Ultimate Christmas Pudding

We have a new member of our family – our British son-in-law. My daughter and he have been at our home for Thanksgiving the last two years, but because of the pandemic, they won’t be back in 2020. In fact, they married in Brighton, England, and of course we couldn’t attend. My daughter said I could include a wedding photo in this post. I just couldn’t pick one. Aren’t the pics beautiful!

I’ve been wanting to make a steamed Christmas pudding for years, not just now with a Brit in our family. Ironically, he doesn’t like Christmas pudding! (I’m actually trying to figure out who does!)

I don’t enjoy alcoholic desserts, but Christmas pudding isn’t similar to American fruitcakes, in that they’re not slogged with brandy or rum weekly before being served.

It’s recommended that one start a Christmas pudding up to 3 months in advance of serving, which I did. I chose Nigella Lawson’s Ultimate Christmas pudding from her book Nigella Christmas, which is my favorite book of hers, probably because I love Christmas so much. And I love Nigella.

This took me a while to understand, but desserts in England are called puddings, like sticky toffee pudding isn’t a pudding, nor is this Christmas pudding.

Nigella Lawson’s Ultimate Christmas Pudding
From Nigella Christmas

150 grams currants
150 grams sultanas
150 grams roughly chopped prunes
175 millilitres pedro ximenez sherry
100 grams plain flour
125 grams fresh breadcrumbs
150 grams suet
150 grams dark brown muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
1 medium cooking apple (peeled and grated)
2 tablespoons honey
125 millilitres vodka (to flame the pudding)

You will need a 1.7 litre/3 pint/1½ quart heatproof plastic pudding basin with a lid, and also a sprig of holly to decorate.

Put the currants, sultanas and scissored prunes into a bowl with the Pedro Ximénez, swill the bowl a bit, then cover with clingfilm and leave to steep overnight or for up to 1 week.

When the fruits have had their steeping time, put a large pan of water on to boil, or heat some water in a conventional steamer, and butter your heatproof plastic pudding basin (or basins), remembering to grease the lid, too.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the remaining pudding ingredients (except the vodka), either in the traditional manner or just any old how; your chosen method of stirring, and who does it, probably won’t affect the outcome of your wishes or your Christmas.

Add the steeped fruits, scraping in every last drop of liquor with a rubber spatula, and mix to combine thoroughly, then fold in cola-cleaned coins or heirloom charms. If you are at all frightened about choking-induced fatalities at the table, do leave out the hardware.

Scrape and press the mixture into the prepared pudding basin, squish it down and put on the lid.

Then wrap with a layer of foil (probably not necessary, but I do it as I once had a lid-popping and water-entering experience when steaming a pudding) so that the basin is watertight, then either put the basin in the pan of boiling water (to come halfway up the basin) or in the top of a lidded steamer (this size of basin happens to fit perfectly in the top of my all-purpose pot) and steam for 5 hours, checking every now and again that the water hasn’t bubbled away.

When it’s had its 5 hours, remove gingerly (you don’t want to burn yourself) and, when manageable, unwrap the foil, and put the pudding in its basin somewhere out of the way in the kitchen or, if you’re lucky enough, a larder, until Christmas Day.

On the big day, rewrap the pudding (still in its basin) in foil and steam again, this time for 3 hours. Eight hours combined cooking time might seem a faff, but it’s not as if you need to do anything to it in that time.

To serve, remove from the pan or steamer, take off the lid, put a plate on top, turn it upside down and give the plastic basin a little squeeze to help unmould the pudding. Then remove the basin – and voilà, the Massively Matriarchal Mono Mammary is revealed. (Did I forget to mention the Freudian lure of the pudding beyond its pagan and Christian heritage?)

Put the sprig of holly on top of the dark, mutely gleaming pudding, then heat the vodka in a small pan (I use my diddy copper butter-melting pan) and the minute it’s hot, but before it boils – you don’t want the alcohol to burn off before you attempt to flambé it – turn off the heat, strike a match, stand back and light the pan of vodka, then pour the flaming vodka over the pudding and take it as fast as you safely can to your guests.

If it feels less dangerous to you (I am a liability and you might well be wiser not to follow my devil-may-care instructions), pour the hot vodka over the pudding and then light the pudding. In either case, don’t worry if the holly catches alight; I have never known it to be anything but singed.

FREEZE AHEAD TIP: Make and freeze the Christmas pudding for up to 1 year ahead. Thaw overnight at room temperature and proceed as recipe on Christmas Day.

Maplev Bourbon vButter

3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar bourbon, or your choice of liquor
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of allspice

With a mixer, beat the softened butter until creamy. Add the powdered sugar and mix while scraping the sides of the bowl, so the sugar and butter come together evenly. Add the vanilla, bourbon, and spices.

Mix, scraping the sides again, to combine. Spoon the sauce into a bowl.

This is brown sugar bourbon.

