Tag Archives: cinnamon

Homemade Worcestershire Sauce – the 2014 edit

I’ve updated the original with my latest tweaks, and there’s still time to make this for Christmas.

A jar of Worcestershire Sauce steeping prior to being bottled.

I was quite surprised when I first found a recipe in one of Gary Rhodes’ books for Worcestershire Sauce, given that this is supposed to be one of world’s best kept secrets, the recipe only discussed by ‘those who know’ in the middle of a field. Anyway I made it as per Gary’s instructions for several years and it always went down very well with people who received it as a Christmas present – very good for cheese on toast apparently, as any Worcestershire Sauce worthy of the name should be. And then the there was the bombshell in 2009 of a Lee and Perrins employee apparently finding the original recipe in a skip! So much for the field, but frankly little we couldn’t have already deduced from the label, which brings me back to Mr Rhodes. Why, in his recipe, did he ignore so much of what the bottle already tells us about its contents? He includes no molasses or tamarind. I have added them back in, along with one or two touches of my own.

So whilst I don’t think Lea and Perrins should shut up shop just yet, if you fancy spicing up Christmas for your nearest and dearest you’ve still got time.

Should make a little over 1 litre

  • 1 litre malt vinegar
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp black treacle
  • 50g salted anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 20g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 birds-eye chilli, deseeded
  • 1 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • 3 tbsps soy sauce
  • 2 tsps tamarind paste
  • 10 cloves
  • 4 cardamom pods, bruised with the back of a knife
  • 1 quarter tsp cinnamon and a piece of cinnamon or cassia bark
  • 1 third of a nutmeg [grated] and few blades of mace
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp good quality fish sauce [such as ‘Three Crabs’ brand]*

Place the vinegar, shallots and garlic into a pan and slowly bring to a simmer. Dribble in the treacle and stir well to dissolve, then allow to tremble gently for twenty minutes or so. Add all the other ingredients and stir well then cook for a couple of minutes more. Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly as you warm a large glass jar in a low oven. Pour the warm mixture into the warmed jar and seal. This now needs to sit for a week, ten days, or even a fortnight, and should be shaken each time you pass the jar. Mine sits on the washing machine so that the spin cycle can shake it for me when I’m out.

When ready strain through a fine sieve, heat until just below simmering for two minutes, and when still warm decant into heated sterilised bottles. Never pour hot liquids into cold glass bottles, or cold liquids into hot ones – they should both be quite warm. Then seal and keep somewhere cool and out of direct sunlight until needed. There will be some sediment and you’ll need to shake the bottle before each use. I’d also keep the bottle in the fridge once opened.

Now then, who’s for cheese on toast and a Bloody Mary?

* If you saw my piece on Uyen Luu’s cooking class you’ll know about my conversion to proper, good quality fish sauce, and I wouldn’t dream of using cheap nam pla here.

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Christmas Pudding Time Again

It’s that time of year again folks, and I’m running late, as usual. But my fruit is soaking now, and I’ll be steaming my puds next weekend. Here’s the 2010 original again. Dusting this off is now starting to feel like my own tradition, marking the start of the festive kitchen shenanigans…

Mixed fruits soaking for a Christmas pudding

Last Sunday was apparently ‘stir up Sunday’, the last Sunday before Advent when traditionally we’d begin preparing puddings for Christmas. However the Shopkeeper and I had been entertaining until the early hours and when I caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror that morning the idea of taking some wrinkled old fruits and soaking them in booze was just a touch too ironic to contemplate.

Not to worry, there is still time to prepare your puddings. It’s really not difficult, and so much more satisfying than opening a shop bought box on Christmas day. I base mine on a recipe I first picked up in Waitrose nearly ten years ago but I’ve tinkered with and tweaked it over the years. Unlike the precise science of cake baking, puddings are very forgiving of changes so you don’t need to agonise or work with milligram precision. Last year I realised two hours into the steaming time that I’d forgotten the flour altogether, and the puddings were none the worse for it. My main changes have been to reduce the amount of sugar and flour, and to up the fruit and booze content – I really can’t imagine making a Christmas pudding with only two tablespoons of brandy! I also try to find an interesting mix of fruits to add to the basic raisins and sultanas. For instance this year we have some ‘Persian Delights’ dried fruit mixes in the shop which include pineapple, papaya and mango, so a packet of these has joined the other fruits in their brandy, orange juice and spice bath. And I have to have halved glacé cherries! They were always there in my childhood Christmas puddings, feel free to add any childhood memories of your own.

