Recipe: Make our fruity boozy Christmas pudding
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I used to ruddy hate Christmas pudding, and Christmas cake...oh and mince pies too. Basically anything speckled with dried fruit and nuts. When I was growing up they were the fodder of ‘older people’. The kind of thing my parents and grandparents would carefully nibble on on a dark festive afternoon, the Queen’s speech (unwatched) running on the telly in the background. For me there was no excitement about any of these things, bar the marzipan-clad icing of the cake, which miraculously seemed to disappear whenever I’d been near the dining table.
For my brother and I, Christmas was about the fudgy yule log dusted with a fine dredge of icing sugar. Or there’d be a Viennetta, which still feels like a treat today, despite regularly being on offer for a quid in the supermarket freezer aisles.
The penny didn’t really drop for me with fruity cakes until a few years ago when out of a sense of domestic responsibility, having been handed the family baton of producing the Christmas lunch my mum had so deliciously prepared for years, I decided to create both a pudding and a cake for the first time.
There was something calming and delightful about the whole process. Gathering the ingredients. The scent of alcohol lacing the air of the kitchen as the fruits steeped. Getting the kids involved in the stirring. Raiding the decorating drawer for kitsch plastic robins, Christmas trees and jolly Santas to prod into the dense icing of the cake.
And you know what? They didn’t taste half bad either. I’ve made and eaten my own pudding and cake every year since with success - apart from the time I recreated Nigella’s version with Tia Maria and cocoa, my dad turned his nose up at that one.
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This week’s pudding recipe is one I’ve honed over the past decade. It’s substantial in texture but light in flavour, bursting with bright, juicy zestiness and a whack of rum. I’ve always used margarine rather than suet and found the end result doesn’t suffer. I use the orange, sulphured apricots for tartness. And I always cut my own citrus peels –the pre-cut stuff always seems to be bitter and tough as old boots.
If you’ve not already made your pud, there’s no time like the present.
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Light and boozy Christmas pudding
600g dried fruit - I use 300g mix sultanas and raisins, 150g dried apricots and make up the rest with cherries, dates and whole candied peel
75ml rum (or brandy)
1 apple, cored and grated (you don’t need to peel it)
Zest and juice of one lemon
Zest and juice of one orange
2tsps orange extract
3 medium eggs
125g margarine or butter – if using butter, grate it
175g light brown sugar
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground ginger
1/2tsp ground mixed spice
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch sea salt
90g self-raising flour
Roughly chop the apricots, dates and cherries. Finely chop the candied peel. Place all the dried fruit in a large bowl with the rum, cider, grated apple, zest and juice of lemon and orange, orange extract, eggs, butter or margarine, sugar, spices and salt. Stir well and leave to combine and plump up. I left mine overnight.
Sift in the flour and add the breadcrumbs and mix well. Line the bottom of a pudding basin with greaseproof paper and fill with the batter. Top with another circle of greaseproof and seal the top with foil. Then wrap the whole thing in foil or cloth, leaving a gap for expansion at the top. To save all that mucking about I use a lidded, non-stick steaming basin from Masterclass (available online and from good kitchen shops) which really does make the whole process much easier.
Pop a heatproof trivet in the bottom of a large pan, or make one by folding a large piece of foil a few times. Sit the basin on top and carefully pour water around it to go up a third of the way. Bring the pan to a boil then turn down to a simmer and pop a lid on. Leave to cook for three hours, checking the water level and topping up now and then. Allow to cool, then wrap and store. On Christmas Day steam for a couple of hours in this way or, like me, cheat and put the basin in a low oven until warmed through.
If you’ve gone out and bought a load of dried fruits and peel to make your cake/pudding, instead of letting them fester in the back of the cupboard, make your own mincemeat for mince pies. Mix 500g sultanas or raisins, 150g chopped dried apricots, 100g dried cranberries and 50g finely chopped candied peel in a saucepan with 3tbsps finely chopped nuts, 1 small peeled, cored and finely chopped apple, 130g butter, 225g light brown sugar, zest and juice of one lemon, 1.5tsps ground cinnamon, pinch ground nutmeg, 1/2tsp ground ginger and 2 star anise, finely crushed. Allow the butter to melt, then bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Add 200ml brandy or rum and turn off the heat. Decant into sterilised, hot jam jars. This will make 4-5 jars.