I'm beginning to feel a little better and though my appetite has not really returned to normal, I did fancy getting back in the kitchen this weekend. With my mother due to have an operation shortly before Christmas this year, I have volunteered to take charge of the Christmas lunch. Young whipper-snapper that I am (or so I keep kidding myself), I have never before taken on this somewhat daunting responsibility so who knows how it will turn out! Fortunately, my mother will be on hand to dole out instructions and I have agreed to do the lunch on the understanding that she tells me EXACTLY how to deal with the turkey.
I thought I would start the preparations with the part with which I am familiar: the Christmas pudding. I have been in charge of 'the pudding' on several occasions so feel fairly confident with this. I love Christmas pudding and couldn't bear the thought of serving a different pudding on Christmas day. No chocolate yule log or cranberry bombe for me!
I am always surprised by the number of keen cooks who have never made their own Christmas pudding. Whilst there are many yummy ones available on the market, it is so satisfying making your own. More to the point, it is so EASY! The one thing it does require though, is time. Not that it takes much time to make. Just that it takes a long time to steam so you need to set aside a day to be 'in'. Of course, the moment I put the puds on to steam, there is always some sudden reason why I need to go out. Today, I realised that I didn't have any mushrooms for the casserole I plan to make tonight. I was brave - I left the pots bubbling away whilst I dashed out for 15 minutes. Someone did once suggest steaming them overnight, but I couldn't sleep knowing the gas flame was burning. I leave it up to you!
Christmas pudding-making is steeped in tradition. I am breaking a few 'rules' with this recipe - traditionalists use just 13 ingredients to signify Jesus and the apostles. I am afraid that I am too greedy and have used 23! I have not buried any treasures inside (a ring to signify impending marriage, coins to bring wealth for the coming year). I am not making it on 'stir-up Sunday' - the Sunday after Trinity. I want mine to mature for a little longer. I did, however, stir the mixture from East to West in honour of the three Kings and make a wish as I stirred!
The recipe is a version from a course I took years ago at The Edinburgh School of Food and Wine. It is very much a guide rather than a prescription. Vary the ingredients according to your tastes - add preserved ginger, dried apricots, other nuts, dried figs, whatever takes your fancy. I'd love to hear your suggestions.
If you haven't made a Christmas pudding before, I urge you to give it a try. It gets you in the mood for the festive season (albeit a little early) and feels your home with a gorgeous spicy aroma. Mmmm. Do not be put off by the long list of ingredients - the method is very simple and you don't need a steamer.
N.B. You need to start this recipe the night before you wish to steam the puddings.
Ingredients (to make 2 x 2lb puddings, or equivalent)
6oz self-raising flour
1 level tsp mixed spice
1 level tsp nutmeg
1 level tsp cinnamon
4 oz breadcrumbs
4 oz suet
1 large chopped Cox (or similar) apple
2oz mixed peel
3oz dark brown sugar
4oz glace cherries
4oz coarsely chopped almonds
2 tbsp treacle
1 orange - grated rind and juice
2 lemons - grated rind and juice
1/2 wine glass brandy
1/2 wine glass ale or stout
4oz ready to eat prunes
1 wine glass of Port
Equipment - pudding basin/s, greaseproof paper, silver foil
1. Place prunes in a bowl and cover with Port. Cover with clingfilm.
2. Mix together all other ingredients, excluding the eggs. Stir from East to West. If you have family present, ensure everyone has a stir (youngest to oldest). Each person gets to make one wish as they stir!
Cover with cling film and leave out overnight.
3. Next morning, chop the prunes (easiest with scissors) and pour into the mixture along with the Port from the bowl. Add the eggs and mix gently.
6. Butter your pudding basins - I used a 3 pint basin and 1 pint basin - and then divide the fill the basins with the mixture.
7. You now need to wrap the puddings in greaseproof paper and foil. To do this, cut a large rectangle of both the paper and the foil. Lay the greaseproof paper on top of the foil and butter the paper. Fold a pleat in the centre of the papers -
8. Place paper side down on top of the pudding with the pleat in the centre. Wrap tightly around the pudding basin to form a tight seal and tie with string.
Tie another piece of string from one side to the other to create a handle for lifting the pudding in and out of the pan. Tuck excess foil and paper up around the rim to create a watertight seal. For an excellent demonstration (and much clearer explanation of how to do this) - follow this link http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/content/knowhow/glossary/tie-a-pudding/
9. Now for the steaming. If you do not have a steamer, simply use a big pan, place an upturned saucer in the bottom and place the pudding on top. Fill pan with boiling water so that it comes half-way up the the pudding basin. Place the lid on top and steam on a low heat for a minimum of 6 hours and a maximum of 8 hours. I steamed my little one for 6 and the big one for 8.
10. Remove puddings from pans. Once cool, carefully remove the covering and re-cover with paper and foil in exactly the same way as before. Your puddings are now ready to rest peacefully in a cool cupboard until THE BIG DAY.
11. On Christmas Day, steam as before for 2-3 hours. Turn out onto an appropriately attractive plate, crown with holly and set alight!
12. Serve with brandy butter.Notes -
To set the pud alight, heat some brandy in a small pan. Take a ladleful out of the pan and light with a match. Pour over the pudding.
This makes 2 x 2lb puddings which will serve 6-8 people each. Why not give one away as a gift?