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Stir it up

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Get out your pudding basins and your double boilers; find your parchment paper and your string; soak your dried fruit in Guinness and your loonies in Coca-Cola; it’s Christmas pudding time.

Less like a creamy mousse and more like a fruitcake, Christmas pudding has long been a staple of English holiday tables, and it’s a great way to add a little pomp and circumstance to your own. Whether you’re looking for something new to add to your traditional Christmas baking repertoire of sugar cookies and gingerbread men, or you’re continuing a long family tradition, this is the weekend to make your Christmas pudding.

Tradition dictates that the best time of year to make Christmas pudding is the last Sunday before, or the first Sunday of, Advent—usually the last Sunday in November. It’s called “Stir-Up Sunday.” The name originated with the hymn that’s traditionally sung in church that day, which starts “Stir up we beseech thee, O Lord, the will of thy faithful people”; now it reflects the day’s associations with the mixing of the Christmas pudding.

There are a multitude of recipes for Christmas puddings. As a general guide, soak a combination of dried fruit and candied peel in dark beer or brandy for 12 hours, then combine that with bread crumbs, suet, spices and more alcohol. Add a coin or two for good luck (soaking them in Coke will get rid of grime), then get each member of the household to give the pudding a stir, clockwise, while making a wish. Pour the batter into a pudding basin or tall, narrow bowl, tie on a layer of parchment paper and one of foil, and steam for several hours. The result—a moist, dark, cake-like pudding—should be stored in a cool, dark place till Christmas, allowing the flavours to develop.

On Christmas Day, the pudding goes back into the steamer until it’s warmed through. Invert it onto a plate and garnish with a sprig of holly, or heat half a cup of brandy to barely warm, then pour it over the pudding and ignite. If you’re going for the flambe, do it at the table with the lights turned down for full effect; the blue-orange flame is impressive but will extinguish quickly. Served with hard sauce or custard, it’s great for dessert—and even better for breakfast on Boxing Day.

For more about Christmas puddings check out ww.bbc.co.uk/food/news_and_events/events_stirupsunday.shtml#stirring_tradition or pudding.denyer.net.

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