.

7. Hanging the pudding – last year this was a huge challenge. The recipe says this pudding can hang in a cool dry place for up to 4 months. But first you have to hang the pudding to dry it out a little so you can take off the cloth and then rewrap it. Where do people hang puddings in kitchens? I don’t have a kitchen with room or hooks for such endeavours. The best I could come up with was hanging it in my shopping trolley. I was a little comforted to hear a friend say his mum used to turn a stool upside down and use the frame to hang the pudding. So it is not just me. And we did use the rubber gloves at this point to hang the pudding – quite stressful when you are handling a boiling pudding and trying to run out the door to get to the ballet! But E and I managed it with a lot of grumbling.

8. Storing the pudding – to store the pudding, as I mentioned above, the recipe suggests hanging it. But first it says to unwrap the pudding, to dry and clean the cloth (if you don’t, the cloth remains damp around the string and might make the pudding go mouldy) and the rewrap it. I struggled with untying the pudding cloth. It was either too damp to untie and the pudding would not be firm enough or it was too dry to untie and the pudding had dried to the cloth. I don’t have many answers to this but I can tell you what I did with the help of my mum who was visiting. We just peeled the cloth off the dryish pudding and there was pudding still clinging to the cloth. So we scraped off the pudding crumbs to be put aside for another use (such as truffles), and wrapped it in foil and put it in the fridge – my mum said it might be a bit humid in summer to leave it out. I am nervous about it lasting til Christmas day but I have checked it a few times and it still smells good. Mum said we will flour the cloth and rewrap the pudding to steam it on Christmas day. The recipe says the floured crust darkens during the weeks and months it hangs but unfortunately my pudding will miss out on this joy!

9. Money in the pudding – it was always traditional in my family to put coins in the pudding – as kids we loved the chink of the spoon on a coin. I don’t think we do it any more but if you want to I will tell you what my mum did. She used to boil the coins and then she would put them in the pudding just before serving rather than cooking the pudding with them in it.

10. Notes after Christmas Day - my family enjoyed the pudding on Christmas day and there was plenty leftover. It tasted wonderfully rich, spicy, loaded with fruity intensity. The combination of the meltingly soft pudding crumb and the cleansing texture of fruit is truly pleasing. But a few more lessons: My mum put the pudding on the bottom of the saucepan to reheat it in boiling water and the cloth was a write off - next time she said she will put an upturned saucer or some sort of trivet. Mum told me that I was meant to boil the pudding in a large saucepan of water rather than steaming it - I guess I feel too wary of putting a pudding in water and worry it wont stay together and will become pudding soup - but I guess many generations before me can't be wrong - maybe I will be brave enough to boil the pudding next year!

I am sending this entry to Zorra at kochtopf who is hosting Sugar High Friday this month with Pudding being the theme. See the round up for more puddings.

Update 29/12/2008 - see my 2008 pudding post for what I learnt about making the pudding this year.
Update Jan 2011 - 2010 pudding update - still having problems with flouring the cloth but making progress
Update Dec 2011 - 2011 pudding update - still problems with getting a nice crust but losing less pudding to the cloth - also quite a soft one due to a lot of soaking the fruit!

On the stereo
a dark noёl: the very best of excelsis projekt: various artists


  1. Wow, I'm impressed! Great job!

    Thank you for your particpation in SHF #38!

  2. You are a brave woman! Thanks for all the notes - I'm terrified of puddings and the like and need as much help as possible to attempt such a task.

    Love your shopping trolley solution, as well as the pillow case! Which ballet did you see?

  3. Thanks Zorra - I am looking forward to the round-up of all the puddings for SHF!

    Thanks Lucy - it is quite exciting to finally be making puddings because for years I have shared your terror - I now think one day I may be over it! And the ballet we saw was coppelia at the myer music bowl - magical stuff!

  4. Wonderful informative post. I won't be so afraid to try it now... :-)


  5. thanks Ann - it is a big undertaking but you can do it and the results are worthwhile!


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