These quantities will make two 1.5 litre puddings, each big enough for eight people with some to spare [no harm in having a spare, and they make great gifts]. If you only want one, halve these quantities but the cooking time will be the same. You can also make small individual puddings which will take just two hours to steam.

  • 1.2 kg dried fruits, including 350 g each of raisins and sultanas, the rest made up of a mixture of whatever takes your fancy from cranberries, apricots, cherries [dried or glacé], blueberries, candied peel, etc. The more the merrier!
  • 500 ml stout
  • 200 ml brandy
  • 1 tbsp toffee vodka [optional]
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 250 g suet [vegetable suet can be used if vegetarian]
  • 100 g flour
  • 200 g breadcrumbs
  • 100 g muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 large apple [Bramley for preference] peeled and grated
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 silver coin, any currency or denomination!

Start by mixing the dried fruits with the orange juice and zest, spices, stout and brandy [and toffee vodka if using]. Leave to soak for a couple of days, stirring from time to time. Mine is doing this now [on top of the washing machine to make best use of the vibrations] and every stir fills the kitchen with the smell of Christmas.

When I’m ready to cook this tomorrow I’ll add all the other ingredients and mix well. Traditionally everyone in the house should stir the mix whilst making a wish, and I might even invite a few of the neighbours to have a go just to make sure. Grease the pudding basins [1.5 litre capacity] and fill them to a couple of centimetres below the rim, tapping and pushing down well to make sure there are no gaps or air bubbles.

The only really fiddly bit is sealing the basins for steaming, and if you really can’t be bothered then you can buy plastic versions with clip on lids. Otherwise for each basin cut two large squares of greaseproof paper and one of foil and stack them with the foil on top. Fold once near the middle, and then back again about two centimetres away to make a pleat. Cover the top of the basin with your pleated sheets and tie around with string. It will help if you can loop through another piece of string to make a handle, but this is easier with four hands so enrol a helper. You let your neighbour make a wish didn’t you? Well it’s payback time.

A wrapped Christmas Pudding ready for steaming

Place each sealed basin onto a trivet [an upturned heat-proof plate will do] in a pan and carefully pour in boiling water to around half way up the basin’s sides. Cover the pan, and once simmering steam the puddings for six hours. Check the water from time to time and top up as necessary. Six whole hours when you can’t leave them entirely alone but they will require little of your attention – time to do some online Christmas shopping perhaps, or to write your cards?

Once they’re done allow the puddings to cool, remove the foil etc., wipe the bowls clean and decide whether you plan to reheat them by steaming again or in the microwave. If the former then repeat the wrapping process described above. If you’re microwaving then simply cover well with two or three layers of clingfilm. Place the puddings somewhere cool and dark [I wrap them in plastic bags too] and forget about them until Christmas morning.

Come the big day heat your pudding by steaming for two hours, or give it six minutes on full power in an 850 watt microwave. Wrap your silver coin in foil [easier to find, less easy to swallow by accident, and cleaner] and make a slit in the base of the pudding to insert it. Ease the pudding from its bowl onto a plate, warm a ladleful of brandy, pour over and set alight. I can never resist a sprig of holly too.

You might want custard or cream, but I must have brandy butter with this. Recipe to follow when I make it a week or so before Christmas…

Lamb Shanks

Lamb shanks marinating in red wine, with garlic, rosemary, cassia bark and juniper.

