Tag Archives: egg

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…

Sweet and Sour Horse

No, not Tesco’s latest tasty offering, but a re-post of something I originally offered at the start of the year of the rabbit, reheated for the year of the horse. Though having watched Ken Hom eat a traditional dish of fried rabbit’s head in Chengdu on TV this morning, perhaps horse wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Whatever your choice of meat, veg or tofu – a happy, prosperous and healthy year of the horse to one and all! 

Sweet and Sour Sauce in a Yin and Yang bowl

Learning a language as an adult is far more difficult than doing so as a child when the relevant bits of our brains are more plastic, malleable and hungry for linguistic stimuli. And as it is with language, so with tableware. I could read English by the time I went to nursery school, but I didn’t meet my first pair of chopsticks until I was in my twenties. By then I could speak knife and fork with ease, and could happily conjugate the correct cutlery course combinations for soup, fish, cheese etc. But my adult mind has never mastered more than a rudimentary grasp of chopsticks. My fingers lack fluency, and even when I do successfully manage to convey a morsel of food to my mouth I’m sure it’s done with a thick English accent, clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance whose mother tongue is chopsticks.

I learnt years ago that to leave one’s chopsticks in a bowl of food shows disrespect for one’s ancestors [that’s what the rests are for people, do not dis the dead], but I’m usually more worried about the disrespect for my dining companions shown by showering them with flicks of my food.

However having recently received some smart new pairs emblazoned with the animals of our birth years I decided we needed to inaugurate them at the dawn of the year of the rabbit. And that’s where a sticky sauce like this comes in very handy for a chopsticks dunce like me. It’s effectively food glue, and I’ll be less likely to starve if I can use it to entrap some errant grains of egg fried rice. There’ll be forks involved before we’ve finished for sure, but like learning just a few words of a new language, at least I’ll feel like I’ve made an effort.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!”

Very many recipes suggest this same basic technique and combination of ingredients though the proportions vary slightly. I’m not sure how traditional an ingredient tomato ketchup is but it’s certainly popular! Take 100ml of Chinese rice vinegar, 3.5 tbsps brown or cane sugar, 2 tbsps tomato ketchup and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Boil all together in a small pan for a couple of minutes and then thicken with a rounded tsp of cornflour mixed with water. This gives you quite a thick, dark sauce which is probably best for dipping.

I wanted something looser and less intense, so added 200ml of passata, 100ml of water and another good glug of rice vinegar. If you’re doing the same taste the sauce and adjust with more vinegar or sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Quickly stir fry an onion and a pepper [roughly chopped], add cooked chicken [unsurprisingly leftovers in my case], then the sauce and chunks of tinned pineapple. After a quick bubble and stir it’s time to check and adjust again.

I had another wok on the go to fry cooked rice, spring onion, small strips of chilli, some finely shredded smoked duck, peas, a beaten egg and a generous splash of soy sauce. Fried rice is another good place to use up scraps of this and that – the duck was leftover from our recent fondue. If only I’d had a bit of rabbit.

The sauce itself is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you prefer not to have it with meat then some fried tofu would eat very well.

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…

Thyme and Tonka Bean Chicken

Tonka Beans, in a square white bowl, with shadow.

Did I mention already that I think the combination of thyme and tonka bean tastes like tarragon? Not exactly like tarragon – if that were the case it would be easier just to use tarragon! – but a grassier, less aniseedy version. They’re beautifully versatile little buggers these tonka beans, with a vanilla-like freshness that works just as well in sweet dishes [like my Christmas Pudding Ice Cream] as it does with chicken and fish. I swear I detected some yesterday too in the Pork Pibil which I had at Wahaca’s Southbank porta-cabin pop-up, though the recipes I’ve found online make no mention.

