Plum pudding is a Christmas tradition in my family. It’s also not that hard to actually make. I also almost never make the exact same pudding, which may sound a little odd, but it isn’t. Some years it has a lot of one thing, some years it doesn’t have any. The common thread between all of the years’ puddings is that they are steamed, contain fruit of some kind, and are flamed with brandy. Outside of that, it’s a case of anything goes!
So what IS plum pudding anyhow?
Its basically a rich fruit (and possibly nut) cake that is steam cooked in a mold (or pudding cloth) suspended over boiling water. The hardest part of the entire process is that steaming, as it is very important to not have dripping water land in or on the pudding. The rest of it is easy.
The plum pudding also doesn’t include any plums, and there are many stories about how the name came to be. The most logical one refers to the time period when any dried fruit that was steamed into a pudding was called a plum, but it could also refer to being “plum full” of rich ingredients too. In any case, it does include fruit, usually dried or candied, but sometimes both.
I’ve used candied fruit and I’ve used dried fruits, and to be honest, I can’t make up my mind which I prefer. I grew up with the candied fruit version, and up until I moved to New Orleans from Arizona, that’s what I always made. However, as lovely a city as New Orleans is, candied fruit doesn’t feature high on the list of culinary ingredients commonly stocked in the stores, and I was oblivious to this fact. The week before Christmas, I went shopping for the candied fruit, and much to my dismay…there was none to be had! Like my grandmothers before me, I made the best of the situation, quickly deciding that the obvious substitute was an assortment of chopped dried fruits. It was just as delicious, and I often make it that way today.
Few people make the steamed puddings outside of the holiday season. I like them, they are easy to prepare with either an improvised mold or an actual steamed pudding mold. (I have a mold, courtesy of Ebay!) I have made many steamed “puddings” out of a muffin mix in a campsite too, right in my “spaghetti pot”. It’s an easy way to make a “cake” when camping, as no oven is required. That lack of an oven requirement is likely the reason for their popularity in days gone by too–before the wood fired cook stoves were commonly available with ovens, the only way to bake was with a reflector oven or a dutch oven on the fireplace. It was much easier to bring a pot of water to a boil and steam a pudding!
So this is this year’s recipe…
Plum Pudding 2011
- 1/4 c. butter
- 1/3 c. brown sugar
- 1 c. milk
- 2 1/2 c. chopped mixed dried and/or candied fruit and nuts (figs, mangoes, papaya, pineapple, cherries, figs, dates, mixed candied fruit, raisins, blueberries, etc. It should include at least SOME raisins. Seeded & minced kumquats are the only fresh fruit I ever include. Make sure it has figs if you want it to be “figgy pudding” though)
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 c. self-rising flour
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. allspice
- 1/2 tsp. ginger
- 1 pinch salt
Grease a pudding mold well or a metal coffee or juice CAN (not plastic).
In a large saucepan combine butter, sugar, milk, and dried/candied fruits. Bring mixture to a boil and add vanilla. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Sift in the flour, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger and salt. Mix just until blended. Pour into prepared pudding mold.
Either seal lid or cover with a double layer of greased wax paper (secured by tying a string around can or mold) and steam for 2 hours. Pudding is done when a knife or pick inserted in center comes out clean.
To serve: Make sure your pudding is hot to warm. Warm up about 1/2 c. brandy in a small pan just until near the boiling point. Don’t boil it–the alcohol will evaporate and ruin the effects! Pour hot brandy over hot pudding, turn out the lights and ignite! You do have to work fast–too slow and the alcohol will evaporate before it can be ignited. It will dance with blue flames and amaze everyone. It may be high drama, but it also adds high flavor to the pudding. The alcohol is burned off, so it’s safe to serve to everyone.
Serve small pieces of pudding with about 1 tbsp. hard sauce. Some years, we flame the pudding on Christmas Eve, if we feel we need drama or if we’re having guests on Christmas Eve. It’s easier on the cook to serve it the night before Christmas as well, especially if there are pies for Christmas Day too. Everyone loves the ceremonial nature of flaming the pudding, and most people are highly impressed (as well as enthralled) by the dramatic burning and blue flickering flames.
The perfect song to play during the process is “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” because of the “figgy pudding” line.
To make hard sauce: With softened butter, beat 1/2 c. butter until fluffy, add 1 tsp. real vanilla. Slowly beat in powdered sugar until it won’t take any more, adding a few drops of cream, if desired. Cover and chill. The hard sauce can be made several days ahead of time, as long as it is kept tightly sealed in the refrigerator.