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Home & garden.

25 November 2021

How to make Christmas pudding

Find out when and how to make the classic Christmas pud, with James Devonshire's failsafe recipe and tips from Mary Berry, Nigella, Delia and more
Martha Roberts

If you're keen to make your own traditional Christmas pudding this year, look no further. 

We've got tips from experts and chefs, including a basic recipe to follow and what top chefs recommend, as well as advice on when to make your pudding, how to store it and how to cook it.

Plus, our serving tips and tricks covering what to serve your Christmas pudding with - and how to get that all-important flaming top - will help make it the pride of your dessert table on the day.


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How far in advance should you make a Christmas pudding?

It's tradition to make your pud on 'Stir-up Sunday', which this year is on 21 November 2021.

Around six to eight weeks prior to Christmas day is optimal, so if you want to get ahead, it's fine to do it now.

You can do it nearer the time too: Dr Devon Petrie, baking science lecturer and course director at the National Bakery School at London South Bank University, says that some people make their Christmas puddings just a week in advance.

There's nothing wrong with a fresher pudding, but traditionally they're left to mature for a few weeks or months. Andrew Dixon, head chef tutor at The Grand, York Cookery School says this allows the flavours to develop.

You can leave them for even longer - up to a year - but in her Christmas cookbook, Delia Smith suggests that you won't improve the taste by keeping it any longer than six to eight weeks.

James Devonshire, head tutor at Daylesford Cookery School, suggests if you want to save time and be super-organised, you can make one for this year and one for next at the same time.

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What is Christmas pudding made of?

Typically, a traditional Christmas pudding is a rich, moist steamed sponge pudding containing a mixture of dried fruits and peel, grated fruit and zest, spices and a combination of eggs, suet, flour and breadcrumbs to hold it all together.

Like other Christmas fare such as Christmas cake and traditional mince pies, most also contain alcohol for added warmth - typically brandy with a splash of wine, stout or sherry, though more recent adventurous recipes may opt for gin or even vodka.

Classic Christmas pudding recipe

James Devonshire's shared his failsafe Christmas pudding recipe with us, which you can follow below:

Ingredients:

  • 120g suet
  • 60g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 120g white breadcrumbs
  • 240g demerara sugar
  • 120g sultanas
  • 120g raisins
  • 120g currants
  • 1 apple, grated
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp candied orange peel
  • 1 tbsp candied lemon peel
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp mixed ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 30g chopped almonds
  • 2 eggs
  • 50ml rum
  • 70ml white wine
  • 70ml stout

Method:

  1. Mix together the suet, flour, breadcrumbs and sugar, then add the dried fruits, apple, zests, peel, spices and almonds in a large bowl.
  2. Beat the eggs with the rum, wine and stout in a separate bowl, then pour in and mix thoroughly to give a thick batter.
  3. Cover the bowl and leave overnight in the fridge then take it out the next day and stir.
  4. Grease a 1.1 litre ovenproof pudding basin with butter, fill the basin with the pudding mixture and smooth the top.
  5. Cover the basin with a double layer of greaseproof paper, make a pleat in the centre and then follow with a sheet of foil.
  6. Tie a piece of string around the basin to secure the foil and paper in place then put on a trivet inside a large pan.
  7. Pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the outside of the bowl, then cover the pan and keep the water simmering for 8 hours, topping up with boiling water from a kettle from time to time.
  8. The pudding can either be eaten straightaway, or cooled, rewrapped and stored for up to a year.
  9. Re-steam in the same way for 2 ½ hours before serving.

This recipe makes one 1.1 litre pudding which serves up to 11 people.


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Tips for making the best Christmas pudding

Consider using flour rather than suet. Andrew Dixon says using flour, rather than suet, gives a much cleaner flavour and a lighter pudding.' Replace the suet quantity with the same quantity of flour.

Soak your fruit - ideally overnight in alcohol such as brandy to get a rich flavour - or a few hours at the very least, not forgetting to cover the container so that the alcohol doesn't evaporate.

Don't overwork the mixture when combining your ingredients. 'Stop mixing once all the ingredients are incorporated,' says Andrew, 'as this will help to create a light texture that melts in the mouth rather than a heavy pudding.' It will be quite sloppy, but this is normal.

Cover your pudding when steaming. This will protect it while it's cooking and stop it going soggy.

Steam longer for a richer colour. Andrew says: 'It is very difficult to over-steam a pudding, so if you’re uncertain for how long to steam it for, just keep going until it is a rich, dark colour. You can also test if the pudding is cooked by inserting a skewer through the middle. If it comes out clean it is cooked, if not steam for a little longer.'

How to store your Christmas pudding

Store your pudding in a cool dry place (Delia Smith recommends under the bed in an unheated bedroom, though a cool larder or the garage could also work), or in the fridge (up to three months) until you're ready to reheat it on Christmas Day.

You can also freeze it to free up fridge space, though the flavour may not develop as well.


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Should you 'feed' a Christmas pudding with alcohol?

Some people like to 'feed' their pud with alcohol in the run up to Christmas to keep it moist.

You can do this by opening up its covering or piercing a few holes over the surface before spooning one or two tablespoons of your chosen alcohol over over it.

James Devonshire says: 'The pudding can be fed brandy in the weeks leading up to Christmas. My approach with feeding is to go for little and often rather than dousing it too heavily.'

However, Dr Petrie cautions feeding your pud, saying: 'Opening up the pudding and feeding it with alcohol can introduce bacteria and it might become mouldy.'

He adds that over-enthusiastic feeding can also cause the pudding to become too wet and soggy, meaning it will break apart when you're transferring it to your serving dish, and that the alcohol and fruit in the recipe keep it moist anyway.

