For many, finishing off a hearty, traditional roast dinner with a rich slab of Christmas pudding is the final nail in the coffin in a season of festive gluttony. But despite classic fruitcakes falling by the wayside as lighter-textured sponge and cupcakes become the tastes du jour, this once-a-year treat remains a staple of the British Christmas table.
The very first traces of a recipe can be found in medieval manuscripts from the 15th century, with a savoury concoction that calls for chunks of beef and minced onion cooked alongside the more customary mix of aromatic spices, raisins and currants, while the dessert didn’t take shape in a form recognisable to modern eyes – and tastes – until the Victorian era.
Before its association with Christmas, it was referred to as plum pudding and came to be symbolic of Britain, not least because many of the essential ingredients were sourced through trade routes made possible by the expansion of the Empire.
Since then, it has become a staple that crosses the class divide, even making an appearance on the Cratchit family table in the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. And as with any centuries-old creation, it has its fair share of traditions and superstitions.
When is Stir-up Sunday in 2022?
The last Sunday before advent is Stir-up Sunday (this year it falls on 20 November 2022), the designated day to make the Christmas pudding or Christmas cake. It was customary for each member of the household to stir the mix and make a wish, with a hidden silver sixpence bringing the lucky finder wealth and good fortune for the coming year.
Paul Ainsworth’s mini Christmas puddings
This year, ditch the supermarket shortcuts and take expert advice from Michelin-starred chef Paul Ainsworth, as he shares his take on the Christmas classic. Serves 18 people (one mini pudding per person).
- 175g currants
- 175g sultanas
- 140g glace cherries
- 50g mixed peel
- 50g flaked almonds
- zest of one orange
- zest of one lemon
- one carrot, peeled and grated
- 150ml brandy
- 50 triple sec liqueur
- 175g light muscovado sugar
- 175g breadcrumbs
- 125g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp mixed peel
- ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
- 175g butter
- two eggs, beaten
- regular cream or Cornish clotting cream (to serve)
- Soak the dried fruit with the brandy and triple sec, and leave the combination for at least a few days before making the puddings. The longer you soak, the better the results! It’s not unusual to soak dried fruit a year before you make mince pies or Christmas puddings. You can also make the puddings on Stir Up Sunday and then feed them with booze in the lead up to Christmas.
- Mix the fruit, almonds, citrus zest and carrot in a large bowl. Cover and leave to soak. If you want to add an extra glug of brandy to make the puddings even boozier, this won’t affect the recipe and will help you achieve a slightly more moist pudding.
- Mix all the dry ingredients together, then grate in the butter, add the eggs and stir.
- Grease the pudding moulds with butter (if you have caramelised brown butter this will add more depth and flavour to the pudding). Fill each mould with 80g of mix and then tin foil each mould.
- The best way to cook the pudding is by steaming it in an oven, or you can place it in a pan with water and cook with a lid on for 45 minutes. Make sure the pan doesn’t dry by adding more water throughout the cooking.
- Serve with pouring cream or, my favourite, Cornish clotted cream.
Southampton-born Paul Ainsworth is the successful chef and restaurateur behind Paul Ainsworth at No6, Caffè Rojano, Padstow Townhouse, Mahé Chef’s Table and Development Kitchen, and The Mariners – all located on the North Cornwall coast.
The Hairy Bikers’s traditional Christmas pudding
The Hairy Bikers – Si King and Dave Myers – share their take on this festive favourite: the traditional Christmas pudding. “This is our version of the classic pud, and very good it is, too,” they said. “You can make it up to six months before Christmas if you like, then just cover it with fresh baking parchment and keep in a cool, dry cupboard. To make the pud extra-rich and moist, top it up with a splash of brandy every week.”
Ingredients: serves 6–8
- 100g wholemeal breadcrumbs
- 120ml beer, preferably stout, such as Guinness
- 2 free-range eggs, beaten
- 100ml sunflower oil
- 100g brown sugar
- 120g wholemeal flour
- 50g almonds, skinned and finely chopped
- 4 tsp mixed spice, or to taste
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- 200g raisins
- 300g sultanas
- Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
- 1 tsp salt
- 50g cooking apple, chopped
- 50g orange segments, chopped
- Tip the breadcrumbs into a large mixing bowl, add the stout and leave them to soak for a few minutes while you get the rest of the ingredients together.