I’ve used the pairing here to update a recipe which I first shared in My St Margarets Magazine a couple of years ago. And I’ve changed the method too to produce an easy, prepare-ahead dish for summer entertaining, not least because I know the Lakeland Taxi Driver has a lunch party for twelve this Sunday! This version comfortably serves six, I’m sure you can do the maths. A recent road test played to rave reviews in a packed garden, hopefully your guests will feel the same.

For the chicken

  • A 1.5-1.7kg bird, and a lidded pot into which it fits snugly
  • A large bunch of thyme
  • One onion, finely sliced
  • 300ml white wine
  • 1/3 of a tonka bean, grated with a micro-plane or nutmeg grater
  • Sea salt and black pepper

For the mayonnaise*

  • 1 large egg yolk, and 1 large whole egg
  • 350ml groundnut oil
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of Dijon mustard
  • A good pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsps white wine vinegar

Prepare and cook the chicken as per my recipe for Pot Roast Chicken Veronique [ignore the bit about the Verjuice syrup for this recipe]. Don’t forget to season the bird well, inside and out. Grate the tonka bean over the chicken before you pour over the wine. When the chicken is cooked set it aside to cool. Strain the cooking juices and reduce to one third of their original volume. Let this cool too.

To make the mayonnaise blitz the egg, yolk, salt and mustard in a food processor. Then with the motor running start to add the oil – drop by drop to begin with, then in a thin stream, and then as the sauce emulsifies and begins to bulk up you can increase your rate of pouring. Add the vinegar to the finished mayonnaise with the motor still running. I’ve only just started making mayonnaise and now I can’t stop! It’s proper magical kitchen alchemy, and nowhere near as scary as everyone makes it out to be.

*If you don’t plan to make your own mayonnaise please use a decent ready made one – this really is no time for bog standard factory nonsense!

Roughly tear the flesh from the legs, breasts and back of the bird and scatter into a dish. Take a couple of small ladles of the reduced juices [about 60 ml] and mix into the mayonnaise, and taste. If you feel it needs more, add some. And perhaps add another small shaving of tonka bean, but do it with a light hand, if at all. The flavour could easily dominate, and will build as the dish rests.

Coat your chicken with the enriched mayonnaise, stir well, cover and refrigerate overnight. To serve give it half an hour or so out of the fridge, and decorate with some chopped parsley, a grind or two of black pepper, and some lemon slices – or some watercress, or perhaps pea shoots. It will need a little garnish as although it’s delicious it can look a tad monotone without. This deserves to take centre stage, so make sure it’s dressed to impress!

Dabbous

I’m marking WFTTD’s second birthday with my first restaurant review, and the first review might as well be for the hottest ticket in town…

Dabbous' coddled egg with wild mushrooms and smoked butter, served in an egg shell nestled in hay.

photo © Dabbous

Everybody, it seems, loves Dabbous. I really can’t recall the last time the capital’s collective critics got themselves into so unanimous a lather about anything, and as I write this in June there’s not a table to be had for dinner before next April. “Game changing” is the prevailing gist. I’m really not keen to fuel the bonfire of hype for the restaurant’s sake – overly heightened expectations are so often the enemy of a good meal – but in all honesty I loved it too, and here’s why:

The place

In a display of muscular indifference to identikit restaurant design Dabbous’ interior favours bare brick and concrete, exposed air-con ducts and naked bulbs. Forget rooms aping the style of a private jet and think more the engine room of a cross-channel ferry. And it works. It says with crystal clarity that this place is about what’s on the plate [and downstairs, what’s in the glass], not about the fact that we spent more on our curtains than you did on your house. It’s small too [40 or so covers] and intimate to just the right degree as a result. It’s a space which invites you to relax and enjoy what you’re doing, not one which wants to bully you with its lavishness. And if wasn’t for the customers coming and going all the time I could happily live in the downstairs bar!

