So I mentioned last week that I’d been making candied peel for use in loads of traditional British Christmas recipes. Well one of the things I made with that candied peel is Christmas puddings. I think Christmas puddings are probably one of the more difficult British foods for Americans to get their heads around, mostly because the word ‘pudding’ has come to mean something completely different in America. A traditional British pudding is more like a cake than anything else, although it is steamed rather than baked, tends to be a bit denser and is usually served warm with some kind of warm sauce, such as custard. Puddings come in many different flavors, from lemon and chocolate, to sticky toffee and ‘Christmas’ (also called figgy pudding or plum pudding) which is basically dried fruit and spices. The word ‘pudding’ is also used in British English as a general term to refer to any dessert. All this leads to even more confusion surrounding Yorkshire puddings but that’s a story (and a recipe) for another day!
Christmas puddings have loads of ingredients in and were originally a good way of preserving foods over winter. I use this recipe as my basis but I like to replace some of the fruit with glacé cherries if I can find them. Suet is also impossible to find round here. I did try shortening a couple of years ago which worked out ok, but this year I couldn’t find that either so I actually used coconut oil which worked out perfectly and is probably the best possible substitute in terms of consistency and healthiness. Those living in America should also note that ‘mixed spice’ is basically the same as pumpkin pie spice so use that instead.
I prefer to make several smaller puddings, instead of 1 or 2 large ones, because they make great gifts and 1 mini pudding is about right for 2 people. Although a regular, deep cereal bowl does work in a pinch, it is a good idea to get a proper pudding basin with a lip, as that will make it much easier to cover them for steaming. I managed to find these small pudding basins on Amazon and half the recipe makes about 6 mini puddings.
Mixing up this recipe is the easy part – you basically just mix everything together. The complication comes in actually cooking them. Puddings should really be steamed so you need to start by creating lids for each of your pudding basins.
- Cut a piece of baking paper and a piece of foil big enough to easily cover the top of your pudding basin. Lay the paper centrally on your foil.
- Make a fold in the 2 sheets slightly off-center, making sure the paper is on the inside and the foil is on the outside
- Make another fold about half an inch from the first, to open the sheets back out, creating a small pleat in the sheets.
- Lay the 2 sheets over your basin and tie them round with string (or an elastic band) so there are no gaps. If you want to get fancy, you can also use string to make a handle. If you have lots of excess foil and paper, cut some off but leave enough so you can tuck the foil under all the way round, so it’s covering the paper when seen from above and below (this stops water soaking into the paper)
I don’t have any fancy steaming equipment so I just use a big pan with a lid. I use a vegetable steamer like this to put in the bottom of my pan but you can use an upturned plate or a trivet, anything to keep the puddings off the bottom of the pan and away from direct heat. As the recipe describes, fill the pan with water 2/3 the way up the sides of the basins, put the lid on the pan and steam for several hours. I’m not sure its possible to steam these things for too long, no matter if you make small ones or large, but do make sure the water level doesn’t drop too much. The longer you steam them for, the darker they will get. When they’re done, allow them to cool, remove the lids and replace with fresh ones. This time I recommend using an elastic band to secure them as it makes it much easier to open them up to add brandy every 2 weeks.
If you need to remove them from the bowls, allow them to cool just enough so you can handle them – warm puddings are much easier to remove. Wrap them in paper and foil and feed (‘feeding’ is the process of adding brandy) as you would the ones still in their bowls. I’ll talk about reheating them and serving them in a later post, for now, let those flavors infuse and allow them to soak up that brandy!