On the preparation of Christmas Pudding: advice sought

Since Stir-Up Sunday is upon us and it is time to make the Christmas Pudding, I thought consult in advance with some of you who have experience.  I made one last year, of course.  It was wonderful.  I shared it at the end of a nice meal with my literary group which gathers on roughly a monthly bases.  It was a real hit.  It had a nice sprig of holly sent by a reader here and also took the fire well when the moment came.

I will be using once again the Christmas Pudding recipe from a cookbook for food mentioned in O’Brien’s books. Lobscouse and Spotted DogWhich it’s called Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels. I want to use this book because it was given to me by a reader of this blog!

This year, I was thinking about using dark bread bread-crumbs this year.  Does anyone have any thought about this?  For example, pumpernickel?

Last year I thought the pudding was a bit light in color.  I opined at the time that this was partly a result of using a lighter color brown sugar.

Last year’s pudding.  It seemed light in color.

Also, since I will making a meal before the use of this pudding, I decided to add a couple jars of brandy butter sauce to my wishlist.  That said… any tips about making it from scratch?

UPDATE 15 Nov 1637 GMT:

One of the commentators, below, suggested this recipe, which I believe I shall try.  Intriguing, but I need to gather additional ingredients.

In that recipe there is an ingredient called “mixed spice”.

That seemed a bit vague, so I looked it up.  Sure enough, there is something called – keep in mind that I am no baker – “mixed spice”, which is pretty much analogous to a “pumpkin pie spice” mix, involving your expected cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger, etc.  That mix brought two things to mind.

First, many people these days are ordering Mystic Monk Coffee in the “Pumpkin Spice” flavored version.  You can order some too.  Now, as a matter of fact!  It’s swell!

Second, speaking of Pumpkin Pie, which may be my favorite, there is this ditty entitled “Farewell O Fragrant Pumpkin Pie”:

Farewell, O fragrant pumpkin pie!
Dyspeptic pork, adieu!
Though to the college halls I hie.
On field of battle though I die, my latest sob, my latest sigh
shall wafted be to you!
And thou, O doughnut rare and rich and fried divinely brown!
Thy form shall fill a noble niche in memory’s chamber whilst I pitch
my tent beside the river which rolls on through Kingston town.
And my Love—my little Nell,
the apple of my eye to thee how can I say farewell?
I love thee more than I can tell;
I love thee more than anything—but—pie!

I will now squash this digression and return us to our Christmas Puddings.

And you can help me make them!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. abasham says:

    Well Father, I have decided to try a Pudding this year, too… I was inspired by your blog and the time I spent working in Westminster (and praying at the WONDERFUL St James, Spanish Place) a few years ago, and my family’s English heritage. Since this year will be my first time I can’t offer any real advice, but perhaps I can bounce some ideas off of you, and my fellow readers.

    Whenever I make traditional British foods (such as the Sunday Roast, or a shepherd’s pie) I always try to add an “American” twist to them, to reflect my family’s history of colonization in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. So, I cant promise this will work, but it is what I want to try: perhaps use a bit of Pumpkin bread in the pudding, to give it an American flavor. And of course, load it with dried cranberries along with the usual raisins/dates/currants mixture!

    And one additional idea… why not soak it in American Applejack (distilled cider, a.k.a “apple brandy”) instead of traditional grape brandy?

  2. Supertradmum says:

    If you use a strong flavored bread, such as pumpernickel, it will drastically change the taste. My guess is that the brown sugar in America which you may have used is not the same as that of England. There are several different types of brown sugar, some with more molasses and some which are not as refined, more “natural”. I used Demarara or Muscavado sugars. Also,are you using sultanas or dark raisins? From the photo, it looks like you have some dark raisins. Sometimes the amount and colour of the fruit changes the coloring of the pudding.

