Tag Archives: orange

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…

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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 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…

Love Marmalade…?

You’ve still time to make this for Valentine’s Day and give your loved one a hearty breakfast! [sorry, had to get that one out of the way]

Orange marmalade with heart shaped peel pieces

A couple of years ago I saw some marmalade with heart-shaped peel pieces advertised in the run up to Valentine’s Day. It was only being sold in Fortnum and Mason’s so the schlep to the shops was a labour of love in itself, though it turns out this was as nothing when compared to making your own! But of course nothing says “I love you” quite like giving of your time, blood, sweat and tears. And as January and February make up the brief Seville orange season the timing is perfect for the feast of Saint Valentine.

Marmalade making has a bit of a reputation as a dark art where the magical mystery of the bitter orange’s own pectin provides the set, and timing and temperature are crucial components. Perhaps this is why for several years I’ve stocked up on Sevilles and then watched them shrivel before they could be preserved for posterity. Well not this year!

You’ll find any number of recipes online, I opted for that of baking guru Dan Lepard which you can find here. I didn’t think my oranges were providing enough juice for the amount of peel, so I juiced the same quantity again, but then used their peel too so I had the same ratio but double the quantity! When it came to cooking though I didn’t want to use too much water and ended up juicing a few more, and the result is certainly intensely orangey with a good balance of bitter and sweet. The main thing to get right seemingly is the liquid to sugar ratio [Dan gives detailed instructions], and to save every pectin-rich pip.

To make this Valentine’s version follow Dan’s recipe and these additional notes…

  • Equip yourself with a small heart-shaped cutter which you can find in the sugar crafts and baking section of your local cook shop.
  • Cut the heart shapes from the peel after their overnight soak in the orange juice. I found this worked best cutting with the pith side up, outer skin side down. If using a plain metal cutter [as opposed to a fancy plunger version] press down through a cloth, or you really might risk investing blood and tears!
  • Take some time to pare out about half the width of pith from the peel with a small sharp knife [not mentioned in the recipe] if you like a less chunky bite. I kept the papery internal membranes from the oranges too and threw them into the pot wrapped in muslin – I’ve no idea if this does any good but every other bit of the orange seems to have something to add so it seemed a shame not to!
  • You will end up with odd bits of off-cuts of peel when you’ve cut out the hearts. Don’t waste these but tie up in muslin too and add to the cooking liquor.
  • If you want a very clear jelly strain the juices through muslin before cooking. I didn’t, it’s up to you.
  • When the jelly is still hot and quite liquid the peel may congregate towards the surface. For more even distribution wait until the marmalade has cooled and set a little, then stir.

Now all you need is some pretty ribbon for decoration and voila – love in a jar.

Marmalade to spare? Why not try my brioche pudding recipe.

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…

Brioche and Butter Pudding with Marmalade and Whiskied Raisins

Brioche and Butter Pudding with Marmalade

February means it’s time to toast the short Seville orange season again and even if you haven’t been making your own marmalade chances are that somebody you know has. Whether you have a glut or not, don’t make it the exclusive preserve of the breakfast table. The bitterness of the bigarade [as the French call Seville oranges] brings an added dimension to otherwise sweet dishes.

A partially shared Scottish heritage might explain the long affinity of marmalade and whisky– it’s not uncommon to find marmalade with whisky in it, but you can also turn the combination on its head and add a dollop of marmalade to a whisky cocktail. So if you have some whisky marmalade lurking in the cupboard this is the place to use it. I used brioche this time but the beauty of bread and butter pudding is that you can use any old bread, one or two days old being best.

This quantity fed two, twice.

  • 75g raisins, soaked for at least 24 hours in…
  • 100ml scotch whisky
  • 6 small brioche rolls, sliced diagonally in half and generously buttered
  • Enough marmalade to smear over the buttered brioche
  • 3 eggs
  • 300ml milk
  • 100ml double cream
  • A grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp unrefined caster sugar, or vanilla sugar*

Arrange your buttered and marmalade covered pieces of brioche in a round dish, tucking them in to overlap slightly, to resemble the petals of a flower. Take the end of another roll, butter it and squeeze into the middle to complete your ‘pudding daisy’. Alternatively cut sliced bread into triangles and arrange in overlapping layers.

