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Made with sweet dried fruits, fragrant spices, a generous dash of booze and a token surprise or two - the Christmas pud is the perfect finale to any festive family meal.
Note This recipe makes 4 puddings. Soak kitchen twine and four 35cm-squares of unbleached calico, available from fabric stores, overnight in cold water. Drain, boil for 20 minutes and drain again. You'll need to begin this recipe a day ahead.
There's nothing like Christmas to bring out your inner traditionalist with festive foods such as classic roast turkey, glazed ham, fruit mince tarts and fruit cakes [see our favourite Christmas recipes here]. And then there's the pudding. Whether it's cloth-boiled or steamed in a pudding basin, for many the making of this much-awaited Christmas treat marks the beginning of the Christmas season.
Traditionally, the pudding was made the Sunday five weeks before Christmas, signalling the start of Advent. The day became known as 'stir-up Sunday', when every child in the household stirred the fruit mixture and made a wish. Silver coins, such as a threepenny or a sixpence, a thimble and a ring were added at this time. According to superstition, wealth would come to the finder of the coins, luck to the finder of the thimble, and impending marriage to the family of the person who found the ring in the cooked pudding.
Once known as plum pudding, due to the inclusion of prunes, the origins of Christmas pudding date back as far as the 15th century, although it only became associated with Christmas in the 1670s. Traditionally, it was made using suet, but for this version we've made it vegetarian-friendly and used butter instead.
The combination of dried fruits we've used in our recipe is merely a starting suggestion. You can make up the weight with whatever mix of dried fruit you desire. The key here is to use good-quality dried and glacé fruits and chop them up yourself. Shop-bought mixed fruits are convenient, but they don't have the same deep fruit flavour you get from using quality produce of your own choosing. The same goes for the quality of the liquor you use, too.
When you wrap the pudding, just before cooking it, make sure the fruit mixture is completely covered with floured cloth. The flour, when cooked, forms a skin on the pudding, helping it to keep for a long time. Twist the cloth firmly at the top and tie it with twine as close to the pudding mixture as possible. Use extra pieces to form long loops around the pudding, which can be tied to the saucepan handles for ease of removal and are useful when hanging the puddings to dry.
It's traditional to store the pudding in its cloth, once it's been hung long enough to dry. However, in humid climates, mould can grow on pudding cloth, rendering the pudding inedible. A safer alternative is to unwrap the pudding when the cloth is dry but the pudding is still hot, and peel the cloth carefully away from the skin. Allow the pudding to cool completely, then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and seal it in an airtight container. The pudding can be frozen or refrigerated until needed. To reheat the pudding, wrap it in a clean, unfloured piece of calico and boil it for an hour. Then all you have to do is serve up your pudding, unadorned or accompanied by a generous helping of custard, and enjoy the fruits of your labour.