    If you use dark bread, go with plain, whole wheat, not anything with a strong savory taste. Pumpernickel would ruin the pudding. Also, the suet you are using may change the colour. I have made suet cakes for birds and these came out different colours depending on the rendering of the suet.

    On brandy butter, bought it not as nice as home-made, but you need to be careful, as again, the type of sugar changes it. “Icing sugar” in England is what we would use, which is not quite the same as powdered sugar and definitely not plain sugar. Do not buy powdered sugar with corn starch or other additives. The finer the confectioner’s sugar, the better. The quality of butter is also important.

  3. thereseb says:

    OK here goes:This one works every time:http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/cuisine/european/english/traditional-christmas-pudding.html
    Conversion from limey measurements here: (scroll down)
    DEFINITELY use the darkest of dark soft Caribbean CANE sugar you can get
    Barleywine- one US source is here
    Use BOTTLED Stout – not cans – Guiness do one
    Use WHOLE candied peel – and make your own
    Please use fresh nutmeg and grate – who cares about fingernails
    Soak your raisins in brandy or rum for 24 hours before using.
    After doing the initial boil, FEED your cake every few days with a little rum or brandy to keep it moist.
    Needless to say, use good caribbean rum, and/or cognac/armagnac – not something made in Arkansas.
    Brandy Butter here – http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/type-of-dish/party-food/accompaniment/brandy-butter.html
    Rum Sauce here
    Why Delia? Because she writes things step by step and they are foolproof – or so I found them to be as a young bride.

    This is not the cheapest pudding you will ever make – BUT you can save on room freshener and spiced candles all through Advent, because I guarantee it will make your house smell absolutely wonderful – and you will be delirious with anticipation.

  4. Banjo pickin girl says:

    The bread in the pudding appears to be there for the purpose of texture, for soaking up the other ingredients. Therefore, using a bread which has a strong flavor of its own, such as pumpernickel, which is even more strong in flavor than rye bread, would make it a “pumpernickel pudding,” a sour, fermented rye flavor pudding. Eeeuw. This makes no sense at all.

    Any grain other than wheat would not make sense for the same reason.

    I didn’t read the other responses, just dashed this off.

  5. RichardT says:

    My wife makes the brandy butter, but it seems very easy. But, as Supertradmum said, it’s whether you can get the ingredients.

  6. Genna says:

    My mother’s puds used to come out black and solid and very rich. She usually made them a year in advance.
    The answer may be to use stout, eg Guinness, in place of the old ale and maybe some dark rum if your recipe includes spirits. Please, please ditch the pumpernickel idea. But do leave the mixture to blend overnight. Good luck and good eating!

  7. Supertradmum says:

    I learned from the people in Dorset to make the pudding in the August before the Christmas of the same year. That could make it darker as well as all the suggestions above. I have also eaten, but not made Guinness Pudding. It does change the taste and is very good, but different..

  8. pattif says:

    For enough brandy butter to serve with your pudding and give some as a present:

    1 lb unsalted butter
    12 ozs icing sugar (I think this is confectioners’sugar in the US)
    12 tbsps cooking brandy

    If you have a food processsor, this is the work of minutes. The butter should be at room temperature. Place in the butter in the bowl and process until it is well softened and looks slightly whipped. With the motor still running, add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, allowing each to be absorbed into the butter. Follow with the brandy, adding in the same way. Do not be tempted to increase the amount of brandy, or the mixture will split.

    If you don’t have a food processor, you need a largish mixing bowl, a wooden spoon and a fair bit of elbow grease. Soften the butter with the wooden spoon, then beat. Add the sugar as above, beating well between each addition. Follow with the brandy, as above.

    This will keep in the fridge for about two weeks, and it also freezes well.

    For a darker Christmas pudding, you need to used soft dark brown sugar. In my opinion, the booze should be brandy and sherry; anything else gives a completely different taste. Some people soak the fruit in tea, but I recommend more booze.