Looking back I surprised myself by finding that the recipe upon which this is based doesn’t actually include rosemary. It’s lamb for heaven’s sake! Surely if you marinate lamb without rosemary it becomes a police matter? Nigel Slater’s original [which I can’t find online, he must want you to buy the book] used thyme. But my most fondly remembered version of this was made using the extravagantly perfumed sprigs of the council funded, ‘help yourself” rosemary bush by the post office in Salcombe, Devon.

Ditch End across the estuary in East Portlemouth, the sumptuous seventies porn-palace of a house where we stayed, has since disappeared – I hope the same isn’t true of the municipal herb garden.

for two

  • 2 lamb shanks
  • rosemary sprigs, several
  • 2 bulbs of garlic, sliced in half across their equators
  • a bay leaf
  • a piece of cassia bark [or a cinnamon stick]
  • sherry vinegar, 2 tablespoons
  • an onion, chopped
  • red wine, a bottle [something full and fruity]
  • a dozen juniper berries, lightly crushed and wrapped in muslin
  • anchovy fillets, a couple
  • flour
  • oil

Marinate the lamb in the wine, with the sherry vinegar, garlic, rosemary, bay, cassia and juniper. Leave this at least overnight. I think the Salcombe version was delayed by a day and so had a good 48 hours.

Heat some oil in a heavy, lidded casserole dish. Pat dry the marinated lamb, toss it in a little flour, and brown well on all side. Set the lamb aside and soften the onions in the same pan, adding more oil if necessary. Once the onions are soft and golden chop the anchovy fillets well and add to the pan, cooking for a couple of minutes more.

Return the lamb to the pan. Remove the juniper parcel from the marinade then add the rest to the casserole, and bring to a simmer. Now into the oven, for either 2 hours at 200°C, or 4 hours at 150°C. Remove the finished lamb to somewhere warm to rest whilst you check the sauce for seasoning, fish out the rosemary sprigs and bay leaf, and thicken if necessary. The garlic should be yieldingly soft, and depending on your taste you might smoosh [this word exists, so they tell me!] some of the softened innards into the sauce whilst removing the papery skins, or discard them altogether – their flavouring work is done.

Serve with – what else? – mash!

 

#clocksgoback recipe

Christmas Pudding Time Again

It’s that time of year again folks, and I’m running late, as usual. But my fruit is soaking now, and I’ll be steaming my puds next weekend. Here’s the 2010 original again. Dusting this off is now starting to feel like my own tradition, marking the start of the festive shenanigans…

Mixed fruits soaking for a Christmas pudding

Last Sunday was apparently ‘stir up Sunday’, the last Sunday before Advent when traditionally we’d begin preparing puddings for Christmas. However the Shopkeeper and I had been entertaining until the early hours and when I caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror that morning the idea of taking some wrinkled old fruits and soaking them in booze was just a touch too ironic to contemplate.

Not to worry, there is still time to prepare your puddings. It’s really not difficult, and so much more satisfying than opening a shop bought box on Christmas day. I base mine on a recipe I first picked up in Waitrose nearly ten years ago but I’ve tinkered with and tweaked it over the years. Unlike the precise science of cake baking, puddings are very forgiving of changes so you don’t need to agonise or work with milligram precision. Last year I realised two hours into the steaming time that I’d forgotten the flour altogether, and the puddings were none the worse for it. My main changes have been to reduce the amount of sugar and flour, and to up the fruit and booze content – I really can’t imagine making a Christmas pudding with only two tablespoons of brandy! I also try to find an interesting mix of fruits to add to the basic raisins and sultanas. For instance this year we have some ‘Persian Delights’ dried fruit mixes in the shop which include pineapple, papaya and mango, so a packet of these has joined the other fruits in their brandy, orange juice and spice bath. And I have to have halved glacé cherries! They were always there in my childhood Christmas puddings, feel free to add any childhood memories of your own.

These quantities will make two 1.5 litre puddings, each big enough for eight people with some to spare [no harm in having a spare, and they make great gifts]. If you only want one, halve these quantities but the cooking time will be the same. You can also make small individual puddings which will take just two hours to steam.

