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Christmas Plum Pudding

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A steamed plum pudding, before decoration and before flaming.

For many years, preparing the Christmas pudding was a holiday tradition enjoyed by familes everywhere. But in today's modern commercial society, what do WE get for a Christmas holiday sweet? We get…FRUITCAKE. Now, there are at least a thousand fruitcake jokes told every year at Christmas, …but we've all heard it before. The truth is, a well-made Holiday Fruitcake is quite delicious, but not many families have the time, OR the incentive, to make a fresh fruitcake for Christmas. Even fewer know about the original plum pudding, the Christmas delight that used to be the centerpiece of Yuletide celebrations for generations. SO, we're going to bring back a classic tradition and steam up a British plum pudding! Why? First of all, because it's delicious. Second, Christmas is a time of tradition, and many of the classic traditions are fading away in the modern era. The Christmas pudding is one tradition that the whole family can enjoy, and we're going to do our part to keep it alive.

You wouldn't think there's a lot of history behind something like a plum pudding, but this dish has been so wrapped up in religion and politics, it would make your head spin. For instance, during his reign as Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell banned the eating of Christmas pudding because he believed the ritual of flaming the pudding, and lighting it flambe, was a reminder of pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. On the other hand, King George the First enjoyed his pudding so much that he became known as the "Pudding King." He requested plum pudding as part of his royal feast for his first Christmas in England..and that is believed to have given a big boost to the popular tradition of making a Christmas pudding.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church issued a number of rules and decrees about how a pudding should be prepared to be an official Christmas pudding. In a fashion typical of church politics, some of these rules were about as subtle as a sledgehammer, such as the one where the pudding must contain thirteen ingredients to symbolize Jesus Christ and his twelve Apostles. And also, the pudding must be stirred from east to west, to honor the Magi and their supposed journey in that direction. But one particular church rule on the Christmas pudding was in fact very popular, and that was the declaration that the Christmas pudding be prepared on the Sunday before Advent. Supposedly, all of the cooks, wives and their servants would go to church and hear the words in the prayer for that day, which began with, "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people," and THAT would remind them it was time to start stirring up the puddings for Christmas. This particular day was even given a unofficial name, Stir-Up Sunday, and this day is still remembered in England.

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One good thing about preparing a plum pudding is that, once you have your ingredients together, it's one of the easiest dishes in the world to make! All you have to do is stir together the ingredients for the pudding to cook and hold together, mix in your fruits and nuts, add a few spices, and steam it over boiling water for about four hours. Then, the pudding can be stored away for weeks or even months, and taken out to enjoy on Christmas, or any other time of the year. And best of all, when it's time to present the pudding, you'll get to do do something that will impress your family and make everyone remember your special pudding. You get to LIGHT IT ON FIRE!

Here, we need to point out the difference between a pudding and a cake. It's all in the way the dish is cooked. Cakes are made with mixed flour and/or wheat, and meant to rise and expand, usually in the oven. This will also boil off any alcohol used in the cake mix, so it's safe to use alcohol in a cake. Puddings, on the other hand, are made from bread crumbs or bread pieces, with flour added to hold them together. They are very moist and heavy and dense, and they don't rise very much. A pudding uses a lot of water vapor and steam to retain its flavor and freshness, and because of this it retains any alcohol used in the cooking. The good part about this is that unlike a cake, which can go stale after a few days or even less, a pudding can be preserved and stored for a VERY long time - weeks or even months. Many British Christmas puddings were made up to a whole YEAR in advance. Or, they would make two puddings at once – one for Christmas, and one for Easter. Now, in addition to adding flavor, large amounts of brandy and rum were added to the pudding in order to help preserve it for weeks and even months. So if you make a holiday pudding in the old fashioned manner and you want to add rum, or brandy, or cognac to it, be sure your dinner guests aren't driving anywhere for the next several hours. And be ESPECIALLY careful, if you know that kids will be eating it.

Note: If you want to make your own candied fruit peel as an ingredient for your pudding, be sure to begin preparing it at least two days before you put together the actual pudding. Fortunately, candied fruit peel can be prepared several days in advance. If you want to use store-bought candied fruit peel, be sure to use good quality candied peel from a specialty store or other supplier…and not the stuff sold at the supermarket!
See also our recipe for Candied Fruit Peel.

Fruit Mix

Pudding Batter

At least 24 hours before preparing the pudding, chop up dried fruits and mix them in a bowl. Add the other fruits being used: raisins, currants, sultanas, candied citrus,. Pour in spiced rum. The fruit must be completely covered by the alcohol, so if necessary add additional rum, or other liquor that goes well with rum. Traditionally, a glass jar with screw-on lid is used for soaking the fruit. If you're not using a glass jar, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the fruit soak in rum until it is used in the pudding. Some folks soak their fruits in rum for weeks or even months!