  9. kab63 says:

    How very interesting! Pudding seems to be a kissing cousin of a fine English fruitcake, judging by your comments. A flour batter around the fruit and alcohol replaces pre-made bread, but otherwise what’s the difference? A proper fruitcake is made months in advance and marinated regularly until Christmas time. Father’s picture of his pudding looks remarkably similar to a slice of fruitcake.

  10. mike cliffson says:

    brandy or rum butter:
    50s : either dad or self often roped in as lastminute scullerymen to make the rum and /or brandy butter, usually both. Background :constant conversation twixt mum, her elder sister, elder female cousins, and one or both or grannies as to every single ingredient, quantity, and method used by whoever HAD mad e that yrs Xmas pud, Xmas cake, stuffing, etc whether they should have, and what would have been better…(Note noncatholics as hadn’t been to midnight mass, and had aftermass toddies, had more energy to argue).
    It’s fun to ring the changes, butANY combination of any rum , or any brandy , and soft brown sugar, well whipped with again, tastes in the butter itself vary, ,covered and and cooled a touch, even before fridges were common, is Ace. Why not make six or seven little tubs, and bescientific about it and a have a judicious tasting session?
    I do remember a constant complaint that prewar stuff was stronger, and hence made for a better way of flambeeing the pud, also better brandy and rum butters.
    The family considered white sugar for the rum or brandy butters sacrelidgous. But making it with both pur black tracle and golden syrup were neither very sucessful……..

    Not to the point , but I remember about 1961(?) when some visitors , (very English, to avoid embarrasment(?) put some overstrong-for their taste- brandy or rum butter on the floor and my sisters’ pet rabbits who had been let in for christmas , scoffed it and leapt drunkenly around the dining room…….

  11. Anne.ck says:

    I’m guessing that maybe you didn’t steam the pudding long enough when you first made it? It needs eight hours. [I assure you. It was steamed long enough.]

    Delia Smith has the best recipe – http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/cuisine/european/english/traditional-christmas-pudding.html. But, feeding is for Christmas Cakes; I’ve never heard of nor felt the need to feed puddings. And in my experience, you don’t have to make it eons in advance for it to taste great.

    Please do not use pumpernickel breadcrumbs . [So I gathered.]

    I’ve been making Christmas cakes, puddings and mincemeat for years, including when I lived in the US where I was ridiculed mercilessly by people who couldn’t appreciate these culinary delights. We’re all counting on you! Good luck!

  12. jaykay says:

    Ohhhh… I wouldn’t use a strong-tasting bread like that, Father! The bread, as another poster observed above, is really for soaking up and binding the other ingredients. I think the real idea behind the pudding was in fact that people got to splash put once a year on relatively “exotic” ingredients such as dried fruits, candied peel etc. etc. (which they ordinarily couldn’t have afforded to use) and therefore their flavour is supposed to be the predominant one. A strong bread such as pumpernickel might kill that altogether and defeat the whole purpose of the “traditional” pudding.

    I don’t know if you have access to Guinness, Father, but that will give it a dark colour, along with rum. My mother used to use a couple of tablespoons of black treacle as well, and I certainly remember the puddings she made being a lot darker than my current ones. I don’t use treacle.

  13. pfreddys says:

    I realized now you are talking about fruitcake……the horror…..the horror…. [No. We aren’t. We are talking about Christmas Pudding!]

  14. lucy says:

    One jar of brandy butter sauce on it’s way! I wish I could have sent two. Enjoy !

  15. pfreddys says:

    OK, I will print all these threads out and see if I can make sense of it. As long as I’m sure it has nothing to do with fruitcake, I might even try it myself. I am convinced that the recipe for fruitcake was concocted in hell.

  16. pm125 says:

    Dark brown sugar will give the darker color. This is what I learned from baking common things, but it will have the same effect for the pudding. I’d be careful with flour due to its influence on taste. Stir up Sunday is so close to Thanksgiving Day prep, that I think I’ll just mix mom’s apricot brandy into tea on Christmas evening and wonder how all these efforts turned out.