- Add the eggs, sunflower oil and sugar to the bowl and mix until well combined. Then add the remaining ingredients, except the apple and orange segments, and stir for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is sticky and everything is thoroughly mixed together. Add the chopped apple and orange and stir them in well.
- Grease a 1.2L pudding basin with butter and spoon in the Christmas-pudding mixture. Cover with a double piece of greaseproof paper and a single piece of foil, then secure with string. Place the bowl on an upturned heatproof saucer or small trivet in a large, deep saucepan and add enough just-boiled water to come halfway up the sides of the basin.
- Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid, place over a low heat and steam the pud in the simmering water for 6 hours. Check regularly and top up with boiling water as necessary.
- Once the pud is steamed, allow it to cool before wrapping and storing it away until Christmas. Or, if you want a really traditional look for a pudding to give as a present, wrap it in muslin.
- On the big day, steam the pud again for 2 hours and serve with one of our delicious sauces.
Recipe from The Hairy Bikers’ 12 Days of Christmas by Si King and Dave Myers, published by Orion Books.
Coworth Christmas pudding by Adam Smith
Adam Smith, executive chef at Michelin-starred Restaurant Coworth Park in Ascot, has put a festive twist on the Christmas pudding that’s sure to go down a treat. This heart-warming dish will transport you to the festive setting of The Barn at Coworth Park – from the comfort of your home. Recipe makes approximately ten large puddings.
- 1.2kg sultanas
- 1.2kg currants
- 1.2kg raisins
- 265g glace cherries (chopped)
- 265g mixed peel (chopped)
- 280g prunes (chopped)
- 460g cooking apples grated
- 280g carrots grated
- 330g oranges (zest and juice) weight of fruit pre-zesting and juicing
- 55g lemons (zest and juice) weight of fruit pre-zesting and juicing
- 530g plain flour
- 220g ground almonds
- 800g breadcrumbs
- 530g brown sugar
- 90g salt
- 12g mixed spice
- 12g nutmeg (finely grated)
- 65g crystallised ginger (grated)
- 12g ground cinnamon
- 90m golden syrup
- 45ml cognac
- 176m guinness
- 154ml bitters
- 45ml madeira
- 45ml sherry
- 60ml rum
- 90ml milk
- 6 whole eggs
- 800g suet
- 10 x 900ml ceramic pudding basins
- 10 x 25cm square muslin cloth
- Butcher’s string
- 10 x 16cm diameter circles of grease proof paper
- A large plastic container with lid that can hold min 12kg (this must be clean and sanitized)
- Into your large container place the dried fruits (sultanas, currents, raisins, glace cherries, chopped prunes) cover these with all the alcohol (cognac, Guinness, madeira, sherry, bitters, rum) add in the zest and juice of the oranges and lemons and leave this at room temp for 48hrs in an airtight container.
- You will need a large, sanitised surface for the next stage.
- Firstly, mix all the dry ingredients including – plain flour, suet, ground almonds, brown sugar, salt, breadcrumbs, mixed spice, cinnamon, nutmeg.
- Once well mixed add in mixed fruit peel, grated carrot, apples and crystallised ginger.
- It is important that at each stage we mix until everything is incorporated and evenly distributed throughout the mix.
- Next create a well in the middle of the dry mixture.
- Into the middle add the dried fruit and alcohol that has been macerating for 48 hours.
- On top of this add the golden syrup, eggs and milk.
- Starting from the edges slowly start to mix all the ingredients together.
- You really need to mix this well and take your time to ensure there are now dry clumps and everything is well incorporated.
- Once the mix if made place into your large, sanitised plastic container, cover with grease proof paper first pushing out as much air as possible and the cover with the lid.
- Leave this in a cool dry place for 48hr, like the dry store, larger or pantry.
- After the two days place the mix into the ceramic pudding contains, ensuring there are no air pockets within the mix.
- Place the cut circles of greaseproof on top of each pudding, the place the muslin cloth over the top, around the small lip on the side of the bowl tight tightly with the butcher’s string. Pull the opposite corners of the muslin up above the bowl and tie in a bow repeat with the other two corners.
- Then steam the puddings for 4 hours.
- Leave these in the larder (or a cool dry place) for a minimum 3 months to mature.
- When it comes to the day of serving, steam the puddings for a further 90 minutes.
- Allow to rest for 20 minutes before serving.
- Remove from the bowl and flambé with some cognac.
- Serve with lashings of custard and vanilla ice cream.