Streamlined Christmas pudding

No, this does not refer to an uprising or political rally. It does refer to an English custom of preparing the Christmas pudding (later the Christmas cake) the first Sunday before Advent, four weeks before Christmas. On that Sunday, the family would gather in the kitchen to help in the preparations of the special Christmas pudding, stirring up all the ingredients to allow them ample time to age and mellow before Christmas when they would be enjoyed. Little favours or money would be wrapped  and included in the batter as good luck charms for the finder. Somehow the very ceremony ensures that the pudding or cake tastes that much better. Of course, it creates lasting family traditions.

Christmas Pudding

Traditionally, making Christmas pudding was an involved process requiring fruit to be washed, dried and soaked in liquor before adding to the batter. The pudding was steamed in a cloth tightly bound by a string over simmering water for hours then chilled and stored in a cool place until the time for the celebratory feast. At that time, the pudding would be re-heated in a steamer and served with a sauce.

The various pudding and sauce recipes depended on family custom. My Canadian Grandma served her carrot pudding with a caramel sauce made from brown sugar, while my English Nanna served her fruited pudding with the family favourite, hard sauce made with a generous dollop of brandy. As a product of two families, both sauces and puddings are part of my festivities but never on Christmas Day. It is simply too much. A Christmas pudding is appreciated after a rousing winter sport with a simple main course such as a soup accompanied by bread. Then, you can truly enjoy every morsel of dessert with all the sauce you can eat – perhaps even have room for more!
Today’s version of pudding streamlines many of the early methods making it a straightforward dessert. Rather than steaming the pudding in a  mold or cloth, the easiest method is to bake the pudding in baking dishes of suitable sizes (individual custard cups for individual servings, ideal for gifts, and larger casseroles perfect for family servings). Line these containers with parchment paper and spray with baking spray to ensure easy removal. then arrange in a roasting pan with several inches of boiling water to create a bain marie which gives an even gentle cooking heat and ensures that the pudding remains moist while still being cooked through.

This recipe makes two large 4 cups (1 L) size puddings, or a total of 8 cups (2 L) which can be spooned into baking dishes of varying sizes depending on your personal needs. Puddings make wonderful gifts especially if they are accompanied with the hard sauce which follows. Simply wrap the pudding in plastic wrap and tie with a decorative bow. You will have Christmas all wrapped up!

Christmas Pudding 2012
1 cup (250 mL) butter, softened
1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 cups (500 mL) cake and pastry flour
2 tsp (10 mL)baking soda
4 cups (1 L) mixed dried fruits of your choice such as: raisins, sultanas, red & green cherries, crystallized ginger, chopped apricots, dates and/or figs
1/2 cup (125 mL) toasted blanched almonds
2 tsp (10 mL) cinnamon
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each, nutmeg and cloves
2 cups (500 mL) fine dry breadcrumbs made from tearing fresh bread into pieces and adding to a blender or food processor and toasting them on a baking sheet until golden.
1 jar (28 oz/ 796 mL) favourite mincemeat
2 cups (500 mL) milk
1 tbsp (15 mL) vinegar
Preheat oven to 350˚F (180˚C). Get out large roasting pan or baking pan with raised lip. Line casseroles of suitable sizes with parchment paper; spray with baking spray. Using electric mixer beat butter and sugar together until fluffy; beat in eggs until thick and creamy. In separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, chosen fruit, nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Combine the milk and vinegar together and let stand. Combine the creamed mixture with the flour mixture alternately with the breadcrumbs, mincemeat and soured milk. Spoon batter into prepared baking dishes; cover with a double layer of foil. Bake until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean; this will vary with the size of the container. 1 cup containers take about 25 to 30 minutes. Large puddings will take about two hours to cook. Cool on racks.

Whiskey Butter
The perfect sauce for a warm winter pudding.
1 cup (250 mL) sifted icing sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, softened
3 tbsp (45 mL) dry sherry and Scotch whiskey
Freshly grated nutmeg
Using electric mixer, beat sifted icing sugar gradually into softened butter adding more to make a creamy mass. Beat in slowly sherry and whiskey being careful not to curdle mixture. Spoon into pretty serving dish; sprinkle lightly with nutmeg; refrigerate to harden. Will keep up to four weeks in a covered jar in the refrigerator.

Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer

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