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Christmas pudding.

As previously mentioned, I recently came across some Lustau Pedro Ximénez “San Emilio” Sherry that tasted exactly like sultanas and I was inspired to use it in a Christmas pudding.

We do have a family recipe, which uses brandy, but I decided to break with tradition and try something different. I did some internet research and found a few recipes that looked reliable.

I’m extremely fond of Gourmet Traveller and their website had two different recipes: one was based on a Margaret Fulton recipe and the other was a classic boiled-in-bag version.

Delia Smith also had a version on her website.

However, I decided to go with this recipe by Paul Denyer. While Denyer is not a ‘name’ chef, there was just something about the recipe that I trusted. Also, it uses Muscat – another grapey tasting fortified wine. I think you could replace it with the PX sherry without any issues.

Here is what I did:

First things first, I went to buy the ingredients. I was going over to Brunswick to visit Mediterranean Wholesalers so I decided to take a side-trip and visit Bas Foods – a bulk-seller of goods of Turkish/Middle Eastern/Mediterranean origin. This is a pretty spectacular shop – it is a huge warehouse stacked ceiling-high with dried fruits, nuts, spices, rice, olives etc. etc. It was pretty busy and the girl at the checkout told me this was because it was Muslim ‘Christmas’ on Friday. All relevant dried fruits were available here: currants, sultanas, raisins, dates, mixed candied peel and almonds. There were also lots of spices including bargain-priced nutmeg but I have that all at home.

I ended up with so much dried fruit that I decided to quadruple the recipe. (I probably over extended myself in this regard as I ended up with 5 puddings and only 3 fitted on the cooktop at one time. Consequentially, I spent all weekend at home monitoring steaming puddings. Exciting times.)

Next up: suet. Now, I usually stick to a vegetarian-plus-fish diet and have done so since I was 15. However, I decided to use suet because Denyer’s recipe (and yesterday’s Epicure) insists that it is important. Apparently this is because it has a higher melting point than butter so it improves the texture of the pudding. I was more dedicated to making the best possible pudding than semi-vegetarianism in this instance. I quickly came to regret this decision after visiting the butcher! Suet is quite foul and I don’t consider myself a queasy person! (I bought the suet from Peter Bouchier in Hawksburn Village. Denyer’s website lists a whole lot of suet suppliers in Melbourne and elsewhere in the world.)

Suet: lardy, membraney, meaty

Denyer suggests grating the suet straight from the fridge. I grated it using the grating attachment on a food processor, which was genius because it avoided me having to touch the offensive substance.

And then, breadcrumbs. I used a whole loaf and dried it out in the oven for about 2 hours at 50°C. The loaf started out at 750g and reduced to 450g – the exact amount required. I then crumbed it in the nifty food processor.

I put the suet and breadcrumbs in a large mixing bowl. I added some muscovado and brown sugar – just what I had in the pantry. The muscavado sugar was pretty lumpy (probably because I keep it in the freezer due to meal moth invasions) so it might have been a good idea to have wizzed it in the food processor first. I then added the ground spices – salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, coriander, and mace. I ground all the spices in a mortar and pestle. (Recipes always say to grate nutmeg but it ‘powders’ so much faster and more effectively in the m&p.)

Spices. Clockwise from front: nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander seeds, cloves, ground ginger, and mace

Pounding the nutmeg

It became apparent that I would not have enough room in my bowl to mix in all the fruit so I divided the ingredients into two vessels from this point.

All the dry ingredients; bowl getting full!

I then added the currants, sultanas, raisins, dates, mixed peel, almonds, lemon zest, and grated apples. Then, I mixed this all together. To be sure that I hadn’t missed any ingredients, I ticked each one off as I added it.

I then mixed the wet ingredients in a separate bowl: eggs, Guinness, and sherry. I added a few extra tablespoons of sherry just because it was my key ingredient. Next, I poured the wet ingredients into the fruit mix.

At this point, you must leave the mixture overnight to mature and mesh.

Dry and wet ingredients: maturing and meshing

The next day, I greased some pudding bowls (I had about 8-9 pints worth of mixture so I divided them into: 1 x 3 pint bowl; 1 x 2 pint bowl; 2 x 1½ pint bowls; and 1 x 1 pint bowl.) I put a circle of baking paper on the bottom of each bowl, which is what my grandma does.

I then packed the mixture into each bowl and pushed it down to remove any air pockets. My grandma smooths the top down with a wet hand so I did this also.

I then put two layers of baking paper and one layer of foil over the top and tied this all on with brown twine. I also made a handle which proves useful when manoeuvring<!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–> the basin in simmering water.

Puddings in their basins

Then, the bowls must go into large pots filled with water to steam. If the pudding bowl touches the bottom, apparently it will burn, so Denyer suggests making a trivet out of coat-hanger wire. I found that I couldn’t make the pudding stable this way, so I just put a tea towel in as it suggested in the Gourmet Traveller recipe. I used a very large stock pot from a Vietnamese shop in Victoria Street, Richmond. If you do not already have a pot that is large enough, this is a good and cheap option.

I filled the water up to about ¾ of the side of the pudding basins and left the pots with the lids on to simmer for eight hours, checking and topping up the water occasionally. Denyer insists on his site that the puddings must steam for eight hours, regardless of size. In hindsight, I probably should not have filled the water up quite as high – there were some waterlogging issues with two of the puddings.

Puddings steaming away...

Result: After a weekend of pudding-watching, I have steamed all five puddings. I must have filled the water in the 1½ pint and 1 pint puddings up too high as they are a little waterlogged. I think I had the burner up too high and the water boiled and came up the sides of the pot. I was planning to leave these damp puddings without any cover on to dry out a bit, but Denyer’s site advises that there is no way to salvage a waterlogged pudding. Nevermind – at least I have three other puddings that look perfect and delicious. Perhaps I could turn the failed puddings into plum pudding ice cream?

I plan to give some of the puddings away as I have ended up with too many for just my family! On Christmas Day I will steam the puddings for about 2 ½ more hours and serve alight with brandy (or sherry?) poured over the top and some brandy butter. My grandma usually makes the brandy butter though there are also some recipes on the GT website for ‘Whipped Brandy Butter‘ and ‘Brown Sugar Custard‘ that look tasty.

I will take some pictures on Christmas Day and let you know the outcome…

Paul’s Traditional Christmas Pudding

Paul has kindly allowed us republish his recipe on this site. I’ve adjusted his quantities to make a 3 pint pudding as that is the size of most of my bowls. (I made 2½  times these quantities.) For the method, see above and his website.

  • 170g suet, grated
  • 85g SR flour, sifted
  • 170g white bread crumbs
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
  • 2 tsp cinnamon, freshly ground
  • ¾ tsp ginger, ground
  • ½ tsp cloves, freshly ground
  • ¼ tsp mace, ground (optional)
  • ¼ tsp coriander seeds, ground (optional)
  • ¼ tsp allspice, ground (optional – I did not use as I didn’t have this one in the pantry)
  • 340g brown sugar, the darker, the better
  • 425g currants
  • 170g sultanas
  • 170g raisins
  • 170g dates (dried or fresh) or prunes, stones removed and cut into pieces
  • 40g mixed candied peel
  • 40g almonds, skinless and chopped
  • 1 ½ small pear or apple (I used granny smith apples)
  • 1 ½ zest of large lemons (be sure to only use yellow surface and avoid white pith)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 215mL Guinness (can substitute any dark beer or milk)
  • 3 tbs Muscat (I used PX sherry instead – any ‘grapey’ fortified would work, I suspect)
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