  • 1.2 kg dried fruits, including 350 g each of raisins and sultanas, the rest made up of a mixture of whatever takes your fancy from cranberries, apricots, cherries [dried or glacé], blueberries, candied peel, etc. The more the merrier!
  • 500 ml stout
  • 200 ml brandy
  • 1 tbsp toffee vodka [optional]
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 250 g suet [vegetable suet can be used if vegetarian]
  • 100 g flour
  • 200 g breadcrumbs
  • 100 g muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 large apple [Bramley for preference] peeled and grated
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 silver coin, any currency or denomination!

Start by mixing the dried fruits with the orange juice and zest, spices, stout and brandy [and toffee vodka if using]. Leave to soak for a couple of days, stirring from time to time. Mine is doing this now [on top of the washing machine to make best use of the vibrations] and every stir fills the kitchen with the smell of Christmas.

When I’m ready to cook this tomorrow I’ll add all the other ingredients and mix well. Traditionally everyone in the house should stir the mix whilst making a wish, and I might even invite a few of the neighbours to have a go just to make sure. Grease the pudding basins [1.5 litre capacity] and fill them to a couple of centimetres below the rim, tapping and pushing down well to make sure there are no gaps or air bubbles.

The only really fiddly bit is sealing the basins for steaming, and if you really can’t be bothered then you can buy plastic versions with clip on lids. Otherwise for each basin cut two large squares of greaseproof paper and one of foil and stack them with the foil on top. Fold once near the middle, and then back again about two centimetres away to make a pleat. Cover the top of the basin with your pleated sheets and tie around with string. It will help if you can loop through another piece of string to make a handle, but this is easier with four hands so enrol a helper. You let your neighbour make a wish didn’t you? Well it’s payback time.

A wrapped Christmas Pudding ready for steaming

Place each sealed basin onto a trivet [an upturned heat-proof plate will do] in a pan and carefully pour in boiling water to around half way up the basin’s sides. Cover the pan, and once simmering steam the puddings for six hours. Check the water from time to time and top up as necessary. Six whole hours when you can’t leave them entirely alone but they will require little of your attention – time to do some online Christmas shopping perhaps, or to write your cards?

Once they’re done allow the puddings to cool, remove the foil etc., wipe the bowls clean and decide whether you plan to reheat them by steaming again or in the microwave. If the former then repeat the wrapping process described above. If you’re microwaving then simply cover well with two or three layers of clingfilm. Place the puddings somewhere cool and dark [I wrap them in plastic bags too] and forget about them until Christmas morning.

Come the big day heat your pudding by steaming for two hours, or give it six minutes on full power in an 850 watt microwave. Wrap your silver coin in foil [easier to find, less easy to swallow by accident, and cleaner] and make a slit in the base of the pudding to insert it. Ease the pudding from its bowl onto a plate, warm a ladleful of brandy, pour over and set alight. I can never resist a sprig of holly too.

You might want custard or cream, but I must have brandy butter with this. Recipe to follow when I make it a week or so before Christmas…

Christmas Pudding Time Again

Last year I missed ‘Stir Up Sunday’ – the whole sorry story from 2010 is reposted below – so this year I’m posting early so that you’ll have time to soak your fruit and clear your diary ready for a weekend of pudding making come 20th November, this year’s date. Feel free to do it sooner if the fancy takes you, your puddings will only get better as they mature…

Mixed fruits soaking for a Christmas pudding

Last Sunday was apparently ‘stir up Sunday’, the last Sunday before Advent when traditionally we’d begin preparing puddings for Christmas. However the Shopkeeper and I had been entertaining until the early hours and when I caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror that morning the idea of taking some wrinkled old fruits and soaking them in booze was just a touch too ironic to contemplate.

