I don’t deny it: there is something unattractively boastful about calling one’s own recipe “ultimate”. But having soaked my dried fruit for this pudding in Pedro Ximénez – the sweet, dark, sticky sherry that has a hint of liquorice, fig and treacle about it – I know there is no turning back. It’s not even as if it’s an extravagance: the rum or brandy I’ve used up till now are more expensive and do the trick less well. This is sensational. I love the same fruits, too, steeped in the magic liqueur, but this here is the Queen of Christmas puddings. It has to be tried, and clamours to be savoured. I know that many of you, tradition be damned, are resistant to Christmas pudding, and I do understand why. But you must try this. For until you do, you probably think all that dried fruit is, well, dry, and the pudding heavy. Yet this is far from the case: the fruit is moist and sticky, and the pudding mystifyingly, meltingly light.
- 150 grams sultanas
- 150 grams roughly chopped prunes
- 110 ml sherry
- 70 grams plain flour
- 100 grams fresh breadcrumbs
- 100 grams suet
- 100 grams dark brown muscovado sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- 2 large eggs
- 1 medium cooking apple peeled and grated
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 100 ml vodka
You will need a 1 litre heatproof plastic or metal pudding basin with a lid, and also a sprig of holly to decorate.
Although I stipulate a capacious 1 litre basin, and cannot extol the utter gloriousness of this pud too much, I know that you’re unlikely to get through most of it, even half of it, at one sitting. But I like the grand, pride instilling size of this, plus it’s wonderful on following days, microwaved in portionsafter or between meals, with leftover Eggnog Cream, or fried in butter and eaten with vanilla ice cream for completely off-the-chart, midnight-munchy feasts. But it wouldn’t be out of the question – and it would certainly be in the spirit of the season – to make up the entire quantity of mixture, and share between smaller basins – a 2 pint/1 quart one for you, a 1 pint/½ quart one to give away. Three hours’ steaming both first and second time around should do it; just keep the one pudding for yourself, and give the other to a friend, after it’s had its first steaming, and is cool, with the steaming instructions for Christmas Day.
Put the currants, sultanas and scissored prunes into a bowl with the Pedro Ximénez, swill the bowl a bit, then cover with clingfilm and leave to steep overnight or for up to 1 week.
When the fruits have had their steeping time, put a large pan of water on to boil, or heat some water in a conventional steamer, and butter your heatproof plastic pudding basin (or basins), remembering to grease the lid, too.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all the remaining pudding ingredients, either in the traditional manner or just any old how; your chosen method of stirring, and who does it, probably won’t affect the outcome of your wishes or your Christmas.
Add the steeped fruits, scraping in every last drop of liquor with a rubber spatula, and mix to combine thoroughly, then fold in cola-cleaned coins or heirloom charms. If you are at all frightened about choking-induced fatalities at the table, do leave out the hardware.
Scrape and press the mixture into the prepared pudding basin, squish it down and put on the lid. Then wrap with a layer of foil (probably not necessary, but I do it as I once had a lid-popping and water-entering experience when steaming a pudding) so that the basin is watertight, then either put the basin in the pan of boiling water (to come halfway up the basin) or in the top of a lidded steamer (this size of basin happens to fit perfectly in the top of my all-purpose pot) and steam for 5 hours, checking every now and again that the water hasn’t bubbled away.
When it’s had its 5 hours, remove gingerly (you don’t want to burn yourself) and, when manageable, unwrap the foil, and put the pudding in its basin somewhere out of the way in the kitchen or, if you’re lucky enough, a larder, until Christmas Day.
On the big day, rewrap the pudding (still in its basin) in foil and steam again, this time for 3 hours. Eight hours combined cooking time might seem a faff, but it’s not as if you need to do anything to it in that time.
To serve, remove from the pan or steamer, take off the lid, put a plate on top, turn it upside down and give the plastic basin a little squeeze to help unmould the pudding. Then remove the basin – and voilà, the Massively Matriarchal Mono Mammary is revealed. (Did I forget to mention the Freudian lure of the pudding beyond its pagan and Christian heritage?)
Put the sprig of holly on top of the dark, mutely gleaming pudding, then heat the vodka in a small pan (I use my diddy copper butter-melting pan) and the minute it’s hot, but before it boils – you don’t want the alcohol to burn off before you attempt to flambé it – turn off the heat, strike a match, stand back and light the pan of vodka, then pour the flaming vodka over the pudding and take it as fast as you safely can to your guests. If it feels less dangerous to you (I am a liability and you might well be wiser not to follow my devil-may-care instructions), pour the hot vodka over the pudding and then light the pudding. In either case, don’t worry if the holly catches alight; I have never known it to be anything but singed.
Serve with the Eggnog Cream, which you can easily make - it's the work of undemanding moments - while the pudding's steaming.
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