Serve warm or at room temperature, along with some of the maple bourbon butter.

Well, I do like Christmas pudding. And I really like this butter, which I adapted from Ms. Lawson. They’re a great combination.

Well, I liked it!

48 thoughts on “Ultimate Christmas Pudding

  • I’m so sorry you missed your daughter’s wedding! But beautiful photos and I hope you have a wonderful celebration when you can all get together. My family LOVE Christmas pudding and it wouldn’t be Christmas without one. I have to confess I bought one this year but my favourite is Delia Smith’s, which we’ve eaten for years. I tried Nigel Slater’s last year but prefer Delia’s. However we made Nigel’s Christmas cake this year and it’s fabulous. We make a brandy sauce to go with our Christmas pudding and sometimes I make brandy ice cream. We do use both ‘pudding’ and ‘dessert’ here. In part it depends on where you live in UK, but I guess my family and I use pudding for homely things like actual steamed puddings, fruit crumbles, etc., and dessert is a bit more sophisticated, like a fancy French apple flan.

    • Oh, that’s very interesting, and a mistake on my part. It was 2010 when Emma moved to London, and we were truly joyful learning new words like plasters, jumpers, and puddings! It was like a fun, new language! I’m glad I finally made this pudding. To me, it’s much better than the American fruitcakes. Well, there’s no comparison, because those use inferior quality candied fruits. And there’s so much alcohol in them. What’s funny is that Emma and her husband met in New York City! They went to England because his mother got really sick, but they got there and had some time with her before she died. Not covid related. So that’s how they ended up in England and got married there. Thankfully they still have their jobs and can work remotely. I’m so happy for them but can’t wait to hug them in person!

      • Oh you’ve not really made a mistake. It’s not straightforward and really regional or even class. I’d tell the little grandsons that Nonna has made a ‘pudding’ whatever it was, but for a dinner party it would be a ‘dessert’ – unless it was a pudding 😉I don’t have all the answers myself! 😉

  • I don’t know if I’ve ever tasted a proper Christmas pudding, but I can say it’s a thing of beauty. Look at it glisten in the dappled light! And it actually does sound nice. I like dried fruits and candied ones, which is why I may be one of those rare birds who do like fruitcake?

    And sorry you had to miss the wedding. Hope they organize something for when things get back to normal…

    • You and my mother! But I think she likes the booziness of American fruitcakes, which I can’t handle. No nuts in this one. Yes, sad about the wedding, but it was so lovely. We’ll get them soon enough!

    • Definitely a mess. Aren’t those cute photos?!! I so wish we could have been there, but she enjoyed a special, quiet little wedding.

  • Those wedding photos are so adorable and beautiful. Thanks, Mini, for sharing them with us. The pudding looks authentic and so yummy….steaming for 5 hrs..that’s a LONG time.

    • Thank you Angie. We so wish we could have been there, but she might have preferred the wedding the way it was. Very romantic! The pudding was really good! (Especially with that bourbon butter.)

  • The photos are so beautiful 😍
    When they’re back they need to do a second wedding for you ☺️💕
    This is really an ultimate Christmas pudding!
    up to 3 months in advance of serving? Wow! But looks wonderful 😋

    • I know. Well, at least some kind of reception. We’re a very small family! Yes, 3 months. I flamed it a bit early, for the blog, cause I knew my husband wouldn’t even try it, and it’s a big heavy for me in any case, especially after a Christmas meal. But it did taste good, and was great with the bourbon butter!

  • Congratulations on the marriage! The photos are lovely, and I’m sure you will make up for lost time when it is safe for all. I, for one, love a Christmas pudding, but I’m partial to any food I can set on fire! I haven’t made one in years, but I do make a cranberry cake now and then that I douse with heated brandy and flame! It always delights people!

    • Hahahaha! That’s pretty funny! I love flambéing as well, but have to make sure the alcohol burns off, or it’s too strong for me! Aren’t those photos sweet? I told her she HAD to have a photographer! Merry merry Christmas to you and yours, Dorothy!

  • English pudding is on my “to do” list now. Thank you for the recipe and I wish you and your loved ones to have a Merry Christmas. It is difficult knowing we cannot sit all together around the tables and enjoy but this trouble will end soon and we’ll be hugging over and over again… The photos of your beautiful children are amazing and wish the couple to live happy and long lives. :-)

  • I didn’t realize this pudding was so labourious, kudos for putting in the effort. I’m so sorry you weren’t able to attend your daughter’s wedding, we watched a dear friend’s daughter’s wedding live streamed and I felt so bad for everyone. Will they be having a big party when this madness is over?

    • Thank you Eva. I sort of doubt it. In a big way, this wedding was perfect for their personalities. And our family is very small in any case. They were in England because his mother’s cancer returned with a vengeance, and fortunately they were able to travel there in early April and see her before she died. Then there were some other family obligations. And then the august wedding. So a bittersweet time to be in beautiful southern England, and I think that bonded them even more. but it was hard for us, and her sister especially. But they’ll visit as soon as they can, or we’ll get ourselves to NYC, and celebrate. As far as the pudding goes, it’s not laborious. It’s 8 hours total of steaming, and 3 months of sitting! Merry Christmas!