  17. kallman says:

    1) to darken the pudding add Parisian essence (teaspoon or two by sight) available where cake making goods are sold. Alternately burning ordinary sugar until blackened but still liquid in a saucepan may be used.
    2) the”mixed spice” is ground cinnamon, allspice (pimento) and powdered ginger)
    3) if you hang the pudding for many weeks and let it dry the outside rind will darken somewhat

  18. Charivari Rob says:

    Checked with Mom – she uses her sister’s recipe foe brandy butter.
    2 oz butter – regular, room temp
    4 oz castor sugar or confectioner’s sugar
    1 Tbsp brandy or whiskey or rum
    Dash mixed spice
    (Multiply quantities as needed)
    Cream butter & sugar until light & fluffy (beat together with mixer or wooden spoon until consistency of butter cream frosting).
    Beat in brandy
    Serve in glass dish
    Sprinkle with spice
    Refrigerate & use as needed on hot pudding.

    “Then you sing any song you want.”

  19. Rich says:

    Here’s some advice: have the tofurkey make the Christmas pudding.

  20. PJ says:

    Delia undoubtedly has the best Christmas pudding recipe (ask anyone from the UK and they’d agree with me here – Delia comes into her own at Christmas); however, I can see the attraction in using the recipe from the Patrick O’Brian book, and I am sure this tasted very nice indeed.

    To solve this conundrum of choice, you might like to make two puds! Sounds a little greedy, I know, but making the Delia Christmas pudding is actually very little effort. While you are steaming one pudding, you might as well be steaming two… What you then do is serve one of the puddings at Christmas and keep the other to mature in storage for a slightly longer period (it will take on a deeper flavour, but don’t leave it too much longer, or it will get overly stodgy), finding some suitable date in Jan/Feb to re-live the Christmas pudding fun.

    I wouldn’t get hung up on the colour issue. Without knowing more about the ingredients, it may be that this actually the correct colour for this pudding. Delia’s pudding will have a rich, dark colour if you follow the recipe.

  21. Ralph says:

    Ok, I am going to have to try some of this pudding stuff. I, too, figured it was some sort of fruit cake, which I detest.

    However, I now realize my ignorance on all things pudding (with the exception of the American version hawked by Bill Cosby and placed in my lunch box by my mother when I was a kid in school). I would like to rectify this.
    Where can I order a REAL English style pudding? I need to try one this Christmas and I am quite certain that I do not have the skill to make one myself.

  22. benedetta says:

    I am only here to say that I vote yes, if Father Z. is considering again putting up the endearing cartoon posted along with the pudding developments last year (“Ka-blam!”).

  23. gloriainexcelsis says:

    Don’t know your pudding recipe, but here’s my great-grandmother’s Christmas Suet Pudding circa 1880s

    1 cup suet, finely chopped 1 cup sugar 1 cup milk 1 cup chopped raisins or currants (It is good to soak the raisins or currants in brandy overnight first)
    enough flour to make a stiff batter (about 3 cups) 2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon allspice 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
    salt to taste 1 cup brown sugar 2 eggs 1/4 cup of brandy

    Mix all in a large bowl except the flour. Add flour slowly until a stiff batter forms. Pour mixture into the top of a double boiler and steam over boiling water for at least 2 hours. Latter day puddings have added candied fruits and walnut pieces.

    Hers was a rum flavored sauce. 1 cup sugar 1/2 cup butter, creamed 1 tablespoon water
    yolk of one egg. Mix well and heat to scald. Add one egg white, well beaten and pinch of salt.
    Flavor with a jigger of rum. Pour over pudding.