The staff

Friendly as you can find. Polite, knowledgeable, there when you want them, not when you don’t. Downstairs in Oskar’s Bar I dithered over my choice of cocktail – keen on the cigar syrup, unsure of the yellow pepper – and the charming and talented young mixologist said, “try that, and if you don’t like it I’ll just make you something else.” I didn’t, so he did, no fuss, and no charge. Upstairs last-minute ordering of additional dishes caused no hint of flap, and despite the pressure of the waiting list we were never pressured for the return of our table. Quite the opposite in fact, as we wanted to return to the bar for a digestif cocktail and were asked if we’d prefer to linger and have them brought to the table. This crew’s pride in what they do and evident joy in doing it here infuse the contents of each coupe and bowl. They could hardly have been bettered.

The menu

A short, seasonal, and to the point selection. The à la carte has five starters, six mains, and five desserts. The descriptions thereon range from three to eleven words, mercifully leaving no room for hyperbole or just plain bollocks. In fact ‘Just plain bollocks’ stands more chance of being a dish on the menu than a criticism of it. I have something of an aversion to tasting menus, though at £49 for seven courses this one is truly excellent value. We were advised that dishes were small [think large tapas] and that if ordering à la carte we might want to choose between four and seven dishes each, and in the end ten between two worked out very well. The other advantage of grazing from the à la carte is that if there are just a couple of you who are happy to share then you can try more dishes than if you both follow the same tasting menu processional route. Be warned though, you might well be reluctant to share some of what arrives!

The food

OK, I’ll say it – this was quite simply some of the best food I have eaten in a more than usually gluttonous 40 plus years. The simplicity of the dishes belies the huge amount of skill and technique which is clearly at play, because all of that skill and technique is directed back into highlighting the inherent beauty of the ingredients, not into hiding them behind the technical prowess of the kitchen or shoving its cleverness down your throat. Several dishes were frankly so good that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry [and usually ended up doing both at the same time!].

To describe the highlights would include almost everything, so here are the edited highlights.

The bread – not something I can remember raving about, or indeed remember, just about anywhere else, our home-made seeded sourdough [with a hint of smoke] came with home-churned butter. Not an afterthought, not padding, but bread to make you sit up and take notice, a sign of things to come. I scoffed the lot. Incidentally I don’t agree with those who have said that it shouldn’t be served in a paper bag – did they actually taste what was in there?

‘Peas with mint’ – this simple description could only have tempted me more if it were to be reduced to just ‘Peas’ [regulars will know I’m a bit of a pea fan]. What arrived was a sublime, smooth pea cream topped with peas, podded and not, pea shoots, and a pea and mint granita on the side. I rummaged around in my extensive critic’s technical vocabulary and pronounced it [no sniggering] “the height of pea-ness!”. This is now officially my ‘death-row’ dinner of choice.

‘Mixed alliums in a chilled pine infusion’ – had the Shopkeeper repeating over and over “I can’t believe what they’ve done with… a plate of onions!”. Soft onions, aioli, chives, a light broth with jewels of herbed oil and pine infusion. Deep, fresh, sweet and savoury, it was a perfect example of letting the ingredients do the singing.

‘Coddled free range hen egg with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter’ – that ‘hen’ is as close as you’ll get to redundant verbiage on the menu but entirely forgivable given the difficulty of finding eggs from so humble a fowl on London menus today. Imagine the most unctious yolks you’ve ever had and know that they will be as nothing once you’ve eaten this. Being presented in the egg shell nestling in a bowl of hay has helped this to become one of the most photographed of Dabbous’ dishes – it’s now virtually a celebrity in its own right.

‘Braised halibut with lemon verbena’ – we agreed that we’d never had a better bit of fish. It was meltingly light and stunningly sauced and garnished. I should apologise publicly here to the Shopkeeper for trying to take a delicate bite of the accompanying oyster leaf and underestimating the size of my own mouth, sorry.

