Much as I would like to be the kind of cook whose diary reads: “1 Jan: make Christmas pudding for next year”, the truth is, I’m not. Which goes some way to explaining why I’m bringing you this festive recipe weeks after more organized cooks have their puddings made and stashed.
This year, though, I have an excuse—on “Stir-Up Sunday”, the day towards the end of November on which Christmas pudding is traditionally made, our family recipe, Nanny Nelson’s Legendary Xmas Pudding recipe to be precise, was reported missing after a pre-Christmas tidy-up by my father-in-law, the recipe’s custodian.
In terms of our family’s culinary legacy, this was a major blow. I never met my husb
and’s grandmother but I know she was a great cook. During the pre-war years, people travelled for miles to eat the meat pies she made at the pub she ran with her husband in the East End of London.
A strict no-no: Never pressure-cook or bake a Christmas pudding. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
It was Nanny Nelson who was responsible for turning her daughter-in-law, my husband’s mother, into an excellent cook. It was her wonderful dishes—pies and puddings from another era—that sustained us when my mother-in-law stepped in to feed us all when our first child was born. And since I joined the family I can’t remember a Christmas without Nanny Nelson’s pudding to follow the great turkey feast.
Happily the pudding recipe surfaced in the nick of time and I pass it on here. I checked, and even without months of maturing, the taste is the thrilling grown-up equivalent of waking up on Christmas morning to find that Santa has paid a visit.
Nanny Nelson’s Christmas Pudding
285ml of Guinness or stout (I couldn’t find either in Delhi so used a dark beer)
450g Demerara sugar
450g plain flour
4 eggs, beaten
2 tsp mixed spice (see method)
50g chopped, candied peel
A pinch of salt
At this point in the recipe I could leave you with the simple one-line instruction that follows: “That’s it, boil for a least 6 hours and then again before you serve on Christmas Day…should turn out lovely!” But I’ve taken the liberty of reading between the lines—this is what I think Nanny Nelson meant:
You will need two heat-proof pudding basins in which to steam the puddings. This quantity will be enough for two large (1.7 litre) or four small (1 litre) basins. I made two large, one in a lidded plastic pudding basin I had brought from home and one in a glass bowl with a plastic lid which I bought in Delhi. Both puddings cooked beautifully. You will also need either a pan large enough to hold the basin or a large steamer.
The day before you plan to make your pudding, put the currants, sultanas and raisins in a very large bowl and pour over the beer and rum. Give it all a good stir then cover and leave to steep overnight.
To make the mixed sweet spice powder, put 1 small cinnamon stick, 1 tbsp each of cloves, mace, nutmeg, coriander seeds, ginger into a small food processor and grind to a fine powder. You will only need a small amount for the pudding but keep the rest in a screw-top jar and use for all your festive recipes.
Next day, lightly grease your pudding basins. If you’re using a normal pan, fill it with enough water to come about half way up the side of your pudding basin and put it on to boil. If you have a steamer, boil the water in the bottom part.
Add all the remaining ingredients to the steeped fruit: sugar, flour, eggs, mixed spice, chopped candied peel, salt and suet. Traditionally, the suet used in Christmas pudding and mince pies is beef fat. If beef suet’s not for you, a lighter vegetarian version is also available. If you can’t find suet, use hard-grated unsalted butter.
Stir the ingredients until they’re all evenly distributed throughout the mixture. The Stir-Up Sunday tradition is for every member to stir the mixture and make a wish. You can also stir in some silver coins—as children, our puddings always had a couple of silver sixpences—but if you do, make sure your coins are thoroughly washed. Spoon the mixture into the pudding basins and press down firmly. Cut out a circle of greaseproof paper to place on top of the mixture then put on the lid. It’s important not to let any water into the pudding as it cooks, so you could also wrap the whole basin in aluminium foil.
Put the basins into the pan/steamer and leave to steam gently for 5 hours, watching to make sure the water is topped up. There is no alternative to this long slow steaming—don’t be tempted to put it in the pressure cooker and under no circumstances must a Christmas pudding be baked.
On Christmas Day, all you have to do is pop the pudding back in a pan/steamer and cook for another couple of hours.
The best accompaniment to Christmas pudding is brandy butter although be warned—it’s addictive. To make it, cream together 100g of soft unsalted butter, 200g light brown sugar then stir in a couple of tablespoons of brandy (or rum) until you have a nice smooth blend. The butter will keep (but won’t last!) a week in the fridge.
To serve your pudding, heat about 100ml of rum in a small pan (don’t let it boil, you don’t want to burn off the alcohol). Light a match and carefully hold it to the rum and let it catch light then pour the flames over the pudding and take it quickly to the table to the delight and amazement of your friends and family.
Read Pamela’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/pieceofcake
Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at http://eatanddust.wordpress.com
Write to Pamela at firstname.lastname@example.org