    If you’d like a real English Egg Nog to top things off, this is my grandfather’s, a family recipe:

    6 eggs (you can get pasteurized if you worry about salmonella) 4 cups bar fine sugar
    1 pint brandy 1/2 pint Jamaican rum 1 & 1/2 pints of cream 1 quart of milk
    1/2 cup of powdered sugar.

    Separate eggs and beat egg yolks with the sugar. Beat in liquors slowly so eggs do not coagulate. Fold in milk and 1/2 of the cream. Beat until smooth. Beat 1/2 the egg whites until stiff. Fold into the mixture. Chill base overnight. When ready to serve, add powdered sugar and the rest of the cream to the remaining egg whites, beaten stiff. Float on top of a mug of Egg Nog. Sprinkle with nutmeg.

    I prefer his Tom and Jerry.
    Beat well, 6 eggs. Add 1 & 1/4 cups bar fine sugar. Stir until very thick. Chill in refrigerator overnight.

    Drop about a tablespoon of batter into a mug, add 1/2 jigger of Brandy and 1/2 jigger of Rum. Fill mug with boiling water. Stir. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Feel warm all over.

  24. Father: I bake a lot. I think your pudding from last year looks fine. I’m with Supertradmum, don’t use pumpernickel. I would, however, as she recommended, try a dark brown sugar. I, personally, always use dark brown sugar in recipes that call for brown sugar. I don’t like the light – not enough molasses flavor and tastes too much, to me, like granulated sugar. But, I, frequently disagree with others on that point as I tend to like stronger and deeper flavors than other Midwesterners. I, however, think you are a food sensualist as I am so you can probably handle it! :-)

  25. RichardT says:

    kab63 asks what the difference is between a Christmas pudding and a fruitcake.

    I’ll leave the technical stuff to the expert cooks (less flour in the pudding, so less actual cake stuff?), but from the eater’s side of things they are very different.

    Puddings are eaten hot, and although a few people like cold Christmas pudding on Boxing Day, most of us agree that it isn’t very nice when cold. Cold Christmas pudding is incredibly thick and stodgy. OK, hot Christmas pudding is also thick and heavy, but not in the same way. Might this be the effect of the fat congealing as it cools?

    Also Christmas puddings are much moister than even the best fruitcake. Perhaps because they’re boiled rather than baked? Or perhaps because the pudding has a higher fruit-to-flour ratio?

    Yes, a similar ingredients list, but very different when eaten.

  26. RichardT says:

    On the colour, we usually make ours on Stir-up Sunday but a year in advance (except for the awful year when the mice got it). They do darken a bit with age, but not much; the lighter colour of Father’s pudding is more likely to be the type of sugar used.

  27. Jael says:

    Ralph, you can buy a Christmas pudding at an import store. They often have different sizes. The year I tried a purchased pudding, it was as good as the one I made myself the year before…very good!

  28. Supertradmum says:

    Aldi’s has Christmas puddings.

  29. Anne.ck says:

    You can safely substitute Allspice for the mixed spice – it has more cloves, whereas the mixed spice has more nutmeg; I actually prefer to use American allspice.

    Also… Delia Smith is a practicing Catholic and has the ‘Stir up’ prayer from the Collect at the front of this section of her Christmas cookbook. Yet another reason to follow her recipe! ;-)

  30. Thanks for the Allspice tip.

  31. mike cliffson says:

    @Anne .ck

    Probably a midatlantic glitch, Allspice for me is a West Indian spice, which my female forebears DID include in Xmas pud as well , to my surprise wiki concurs :”Allspice, also called Jamaica pepper, pepper, myrtle pepper, pimenta, or newspice, is a spice that is the dried unripe fruit (“berries”) of Pimenta dioica , a …./..”

    Gonna be a great pud.
    All Xmas puds are good.

  32. I actually know what Allspice is and have some in the dark cool cupboard.

    BTW… I think I have all the ingredients gathered and am ready to rock and roll.

  33. John F. Kennedy says:

    My first Christmas Pudding has been on the boil 20 minutes!

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