This is not the easiest recipe you will find, but if you are looking for an authentic British Christmas Pudding recipe, this is definitely it. It comes via my husband’s late grandmother, who worked as head cook in a stately home in the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, and it is the pudding my mother in law still serves every year.
My attempts to convert the huge original recipe into cups affected the results adversely so I abandoned them.To be honest, kitchen scales are a really good investment if you like to cook recipes from around the world. You can find them fairly reasonably at most kitchen stores worldwide, including Williams Sonoma. I divided the original recipe in half, to yield one two pint pudding (or two one pint puddings). One two pint pudding serves about a dozen people as Christmas pudding is incredibly rich and you only need small slices.
A word of warning, this is an undertaking, so allow plenty of time, and don’t be tempted to cut back on the steaming time. Bear in mind you need to start the night before to soak the fruit.
Nana’s Christmas Pudding
(Makes two one pint puddings or one two pint pudding)
half a lemon, rind and juice
8 ounces currants
8 ounces raisins
8 ounces sultanas
3 ounces brandy
half an orange, juiced
8 ounces of suet
(I buy Atora brand)
8 ounces moist brown sugar
8 ounces cooking apples, peeled and grated
(at the last minute or they will go brown)
4 ounces mixed peel (Also known as candied peel, this is widely available in the UK and Europe and available in the baking aisles of some North American grocery stores. You can also make your own.)
4 ounces flour
4 ounces fresh white breadcrumbs
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon mixed spice
Soak the currants, raisins and sultanas in the brandy, lemon and orange juice overnight.
In the morning, in a seriously large bowl, mix the suet, flour, sugar, salt, spices, mixed peel, breadcrumbs, apples and eggs with the soaked fruit and any juice/liquor remaining in the bowl. All the ingredients should be included at this point. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. You need strong arms, or assistants!
Grease the pudding basin (or basins) and fill to about three quarters full with this mixture.
To wrap the pudding for steaming you need to lay a sheet of aluminium foil over a sheet of greaseproof or waxed paper. Pick up both and make a pleat down the centre. Put this on top of your pudding bowl and wrap round firmly. Then use a long piece of string to tie the paper and foil tightly round the bowl, leaving a couple of nice long ends of string. Bring the extra string back up over top of the bowl and tie it under the string on the other side to make a handle so you can get the pudding out of the steamer easily. Trim round the edges of the paper and foil with scissors to ensure that none of it drips into the water you will put round for steaming or it will seep into the pudding and ruin it. Here is a link to a video of the wonderful chef Lesley Waters showing you how it is done.
You need a large steamer or saucepan for each pudding bowl - it needs to be much larger than the bowl itself. Place a small heatproof saucer upside down on the bottom of each saucepan, and place your prepared pudding bowl on top of the saucer. Carefully fill the edges of the saucepan with water about half way up the pudding bowl. Put the lid on the saucepan. Bring the water to a slow boil so the pudding can steam gradually. You will need to top up the water very regularly (sometimes as often as every forty-five minutes or so) so that the pudding does not boil dry. If it does, the saucer and pudding bowl will break and all will be lost.
After eight hours of steaming, remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool down a bit before carefully removing the pudding from the saucepan using the string handle. It’s good to have a tea towel close by as the pudding bowl will be wet. Dry the bowl off, remove the paper, foil and string and sit the pudding in its bowl on a heat proof surface to cool down.
When the pudding and bowl are completely cool, remove the greaseproof paper and foil and then tie a fresh piece of greaseproof paper and foil over them just as before. The pudding improves with age, so store in a cool place away from draughts until Christmas. (The top of a cupboard works well.)
Four hours before your Christmas dinner, repeat the steaming process. When you are ready to serve, carefully remove the pudding from the pan as before, dry the basin and remove the paper, foil and string. Run a butter knife around the edge of the pudding basin and then invert the pudding on to a plate. Traditionally puddings are garnished with a sprig of holly, but holly is poisonous so please do be sure to remove it before serving!
It is traditional to flame the pudding before serving it, and this is best done at the table. Put about three to four ounces of brandy (or vodka) in a small pitcher. Carefully pour a small amount of the alcohol from the pitcher over the pudding and ignite it. (It goes without saying to keep hair, clothes, paper, small children - anything that can ignite - out of the way!)
Once the flames have died down, serve small slices of Christmas pudding with brandy butter custard or cream.