Sunday, May 8, 2011

It's Pudding Time

Traditions are something that seem to fall by the wayside in our busy modern lives. But I love traditions so much that I actually make up a few of my own. There's the federal election dinner party that my best friend and I alternate hosting, which is great fun, providing it culminates in an actual result by the end of the night. (Hung parliaments tend to result in far too late and too much alcohol evenings)
Then there's my very famous 'Christmas in July' which has achieved such status that it's spoken of with fondness by it's participants, and differentiated in terms like "the one when you did the 'duck in muscat' "or "the one where I are too much pork crackling".
This year I will blog my planned degustation menu and include some of the recipes too.

Mother's day, for some reason, has become my traditional Christmas pudding making weekend. Partly because I need puddings for two Christmas celebrations over the course of the year, but also because it has a tendency to be the perfect weekend weather wise. I can tell you (because I make a point of noticing such things) that mothers day weekend is often the first really chilly weekend leading us into winter. It's also a weekend when my florist husband is at work for most of the time, meaning that the boys and I are home with no other plans on a dreary weekend........ I know only one cure for that kind of weekend; Cooking something that takes a lot of time.

The first pudding I ever made was from a recipe from an old Women's Weekly cookbook, where they always specify to use pre-prepared mixed fruit from the supermarket. While I was doing that I realized that those bags of fruit contain a few things that I don't really like, namely, this red and green cherries (are they really cherries anyway?), and the mixed citrus peel that I find bitter. Why spend all this preparation time on ingredients I don't want to eat, I asked my self? It was then that I began to alter the recipe and choose my own ingredients, using a variation of dried fruits that appealed more to my tastes.

This pudding batter can be cooked in a cloth, but I prefer to use a pudding basin and steam it in a large pot on my stove top. My sister has made many puddings in the past and prefers the cloth method, but she's had a few disasters that way. For me, the cloth method is just to fraught with risks like scorching the cloth if the pot should run dry, the cloth can split and you end up with Christmas soup instead of pudding, or the contents can stick to the surface of the cloth. I have shied away because I was reluctant to put so much time and effort in, only to risk losing the whole thing.

I have used a variety of cooking containers in the past, ranging from traditional ceramic pudding basins to ordinary mixing bowls to achieve a different size or shape. I have also used muffin tins to produce small individual puddings but these require the surface to be covered and weighed down to produce a flat bottom rather than a muffin shape. I also bake these in the oven placing them in a tray of water as a bain-marie, giving the effect of steaming.

Baby puddings ready to be cooked
This year I am using a metal pudding basin with a volume of 1.5 litres, which comes complete with a lid so I don't have to create a tight fitting lid of my own from baking paper, foil and string (often tricky to do on one's own, with only a toddler to help tie the string!) I will make 2 large puddings and 24 tiny bite sized ones to serve as part of an 'assiette' of desserts at my Christmas in July party.

Why make the puddings so far away from Christmas I hear you all shouting at me?! Well, I'm glad you asked.... So long as the pudding is well stored, it develops much more pronounced flavours and moistens over time. The professionals say you can keep them for up to 1 year but you should check them at regular intervals (ie 3 monthly) to check they are not going mouldy. I keep mine in my pantry, which is in an area of my house that is not subject to huge temperature variation and stays relatively cool and I have never had a problem. I have had puddings that were more than 12 months old and they were so moist and the development of the flavours was amazing. If you have a cellar or a larder then that is the place for your puddings. But otherwise, just find a cupboard away from anything that heats up, or sunshine, to store yours. Failing that, leave it in your refrigerator but make double sure it is very well wrapped and in something airtight since fridges tend to dry things out, then remove and put it in your pantry it a month before you want to serve it.


*this recipe makes enough batter for a  4 litre basin.  2x2 litre puddings is the easiest to negotiate. If you are making half of the recipe, use 2 small eggs instead of 3 large ones in the whole amount.

250gm dates, without the seed
300gm raisins
250gm dried figs (soft ones)
200gm dried pears
200gm dried peaches
150gm currants
150gm dried cranberries
zest of 2 lemons
zest of 2 oranges
2 cups of water
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon salt
250gm butter
2 teaspoons bicarb soda
3 eggs
1/4 cup dark rum
1 cup brandy
4 cups plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2of a nutmeg, freshly grated
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup of water & 1 cup caster sugar to candy citrus zest.


Finely chop all of the dried fruit with the exception of the dates. This can be done by hand or in a food processor if you prefer a finer end product. (if you do use a food processor, process small amounts at a time and pulse so that the fruit is not pureed.)
For the dates, place in a saucepan with 1 cup of the water. bring to a simmer and remove from heat. allow to stand until you are ready to use the rest of the fruit.
Prepare pudding basin (if you are using one) by greasing well and flouring. I place a measured disc of baking paper at the bottom of the basin to prevent sticking. Make sure you have a very large stock pot that has at least 2 cm larger in circumference than the pudding bowl, and be deeper with a well fitting lid.
With a vegetable peeler, peel the zest from the oranges and lemons in large strips. Chop these strips width wise and set aside.
Combine the dried fruit in a large bowl, add brandy and toss through with hands. Cover with cling film and leave to absorb over night or for at least 4 hours.

Fruit soaking in brandy

In a large sauce pan or heavy based cooking pot, place butter, fruit and the dates, spices sugars, salt and the rest of the water. Cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking to the base. Simmer uncovered over a low heat for 8 minutes and them remove from heat and add bicarb soda, stirring in well.

Stripped citrus zest

chopped zest
While the fruit is simmering, take the zests and cover with cold water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then drain zest. In small saucepan, combine sugar and water, and boil until syrup has begun to form. Add zests and simmer for 7 or 8 minutes, or until the zest becomes transparent. Drain and add zest to dried fruit mixture. When the fruit mixture is no longer hot, (warm or completely cold is fine), beat eggs and rum together well with a fork or whisk and stir through the mixture. Sift flour and baking powder into the mixture and stir well.

Transfer into prepared pudding basin. If your basin has no lid of its own, cover with a sheet of baking paper followed by a sheet of foil. Tie on around the edge with cooking string, and tie a piece of string across the top of the foil in order to create a handle to lift the pudding out easily. Place a trivet or an upside down saucer on the bottom of the cooking pot. Place pudding basin into the pot and fill  with water to the level of halfway up the pudding basin. (preboiled water straight from the kettle is easiest, and you don't have to wait as long for it to boil)

Cooked fruit with zest added
Boil over a medium heat for 4 hours, checking occasionally to make sure of the water level. Add more hot water as necessary.
After 4 hours, lift pudding from pot, and turn upside down onto a clean tea towel to cool.
Once cold, wrap in 2 layers of cling film and place into an airtight container or large zip lock bag, and store in a cool place until required.
When ready to serve, replace into pudding basin and steam for 1 hour,( or cheat and microwave with small container of water in the oven).
Serve with flambe brandy, runny custard, ice cream, macerated fresh fruit or all of the above.
Pudding basin in a stock
Pot with a steamer insert
makes it much safer when
removing at the end.

So tell me please, if you will, what traditions do you keep alive?

Do you have any invented ones like mine?

I want to hear all about them so please leave me a comment below!

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1 comment:

  1. Ok I really do not like pudding but I have to say I have had Annies pudding and went for a second bowl it was so have to keep this recipe forever! It's hard to find a good recipe that really turns out so good!