In large bowl, mix together pudding base: Add suet, bread crumbs, flour, baking powder, sugar, salt.

Mix together, then add wet ingredients: milk, eggs, liquor.

Add spices: cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger (chopped or ground).

Add filling: rum-soaked dried fruit, raisins, currants, sultanas, cherries, candied citrus, chopped nuts.

Stir it all up. This is why the pudding needs to be steamed instead of oven baked: the pudding is very dense and heavy, and it will be difficult to stir. This is correct.

As a Christmas tradition, families would often hide gifts right in the pudding itself as they mixed it. These would usually be items of silver, and the most popular of these, of course, was a silver coin. This was intended to bring luck to the person who found it.
When stirring the pudding, call together everyone in your family to take turns hold the stirring spoon…and while stirring, make a secret wish!
(YouTube video: Stirring a Christmas plum pudding)

Pack the pudding mix into a pudding basin, or a glass or porcelain cooking bowl. It's okay to pack the cooking bowl to the very top with the pudding mix: because it's so heavy and dense, this pudding will not overflow the basin as it cooks. It will expand and push upwards, but not very high. with muslin cloth and tie the cloth on tight. (If you can't find muslin cloth or cheesecloth, use aluminum foil to cover the cooking bowl.)

Steam the pudding in a covered pot for four hours, refilling the water every hour.


When done steaming, don't take the pudding out of the bowl. For storage, soak a length of cheesecloth in rum, and wrap the entire pudding with the cheesecloth. Pour additional rum over the cheesecloth, to let it all soak into the pudding. Seal the entire cloth-soaked pudding in a plastic bag, and keep it in the refrigerator. Before the invention of the refrigerator, the cloth bag with the pudding would be hung on a hook to keep it off the ground, and additional rum or other alcohol added to soak into the pudding about week or so. Storing the pudding in the refrigerator allows the pudding to keep without adding alcohol; but you can check on it regularly, and if it appears too dry then add a tablespoon of rum or brandy to freshen it. When it's time to prepare the pudding for Christmas, you can simply set up our steaming pot once again, and steam the pudding once more for one to two hours to freshen it and heat it up. Then, it will be ready to serve, and you can observe the tradition of flaming the pudding.

Flaming the pudding is an amazing sight, and it's a great way to give your dinner guests something they'll never forget. When the pudding is ready for flaming, simply take a spoon and dig a very small hole in the top of the pudding, then fill it with brandy or rum. Pour a little more liquor over the pudding, and a little more around the sides of the pudding to catch fire…turn down the lights…and light it with a match or lighter. You don't want the pudding to be hard to light, and you also don't want it to roar up into a huge bonfire. This is why you need to choose a liquor that's around eighty proof (40% alcohol content) for your flame. Less than eighty proof will be very difficult to light or it might not light at all – so don't use beer or wine And if you use a liquor with a very high proof of more than one hundred, it will be TOO flammable and you might end up setting something on fire! Also, the best way to flame is to HEAT UP YOUR LIQUOR IN ADVANCE before flaming the pudding. Don't use cold brandy or rum from the fridge, because it won't light or you might have a very small flame that goes out right away. Leave your liquor at room temperature, and it's ALSO a good idea to pour your flaming liquor into a metal container first and heat it on the stove over a low to medium heat, until it is hot but not quite boiling. This will give a very impressive flame. Most people pour the liquor over the pudding and then light it, but if you're experienced with flambe and you know what you're doing, you may even want to light the brandy while it's still in your serving ladle, and pour the flaming liquor onto the pudding to light it that way. Needless to say, BE VERY, VERY CAREFUL when playing with fire.

After flaming, pour a Buttercream Hard Sauce over the pudding while it is still hot. Serve in bowls (or large cups if you want to be fancy).

Other Recipes

Buttercream Hard Sauce

The traditional hard sauce used for topping the figgy pudding.

Figgy Pudding

As a bonus, here is the other famous British Christmas pudding that everyone sings about…but very few people know what it is.

Magical Fruitcake

Why buy a sickly-sweet, disgusting "fruitcake" full of high-fructose corn syrup and massive geleatin "fruits" when you can bake a fresh and delicious fruitcake yourself? It's incredibly easy, not expensive at all, and it's delicious!

YouTube: Steaming a Christmas Pudding

A video guide to steaming a Christmas plum pudding.

Jamaican Black Rum Fruitcake

In Jamaica, fruitcake is an important tradition for any celebration, including Christmas and weddings. A Carribean style fruitcake is an experience you must try at least once in your life.

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