Also stunning were… asparagus with rapeseed mayonnaise and hazelnuts, barbecued Iberico pork with acorn praline [don’t miss the turnip tops with home-made apple vinegar], the squid broth, the custard cream pie [hint of Tonka bean?], and the chocolate ganache confection [bigger and more dramatic than the custard pie as the Shopkeeper was repeatedly keen to point out]. An otherwise super salmon with marjoram, samphire and moscatel grapes would probably have fared better if it wasn’t up against such stiff competition.

The cheeseboard

I’d read in Fiona Beckett’s review that the cheeseboard included Wigmore and – my own personal favourite in five years of cheese mongering – Shorrock’s aged Lancashire bomb, a cheese which we were the first in London to stock. I have not seen the bomb on any other cheeseboard, and any restaurant with the good sense to serve it instantly goes up in my estimation.

The bill

Ten dishes of the finest food to be had anywhere in town, three cocktails each [two before dinner, we couldn’t resist another one after], a bottle of Viognier, two glasses of dessert wines, and service, all came to just under £100 a head. It is very easy to pay far more for so much less. Let’s just hope that the laws of supply and demand and the inevitable blizzard of awards to come don’t herald a price hike. As things stand this is phenomenal value for money, especially in the heart of W1, and to find such satisfaction without being bilked in the process is all part of the pleasure.

My advice…?

Book it for as soon as you can, and sit out the wait. There’ll probably be only one Christmas between now and then, and we all know how quickly they come around! In the meantime you can always turn up at the bar where a selection of dishes are also offered, some being from the à la carte and some specifically for the bar. It’s a destination all on its own and I’m planning a return trip just for the cocktails – and maybe a sly snack or four. You never know, ask on the way in and they may even have a cancellation, but don’t count on it.

And when your day rolls around please do me one favour – print out this review, rip it up, and throw it on the fire. Forget everything you’ve read here and anywhere else, put away the expectations and the hype, and just turn up hoping for a good time – you’re in good hands, and the good folks at Dabbous won’t let you down.

I didn’t take photos – enjoyment isn’t always consistent with documenting the evidence, and I still turn my phone off when I sit down to dinner. Fellow reviewers Cheese and Biscuits and Eat Like a Girl were more conscientious in the photography department, and there are plenty more to be found online or on the Dabbous website. Please ask me if you’d like to be referred to pictures of specific dishes.

Dabbous 39 Whitfield St London W1T 2SF [Map]
Telephone: 0207 323 1544 Email: info@dabbous.co.uk

Easter Eggsess – Again!

Sorry, not had much time to post lately. Bloody working for a living and all that. So until normal service resumes here’s a repeat from last Easter which went down very well at the time – both online and on the plate!

A rich chocolate and bourbon tart, topped with mini Easter eggs

Apologies for the James Martin style egg puns but this is an ideal recipe if you find yourself with too much Easter chocolate on your hands, especially if that includes 350g of dark chocolate and a packet of Cadbury’s mini eggs. I can take no credit for the recipe which belongs to Dan Lepard of the Guardian – only the  decorative tweaks and techniques are my own.

Dan’s recipe produces a very easy to work crust [although I used an extra egg yolk and a splash more water] which can be rolled to less than the thickness of a £1 coin. The key thing is the freeze chilling. I also doubled the quantity of bourbon in the filling [hic!].

To make a well in the centre which can be filled with mini eggs or whatever you fancy [raspberries would be good when in season] pour half the filling into the baked pastry base and chill to set. Meanwhile keep the rest of the filling liquid over a barely simmering bain marie [see the temperature guides in the original recipe]. When the first half has set [after about 10 to 15 minutes] place a glass or jar in the middle and pour the rest of the filling around. The first time I did this I used a metal moulding ring which was a mistake – a glass or jar gives you more purchase when you come to gently twist and remove it which you should do once everything is completely set and after the tart has been out of the fridge for a few minutes.

If using fruit pile it high and allow it to spill over the edges of the centre well. This is less easy however with chocolate eggs. And if you haven’t spent enough time recently in your local cardiac unit you could serve this with cream, but it is easily rich enough without.

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…