Not to worry, there is still time to prepare your puddings. It’s really not difficult, and so much more satisfying than opening a shop bought box on Christmas day. I base mine on a recipe I first picked up in Waitrose nearly ten years ago but I’ve tinkered with and tweaked it over the years. Unlike the precise science of cake baking, puddings are very forgiving of changes so you don’t need to agonise or work with milligram precision. Last year I realised two hours into the steaming time that I’d forgotten the flour altogether, and the puddings were none the worse for it. My main changes have been to reduce the amount of sugar and flour, and to up the fruit and booze content – I really can’t imagine making a Christmas pudding with only two tablespoons of brandy! I also try to find an interesting mix of fruits to add to the basic raisins and sultanas. For instance this year we have some ‘Persian Delights’ dried fruit mixes in the shop which include pineapple, papaya and mango, so a packet of these has joined the other fruits in their brandy, orange juice and spice bath. And I have to have halved glacé cherries! They were always there in my childhood Christmas puddings, feel free to add any childhood memories of your own.

These quantities will make two 1.5 litre puddings, each big enough for eight people with some to spare [no harm in having a spare, and they make great gifts]. If you only want one, halve these quantities but the cooking time will be the same. You can also make small individual puddings which will take just two hours to steam.

  • 1.2 kg dried fruits, including 350 g each of raisins and sultanas, the rest made up of a mixture of whatever takes your fancy from cranberries, apricots, cherries [dried or glacé], blueberries, candied peel, etc. The more the merrier!
  • 500 ml stout
  • 200 ml brandy
  • 1 tbsp toffee vodka [optional]
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 250 g suet [vegetable suet can be used if vegetarian]
  • 100 g flour
  • 200 g breadcrumbs
  • 100 g muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 large apple [Bramley for preference] peeled and grated
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 silver coin, any currency or denomination!

Start by mixing the dried fruits with the orange juice and zest, spices, stout and brandy [and toffee vodka if using]. Leave to soak for a couple of days, stirring from time to time. Mine is doing this now [on top of the washing machine to make best use of the vibrations] and every stir fills the kitchen with the smell of Christmas.

When I’m ready to cook this tomorrow I’ll add all the other ingredients and mix well. Traditionally everyone in the house should stir the mix whilst making a wish, and I might even invite a few of the neighbours to have a go just to make sure. Grease the pudding basins [1.5 litre capacity] and fill them to a couple of centimetres below the rim, tapping and pushing down well to make sure there are no gaps or air bubbles.

The only really fiddly bit is sealing the basins for steaming, and if you really can’t be bothered then you can buy plastic versions with clip on lids. Otherwise for each basin cut two large squares of greaseproof paper and one of foil and stack them with the foil on top. Fold once near the middle, and then back again about two centimetres away to make a pleat. Cover the top of the basin with your pleated sheets and tie around with string. It will help if you can loop through another piece of string to make a handle, but this is easier with four hands so enrol a helper. You let your neighbour make a wish didn’t you? Well it’s payback time.

A wrapped Christmas Pudding ready for steaming

Place each sealed basin onto a trivet [an upturned heat-proof plate will do] in a pan and carefully pour in boiling water to around half way up the basin’s sides. Cover the pan, and once simmering steam the puddings for six hours. Check the water from time to time and top up as necessary. Six whole hours when you can’t leave them entirely alone but they will require little of your attention – time to do some online Christmas shopping perhaps, or to write your cards?

Once they’re done allow the puddings to cool, remove the foil etc., wipe the bowls clean and decide whether you plan to reheat them by steaming again or in the microwave. If the former then repeat the wrapping process described above. If you’re microwaving then simply cover well with two or three layers of clingfilm. Place the puddings somewhere cool and dark [I wrap them in plastic bags too] and forget about them until Christmas morning.

Come the big day heat your pudding by steaming for two hours, or give it six minutes on full power in an 850 watt microwave. Wrap your silver coin in foil [easier to find, less easy to swallow by accident, and cleaner] and make a slit in the base of the pudding to insert it. Ease the pudding from its bowl onto a plate, warm a ladleful of brandy, pour over and set alight. I can never resist a sprig of holly too.

You might want custard or cream, but I must have brandy butter with this. Recipe to follow when I make it a week or so before Christmas…

Homemade Worcestershire Sauce

A jar of Worcestershire Sauce steeping prior to being bottled.