  • Congratulations to your new family member! How exciting mom! Actually, we love Christmas pudding. Living in Hong Kong and having regular access to a Mark and Spencers and many friends from the UK, we had the delicious opportunity of enjoying this treat often. However, we have not made one from scratch yet so keeping your recipe in our back pocket for next year. Looks amazing.

  • This looks like quite a process, but the end result is beautiful and I’m betting quite tasty. I have an English friend who makes sticky toffee pudding for me at least once a year and I love it. It will be nice when this pandemic ceases so all can travel again.

    • That’s really sweet. We were all beautiful when we were 34! Of course you’d have the patience. You made thumbprint cookies! Mostly it sit there or steams. I was surprised at how good it was!

  • Mimi, I just read your comment for my ‘Linzele Thumbprint Cookies post. You said these cookies were “way too much work” for you. These cookies are extremely easy to make- especially compared to your Christmas pudding which takes three days to make!

  • So sorry you missed your daughter’s wedding! Congratulations. I love that you attempted an English pudding. I lived in London for a couple of years and had Christmas pudding for Christmas. I loved watching it being lit up. Best wishes for a lovely Christmas.

    • Thank you Cynthia. It was pretty sad missing Emma’s wedding, although I think she liked the way it ended up. So I’m happy for her. Merry Christmas!

  • Mimi, I love the photos of your daughter and new husband. She’s is beautiful and they look over the moon. I’m sorry you missed the event, but I’m sure there will be many celebrations to be together in the years to come.
    As for the pudding — I’ve never had one, and I will try it. I love this sort of a cooking “project.” Merry Christmas! :-) ~Valentina

    • My daughter looks so elegant in the photos, and she’s only 34! So proud of them. Yes, we will do something in the future – hopefully in 2021! The pudding is a project but it never seemed time consuming. Lots of steaming and sitting! Merry Christmas!

    • I know. It was a bittersweet time in August for us, but we’re of course so happy! So you like fruitcake? You and two others now that I know of 🤣🤣🤣 The pudding was good, and actually not like American fruitcake. And so festive!

    • Thank you. I made her promise that however they married (courthouse) I wanted photos! The pudding is way better than I anticipated, mostly because it seems like only a few Brits like it! Merry Christmas!

  • Your daughter is simply beautiful, Mimi. Lovely photos of her wedding! I hope you can be with the newlyweds soon. This post is also special because like you, I adore Christmas, and Nigella is one of my favorite chefs/cookbook authors. I don’t have this book, so thank you for sharing this recipe. It sounds amazing and one day I’ll have the courage to try and make this British classic Christmas recipe.
    And I love your new blog format! The snowflakes are so wonderful!!!
    Merry Christmas my dear,
    Roz

    • Thank you Roz! If you love Christmas, and Nigella, then you really should have this cookbook! I’m having trouble clicking on to your latest recipes, but I’ll keep trying! I wanted to check out the dip and the cocktail! Happy New Year!

  • A. Your daughter is stunningly beautiful (and looks so much like you!)
    B. So sorry you had to miss the wedding. ;(
    C. I adore Christmas Pudding…
    D. I especially love lighting it on fire!

    Thanks for this — I will have to try it! (I have a friend who gives me her family‘s Christmas pudding every year… I might have to wait until she no longer makes them. One Christmas pudding a year is enough calories, don’t you think?)

    • It’s certainly dense and full of sugar. Most of my calories came from the amount of bourbon butter I put on each bite! I know, it was sad about the wedding, but they’re back in the US, and we’ll see them as soon as we can. Regarding lighting the pudding on fire, yes! I’ve only flambéed bananas foster and crepes suzette! All fun.

  • So you started this in September, when everything seemed so dark. I admire your bright hope for the future. It seems to have paid off too. The world feels more hopeful with these holidays and this pudding is perfect. GREG

    • Thanks, Greg. I didn’t feel the world was dark, just different. But I get your metaphor! And I was hoping my daughter and new husband could have visited, but, of course not. Hopefully soon. Happy New Year!

  • so thrilled that you got to add a new member to your family, even if you haven’t had a chance to celebrate with them in person yet! i finally tried a fruitcake last year, and it wasn’t my favorite, but i’m a sucker for flavored butter and things on fire so this sounds fun anyways (:

    • Hahahahahaha! Did you try an American fruitcake? Because I think those are terrible, if they contain the standard candied fruits. But this one was much better, with only dried fruits. I’ll probably not make another, though! Happy New Year!

  • Beautiful photos, Mimi! Hope you get to celebrate with the happy couple soon. I’m not sure about Christmas Pudding, but that maple bourbon butter sounds amazing!

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