‘Stir Up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people’, began the reading in The Common Book of Prayer, on the last Sunday of Advent. The rousing message was intended to gain the attention of the congregation, rather than refer to their baking skills. But originally, it must have reminded the cook or housekeeper to begin the festive preparations, especially as a Christmas pudding would taste all the better from several weeks of maturing.
It’s also great time to create lasting memories of your family traditions. Gather everyone around to help stir the pudding and suggest they use in a motion from East to West, in recognition of the journey made by the Three Wise Men. Or prepare a batch of mincemeat and bake a cake. Just don’t forget to make a wish!
This year, we have decided to ring the changes. This recipe will make a pudding to keep and one to gift, so you will need…
2 x 1 litre (2 pint) pudding bowls, baking parchment and muslin for steaming and then enough to replace the cloth for storage. You will also need a saucepan with a tight fitting lid large enough to hold each pudding along with a trivet or old saucer turned upside down in the pad to stand the puddings on. You may like to present your gift with a festive bowl cover too!
The day before you wish to make your puddings, chop the Agen prunes into small pieces and soak in 75 ml Churchwardens apple liqueur from Kimpton Apple Press.
100g white spelt flour
100 g chestnut flour
200g ground almonds
200g light soft brown sugar
200g unsalted butter at room temperature (plus a little extra for buttering the pudding basins)
100g apple puree
400g pitted Agen prunes or dried plums chopped and soaked overnight in your favourite liqueur
50g grated dark chocolate. We love directly traded and hand tempered couverture from Solkiki
Zest of one unwaxed lemon and one organic orange
1 whole nutmeg grated
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 free range eggs – beaten together
150 ml medium cider – try to seek out a local orchard. Our favourite is Cranborne Chase cider.
Place extra butter in an oven proof bowl inside the simmering oven or use a microwave to melt gently. Brush the base and sides of the pudding bowls and cut a round of baking parchment to fit in the base of each.
Cut another circle of baking parchment to fit the top of each pudding bowl once the pudding is made. Prepare muslin squares to fit your bowls and make sure that you have everything you need for steaming.
Measure out the dry ingredients and using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, add the almonds, flours, citrus zest and spices along with the eggs and mix until combined. Then add the apple puree and mix well.
At this stage you may need to remove the bowl from you stand mixer and continue mixing by hand. Add the cider, soaked prunes and the sultanas. Gather everyone around to give you a hand to stir and encourage them all to make a wish!
When the pudding is well and truly mixed, transfer to the prepared pudding bowls and pack the mixture down tightly. Cover the top of each pudding with a circle of baking parchment. Then tie the muslin squares (or use foil) over the top. Allow a pleat in the fold of the muslin (or foil) as the pudding will rise slightly as it cooks.
How to cook
Tuck each pudding in a steamer over a pan of boiling water and steam for six hours. Store the uncooked puddings in the fridge before steaming.
2, 3, 4-oven AGA
Steam the pudding in a large saucepan on a trivet or upturned saucer. You will need to fill the pan with hot water so that it reaches halfway up the pudding. Replace lid and start on the boiling plate. Once the water reaches a boil, transfer the saucepan to the simmering plate for 15 – 20 minutes. Finally move to the simmering oven to gently steam for 6-8 hours.
Once the puddings are cooked, remove from the pan and set aside to cool. Replace muslin or foil along with the baking parchment and store in a cool, dark place to mature for Christmas. To make a great gift, top with one of our festive bowl covers.
When you want to re-heat the puddings, steam as before for two hours. Serve with spiced butter or clotted cream with a glass of Churchwarden’s apple liqueur on the side.
Notes for Cooks
- Many years ago, when I worked as a private chef, I often sold Christmas puddings at the local farmer’s market. As we were preparing so many, we found that the pudding was improved by letting it stand for twenty four hours in the ‘fridge before steaming the following day. This is not necessary but, if you are running short of time, it’s definitely easier to spread the task over a couple of days.
- If you need to cook several puddings at once, try using a large roasting tin, lined with newspaper to act as an insulator between the puddings and the metal tray. Fill the tray halfway with hot water and steam inside the AGA roasting oven (grid shelf on the floor of the oven). As the AGA is vented, this method works well. However, you do need to be around to keep topping the water level up. Once the puddings are hot they can be transferred very carefully to the simmering oven and left overnight. To prevent a nasty scald, I to wear rubber gloves to do this!
- Lighting the festive pudding is always easier if you preheat your spirit (we use vodka) and then carry this in a jug to the table separately. When everything is in place pour your hot spirit over the pudding and then flame. Don’t forget a sprig of holly.
- Waste not, want not. Our favourite way to serve left over Christmas pudding is to cut into slices and pan fry in butter to serve on Boxing Day. Delicious. We also break it into crumbs and mix with custard and freeze for a seasonal ice-cream or parfait.