I was quite surprised a few years ago to find a recipe in one of Gary Rhodes’ books for Worcestershire Sauce given that this is supposed to be one of world’s best kept secrets, the recipe only discussed by ‘those who know’ in the middle of a field. Anyway I made it as per Gary’s instructions for several years and it always went down very well with people who received it as a Christmas present – very good for cheese on toast apparently, as any Worcestershire Sauce worthy of the name should be. And then the there was the bombshell in 2009 of a Lee and Perrins employee apparently finding the original recipe in a skip! So much for the field, but frankly little we couldn’t have already deduced from the label, which brings me back to Mr Rhodes. Why, in his recipe, did he ignore so much of what the bottle already tells us about its contents? He includes no molasses or tamarind, and I was a tad sceptical about some of his other ingredients. Mushroom ketchup? It’s practically another version of what you’re making. I think he might be on to something with the mushroom flavour though so when it came to concocting my own I have added some dried porcini for their savoury depth. Yes, I’ve scoured the various printed and online versions I could find and have devised my own blend. It’s steeping now [this does take a little time to mature] so I can’t yet vouch for the final version, but the signs and smells so far are positive. I don’t think Lea and Perrins should shut up shop just yet, but if you fancy spicing up Christmas for your nearest and dearest you’ve just about got time.

Should make close to 1 litre

  • 900ml malt vinegar
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp black treacle
  • 50g salted anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 15g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1cm piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 birds-eye chilli, deseeded
  • 2 tsps muscovado sugar
  • 3 tbsps soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 cardamom pods, bruised with the back of a knife
  • 1 quarter tsp cinnamon and a fragment of cinnamon bark
  • 1 third of a nutmeg [grated] and few blades of mace
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • A few drops of ‘colatura di alici’* – strictly optional, and only if you can find any!

Place the vinegar, shallots and garlic into a pan and slowly bring to a simmer. Dribble in the treacle and stir well to dissolve, then allow to tremble gently for twenty minutes or so. Add all the other ingredients and stir well then cook for a couple of minutes more. Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly as you warm a large glass jar in a low oven. Pour the warm mixture into the warmed jar and seal. This now needs to sit for a week, ten days, or even a fortnight, and should be shaken each time you pass the jar. Mine sits on the washing machine so that the spin cycle can shake it for me when I’m out.

When ready strain through a fine sieve, heat until just below simmering for two minutes, and when still warm decant into heated sterilised bottles. Never pour hot liquids into cold glass bottles, or cold liquids into hot ones – they should both be quite warm. Then seal and keep somewhere cool and out of direct sunlight until needed. There will be some sediment and you’ll need to shake the bottle before each use. I’d also keep the bottle in the fridge once opened.

As I say this is a first outing for my new recipe and there are likely to be tweaks and twists with future batches. Do check back in the new year, and please feel free to leave your own suggestions as comments.

Now then, who’s for cheese on toast and a Bloody Mary?

* ‘Colatura di alici’ is an Italian condiment descended from the ancient Roman ‘garum’. It is made from fermented anchovies and contrary to the advice of the TV chef who I first saw use it is fiendishly difficult to find in the UK. If you have some by all means use it. If not don’t worry, there are enough anchovies included here to render it all but superfluous. Add an extra anchovy fillet if you feel the need.

Stir It Up

 Mixed fruits soaking for a Christmas pudding

Last Sunday was apparently ‘stir up Sunday’, the last Sunday before Advent when traditionally we’d begin preparing puddings for Christmas. However the Shopkeeper and I had been entertaining until the early hours and when I caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror that morning the idea of taking some wrinkled old fruits and soaking them in booze was just a touch too ironic to contemplate.