Drain the raisins, reserving the liquor, and scatter them around the dish. Mix the eggs, milk and cream and add the reserved whisky. Pour half this mixture over the bread base and allow to soak in for a few minutes before adding the rest. If there seem to be too many raisins on the top poke some into the gaps between the bread. Allow to soak for another half hour or so before cooking.

Heat the oven to 180˚C, place your pudding bowl into a roasting tray and fill with hot water to half way up the side of the pudding container. Sprinkle the surface of the pud’ with sugar and grated nutmeg and bake for 45 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

* Making vanilla sugar couldn’t be easier. Place a split vanilla pod in a jar, fill with sugar, and shake from time to time. As you use it you can continue to top up with more sugar, the vanilla pod will go on imparting its fragrance for months.

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…

Plum and Damson Crumble

Plums and damsons

Can there be a more beautiful sight in early autumn than a bowl full of juicy ripe plums [no sniggering at the back there!]? Red and purple as a sky bruised by sunset, a fine dusty must misting their taut skins. As the evenings begin to close in around you like the cardigans now emerging from the cupboards these beauties are crying out for a crumble made with warming wintry spice and, in this case, a hint of toffee and vanilla. This recipe is actually the offspring of the marriage of several others and combines the tart with the sweet – the final balance of the two being up to you and your tastes to decide. Regular readers will know that when cooking I often reach for the bottle, and this is no exception including as it does both damson or sloe gin and toffee vodka, but the alcohol here will all cook away so the crumble is quite safe for drivers, children and anyone following the twelve step programme.

For a crumble big enough for four, or six if you’ve already eaten well:

  • 250g damsons
  • 750g plums – you can mix varieties and degrees of ripeness
  • 150ml damson or sloe gin
  • 1 or 2 tbsps toffee vodka
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tbsps golden syrup
  • ½ a vanilla pod, split down the middle
  • Caster sugar to taste, probably no more than 4 or 5 tbsps in total

For the crumble topping:

  • 190g plain flour
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 120g butter
  • The zest of a small orange

Start by preparing the damsons. I have seen recipes which ask you to stone the damsons first, but life is frankly too short, so rinse the fruit and place whole into a pan with your chosen gin, the cloves, and a cinnamon stick. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 15 minutes.  Take off the heat and taste, adding sugar to taste but remembering that this should be the tart component of your pudding. When cool fish out the cloves and cinnamon, then you can either pick out the now obvious stones from the damson pulp, or pass the whole lot through a fine sieve.

Next come the plums, which should be de-stoned and quartered. Heat the butter in a heavy bottomed pan and when foaming tip in the plums. Add the golden syrup, the toffee vodka, the other cinnamon stick and the vanilla pod and allow to bubble merrily away for five to ten minutes so that the plums begin to break down, but don’t collapse completely. Taste again for sweetness and add sugar if needed, but with the golden syrup in there you may not need any – much will depend on the sweetness of your plums. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before removing the cinnamon and vanilla. Add the damson puree and combine the two then give a final taste to check the overall balance of tart to sweet – not sweet enough, add more sugar, not tart enough, a squeeze of lemon juice.

To make the topping mix the flour and sugar with the grated orange zest, then cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour and sugar mix with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Pile this onto your fruity base. Place the dish on a tray [there is likely to be some spillage] and bake in a 200˚C oven for 25 to 30 minutes. The top should be golden and crunchy – a quick flash under a hot grill may help to finish it off – with slight eruptions of sticky sauce from within. My last attempt, made around the time of the Christchurch earthquake, and possibly in sympathy with it, experienced a little more seismic activity from beneath the crust than the ideal, but such is the way of crumbles. I was going to serve this with some homemade custard but there was a rare outbreak of clotted cream in the local store, so the custard recipe will have to wait for another day.

[recipe entered in the ‘Simple and In Season’ event over at Fablicious Food!]