Sunday just past was Stir Up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent when traditionally Christmas puddings and cakes would be made. This was because Advent used to be a fasting period much like Lent and Sitr Up Sunday, much like Shrove Tuesday, would be when you used up all the rich food in the house. Only unlike on Shrove Tuesday when you eat loads of pancakes, on Stir Up Sunday you were making food for the Christmas feast in 4 weeks time.
But don't worry, even if you missed making your puddings on Sunday, you still have time to make them before Christmas. The beauty of puddings is that they can be made anytime. Some years myself and my mum have made them as early as the October bank holiday weekend and as late as the 2nd weekend in December.
This recipe for Christmas puddings comes from my Irish grandmother and in my totally biased opinion, it is the best Christmas pudding recipe you'll ever have. The best thing about this recipe is that it makes about 3 - 4 puddings (depending on the size of your basins) which means you only have to make them every second year!
Two notes on the ingredients for this recipe:
I have specified the amounts of raisins, sultanas cherries and peel but then it's up to you for the remaining 400g of fruit. In the original recipe my grandmother stipulated 225g of currants and 225g of muscatels (if you can get them). Interestingly she never used currants as she disliked them so substituted in extra raisins, sultanas and cherries. This year we used a mixed bag of sultanas, cranberries and raisins to make up the difference. The main thing is that you end up with 1100g of fruit (including the peel and cherries) whatever combination you want to make of that is up to you.
I have also specified pale ale, but anything in the ale family works great in this pudding.
This is one of the hardest recipes I've done for the blog, as so much of the recipe is by feel rather than measurements, so please let me know if you have any trouble with it.
Some people soak their fruit before making the pudding, we let our pudding recipe stand over night instead and let the fruit plump up that way instead. Then we add a little more whiskey, if necessary, before the steaming.
Anyway, to the task at hand - making Christmas Pudding!
First peel, core and grate the apple and leave to one side.
Zest the lemon and leave to one side too.
Beat the eggs in a bowl and put to one side also. Doing these little jobs at the start makes putting together the pudding a breeze.
Meaure the sultanas, raisins and other mixed fruit into your largest mixing bowl.
Add the peel, chop up the glacé cherries into quarters with a scissors and pop in the bowl. I like using a mix of red a yellow cherries for a mix in colours.
Mix the fruit around with a wooden spoon, add the breadcrumbs and mix again.
Add the flour and stir in.
Add the sugar and mix in.
Next add the chopped nuts and ground almonds. Stir in well.
Finally add the last of the dry ingredients: the lemon zest and the grated apple. Mix it all up once again. (Starting to become clear why it's called Stir Up Sunday.)
Now for the wet ingredients. First measure out the butter and melt it in a pot or the microwave. Pour into the rest of the mixture and stir in.
Meaure out the beer and mix in. Drink any left over, you wouldn't want to see it go to waste.
Measure in the nutmeg and cinnamon.
Followed by the ginger and mixed spice.
Add the beaten eggs and mix through.
Finally, add about 100 mls of whiskey (though more is totally allowed) and stir through.
Now for the most important step, get everyone in the household to stir the pudding and make a wish. This is being ably demonstrated here by one of the Beau's children.
It used to be that this would be point where you would add the charms to the pudding. Much like with a barm brack these items would indicate your fate for the coming year. The most common thing to add to the pudding would be a silver sixspence (to symbolise wealth), but you could also find a wishbone (good luck) a silver thimble (thrift) or a tiny anchor (safe harbour).
We then leave the mixture to stand overnight. This lets the fruit plump up with the liquid and become moist and rich. It is best to throw a teatowel over the bowl to prevent incursions from local wildlife.
The next day, add the second 100 mls of whiskey and stir in. The mixture will be much thicker than the previous day.
Divide the mixture between your pudding bowls and steam/boil each one for 3½ hours. It is important to place the bowl on a trivet in the saucepan if you are boiling it and be very careful not to let it boil dry. The water should come up half way up the pudding bowl and you can top it up with boiling water along the way.
Alternatively you can steam the pudding using a steaming pot, which is what we do. The pudding bowl sits in the steaming basket inside a larger pot with the boiling water underneath. Both methods need the same amount of time.
Once the pudding has cooked through, remove it from the pot and allow it to cool. It will now keep in the back of a cupboard for several years. You can keep it longer by adding a little whiskey or other alcohol at regular intervals through the year.
When you want to serve the pudding, boil or steam it again for 1 - 1½ hours. Remove it from the pudding bowl onto a plate. For a dramatic presentation, pour warmed whiskey (or brandy, or sherry) on to the pudding and set alight. Serve with cream, custurd or the incredibly indulgent brandy butter.