Not to worry, there is still time to prepare your puddings. It’s really not difficult, and so much more satisfying than opening a shop bought box on Christmas day. I base mine on a recipe I first picked up in Waitrose nearly ten years ago but I’ve tinkered with and tweaked it over the years. Unlike the precise science of cake baking, puddings are very forgiving of changes so you don’t need to agonise or work with milligram precision. Last year I realised two hours into the steaming time that I’d forgotten the flour altogether, and the puddings were none the worse for it. My main changes have been to reduce the amount of sugar and flour, and to up the fruit and booze content – I really can’t imagine making a Christmas pudding with only two tablespoons of brandy! I also try to find an interesting mix of fruits to add to the basic raisins and sultanas. For instance this year we have some ‘Persian Delights’ dried fruit mixes in the shop which include pineapple, papaya and mango, so a packet of these has joined the other fruits in their brandy, orange juice and spice bath. And I have to have halved glacé cherries! They were always there in my childhood Christmas puddings, feel free to add any childhood memories of your own.

These quantities will make two 1.5 litre puddings, each big enough for eight people with some to spare [no harm in having a spare, and they make great gifts]. If you only want one, halve these quantities but the cooking time will be the same. You can also make small individual puddings which will take just two hours to steam.

  • 1.2 kg dried fruits, including 350 g each of raisins and sultanas, the rest made up of a mixture of whatever takes your fancy from cranberries, apricots, cherries [dried or glacé], blueberries, candied peel, etc. The more the merrier!
  • 500 ml stout
  • 200 ml brandy
  • 1 tbsp toffee vodka [optional]
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 250 g suet [vegetable suet can be used if vegetarian]
  • 100 g flour
  • 200 g breadcrumbs
  • 100 g muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 large apple [Bramley for preference] peeled and grated
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 silver coin, any currency or denomination!

Start by mixing the dried fruits with the orange juice and zest, spices, stout and brandy [and toffee vodka if using]. Leave to soak for a couple of days, stirring from time to time. Mine is doing this now [on top of the washing machine to make best use of the vibrations] and every stir fills the kitchen with the smell of Christmas.

When I’m ready to cook this tomorrow I’ll add all the other ingredients and mix well. Traditionally everyone in the house should stir the mix whilst making a wish, and I might even invite a few of the neighbours to have a go just to make sure. Grease the pudding basins [1.5 litre capacity] and fill them to a couple of centimetres below the rim, tapping and pushing down well to make sure there are no gaps or air bubbles.

The only really fiddly bit is sealing the basins for steaming, and if you really can’t be bothered then you can buy plastic versions with clip on lids. Otherwise for each basin cut two large squares of greaseproof paper and one of foil and stack them with the foil on top. Fold once near the middle, and then back again about two centimetres away to make a pleat. Cover the top of the basin with your pleated sheets and tie around with string. It will help if you can loop through another piece of string to make a handle, but this is easier with four hands so enrol a helper. You let your neighbour make a wish didn’t you? Well it’s payback time.

A wrapped Christmas Pudding ready for steaming

Place each sealed basin onto a trivet [an upturned heat-proof plate will do] in a pan and carefully pour in boiling water to around half way up the basin’s sides. Cover the pan, and once simmering steam the puddings for six hours. Check the water from time to time and top up as necessary. Six whole hours when you can’t leave them entirely alone but they will require little of your attention – time to do some online Christmas shopping perhaps, or to write your cards?

Once they’re done allow the puddings to cool, remove the foil etc., wipe the bowls clean and decide whether you plan to reheat them by steaming again or in the microwave. If the former then repeat the wrapping process described above. If you’re microwaving then simply cover well with two or three layers of clingfilm. Place the puddings somewhere cool and dark [I wrap them in plastic bags too] and forget about them until Christmas morning.

Come the big day heat your pudding by steaming for two hours, or give it six minutes on full power in an 850 watt microwave. Wrap your silver coin in foil [easier to find, less easy to swallow by accident, and cleaner] and make a slit in the base of the pudding to insert it. Ease the pudding from its bowl onto a plate, warm a ladleful of brandy, pour over and set alight. I can never resist a sprig of holly too.

You might want custard or cream, but I must have brandy butter with this. Recipe to follow when I make it a week or so before Christmas…