Monday, 28 November 2011

Recipe XXXV - Traditional English Plum Pudding

Last Sunday was what is known as Stir-up Sunday, and traditionally the weekend where plum puddings are *stirred up*, to *stir up* the festive Yuletide feelings. To make it, you need a fair few ingredients and a lot of time, but the personal rewards are extraordinary. I haven't eaten a supermarket one for over five years, and the season wouldn't be complete without it.
The measurements in this recipe are most certainly only estimates, and I sincerely recommend you put in the ingredients you want, and in the quantities you want. Traditionalists use shredded suet, but to be honest, bread or an extra amount of breadcrumbs are just as good.
You really need two days for this, so plan ahead. The four-week gap between making and eating is not so important: you can even make them now for the year after.

Main Ingredients:
60 to 80g sifted ordinary flour
150g white breadcrumbs
250g dark brown sugar
750g raisins, sultanas and currants
30 dried plums (prunes)
A teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg
100g chopped almonds
250g dried apricots, chopped
120g ground hazelnuts
A good tablespoon of fivespice (Lebkuchen spices)
A large spoonful of cinnamon
50g candied peel, finely chopped
3 apples, cored
2 oranges (grate the peel separately and squeeze the juice out)
2 lemons (grate the peel separately and squeeze the juice out)
2 or 3 eggs
Strong alcohols of your choice: I used these:

but you can use stout beer, barley wine, rum, brandy, sherry or whatever takes your fancy.

Instructions, day 1:
To start, take the largest bowl in the house. If you don't have a huge bowl add it to your shopping list! Put in the breadcrumbs, the flour, the brown sugar and the spices. Stir them round really well, then add all the dried fruit and all the nuts, the grated orange peel and grated lemon peel, plus the candied peel. To keep tabs, remember to put them in bowls like I did, so you can see what you haven't put in yet.

Once all the dry ingredients are in, crack the eggs into a Pyrex jug and add your alcohol mix. This will bind the ingredients more thoroughly without the need for the suet.

Then, go to your neighbours and call your friends and family over to stir the bowl and make a wish! After all this preparation, it is time to take a rest. So once everything is so very well-mixed, leave it in a cool, dry place overnight to bind and settle.

Day 2:
Useful equipment:
A chopping board
A roll of silicone paper
A roll of tin foil
Some muslin (1m²)
A huge saucepan
Something to put in the water to steam the puddings (I used the filter for my rice cooker)

Take your bowl out and put the chopping board flat on the table. Cut the silicone paper to size and using the chopping board as a weight, put two ends under each side. That leaves you free to spoon the pudding mixture onto the paper, as below.

Fold up the edges of the paper and make the pudding into a ball. Cover in tin foil, leaving an onion-shaped effect to be able to tie string round the puddings. This aids in the removal process when they are still very hot.

Put some water into the bottom of the large saucepan and place the rice cooker filter on top. Steam the puddings for several hours. I steam them for 8 hours, but 4 is probably enough.

REMEMBER: keep filling up with hot water from the kettle or tap each hour, and don't allow the water to run low.

Once done, take them out of the steamer, let them settle, cool down, and take them out of their foil and paper wrappers. Put new silicone paper over them, wrap them in muslin and hang them in a cool, dry place for the next four weeks, or give them to close friends and family as early Christmas presents! Here are two of mine, from last Christmas, hanging in the linen wardrobe:

Day of consumption - instructions:
On the day itself, remove the one you want from its storage place, and still in its wrapping, steam it for 2 to 3 hours. Put it on a warm plate, take it to the dining table, pour brandy over it and set fire to it.
Once the cheering and the flames have died down, serve with custard (recipe coming soon), brandy butter, cream or ice cream.

  • Reheating is not a problem - surprisingly, the microwave is quite a good place for it.
  • You can make them as large or as small as you like, so think about who you might be cooking them for, and size the puddings accordingly. To identify them, do certain things to the strings, like "this is for a couple, two knots", "this is for a family of 4, so I'll make a circle between two knots. See the third last photo above.
  • To make it a truly traditional annual event, take some good friends or family in October to your local orchards to pick apples and nuts. You can also make your plum puddings then, or the weekend after your trip to the orchard, to keep the meetings regular.
  • The idea behind plum puddings was actually that - to take the fresh ingredients and before they went off, put them into a heavy cake with alcohol as preservation, to celebrate midwinter with something filling in your stomach.

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