Ultimately it comes down to personal choice. There's something ceremonial and fun about feeding your pud in the run-up to Christmas day, but it's certainly not a necessary step.

Can you freeze a Christmas pudding?

If you make your Christmas pudding longer than six to eight weeks ahead of the big day, you might want to freeze it whole to keep it at its best.

Mix, leave the mixture then steam so that it is partially cooked according to the recipe you are following (usually around eight hours).

When it has cooled, wrap it in greaseproof paper or plenty of clingfilm then a layer of foil to freeze, to help avoid freezer burn.

Defrost for 48 hours at room temperature then cook, ready for the table.

Follow these same freezing instructions if you are planning to use it next year - it will last for up to a year in the freezer.

If you have any leftovers, you can freeze these, too, but consider splitting your pud into portions if you're not going to get through a whole pudding once it's defrosted.


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Christmas pudding recipes from top chefs

Whether you want a traditional xmas pud recipe or something a bit different, the nation's chefs have delivered. We've rounded up some popular options and what's different about them:

If you want to try your hand at a Heston-inspired recipe that provides visual drama, BBC Good food has a 'Mandarin-in-the-middle' Christmas pudding recipe with a whole mandarin in the centre.

Our food editor's favourite recipe is an aged magazine cut-out passed down through the family - it is entirely flour and suet-free and instead relies on soaked bread for structure, as well as grated carrot - and a spoonful of black treacle for added richness. 

So, experimenting with different recipes and variations might help you to find the recipe that your family will favour for years to come.

Gluten-free, alcohol-free and vegan christmas puddings

You can replace suet with either gluten-free suet or gluten-free and vegetarian suet, and swap flour and bread for gluten-free versions too.

Delia Smith suggests adding a pinch of baking powder if using gluten-free flour.

If you want to cut down on the booze, you can swap it for fruit juice (apple or orange), though bear in mind you won't be able to use this for the flaming topping.

You can buy sparklers and small fire fountains for cakes which you could use as an alternative if you want the fiery drama without the booze.

To make a vegan Christmas pud, you'll need to ditch the eggs and swap the butter for margarine. BBC Good Food has a Vegan Christmas Pudding recipe.

How to steam and prepare your Christmas pudding on the day

Christmas puddings are usually cooked by steaming.

This can be a slow process, so you need to plan ahead, but some cooking methods speed it up a bit, including using a pressure cooker or microwaving on the day.

How to steam your Christmas pudding

Steam: This is the conventional way to both make your pudding and to heat it up ready for Christmas lunch.

This method involves putting the pudding basin in a saucepan with water that sits below the top of the basin and heating it for around two hours.

Pressure cooker: A pressure cooker is a good alternative to steaming it as it cuts down the cooking time.

Microwave: You can both cook and reheat your pudding in the microwave. However, Dr Petrie says: 'Microwaving does work but it can dry out the pudding. Also you don't get that rich dark crumb colour that everyone associates with a Christmas pudding.'

Slow cooker: A slow cooker can be used to heat up your pudding on Christmas Day or to cook it from scratch - put a couple of inches of boiling water into the slow cooker before lowering your pudding basin in.

Dr Petrie says: 'Slow cookers do work but this takes a long time to complete the cooking process. Depending on the size of the pudding, this can take a minimum of eight hours to cook an 850g pudding.'

Bain marie: The bain marie cooking technique can also be used to heat your pudding in the oven if you don't have a slow cooker. It involves partially filling an oven dish with water and placing the pudding inside to create steam.

Aga: The bain marie method can be used here, too - cover the pan with foil and steam cook in the Aga for up to 12 hours, topping up the water as needed, then re-steam on Christmas Day.


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How to light your Christmas pudding

The tipple traditionally used in the making of a Christmas pudding is brandy or cognac, but you can try other options for variety.

A rich sherry like Oloroso or Pedro Ximenez (which Nigella Lawson uses in her Christmas pud recipe) is 'underrated' according to James Devonshire, or you could go for Delia Smith's combination of barley wine, stout and rum.

Dr Petrie says: 'I like to mix the alcohol - a combination of Cointreau, spiced rum and calvados (apple brandy). I find the combination of different alcohols imparts flavour within the mixture.'

If you're planning to light your pud you'll need alcohol with a high spirit content (around 40%) such as rum, brandy or Armagnac to guarantee a good flame. 

Heat the alcohol up in a saucepan and light in the pan or in a ladle before pouring onto your pudding for an impressive flame.


What to serve with your Christmas pudding

There are several options with cream, custard, ice cream and brandy butter being some of the more popular accompaniments.

Dr Petrie recommends custard or clotted cream. 'I have heard of people serving rum and raisin ice cream with their puddings,' he says.

'I think this is sacrilege, but if you wanted to serve an ice cream a rich vanilla one would do best.'

Andrew Dixon's preferred choice is brandy butter (which also goes well with warm mince pies), using this recipe:

Easy brandy butter recipe

  1. Cream 175g unsalted butter and 5 tbsp icing sugar together until light and fluffy.
  2. Add 4 tbsp brandy or cognac until incorporated.
  3. Transfer to a container and chill or freeze until it’s needed on Christmas Day.

If you want to take it to the next level, you can add grated orange zest in the first stage, and chopped stem ginger (2 pieces, chopped) with the brandy.

Andrew suggests rolling and wrapping the butter in beeswax wrap or clingfilm and freezing it. 

You can then cut it into thick rounds on the day and place it on top of the hot pudding to melt (if you're keen to police portions!). However if you want to keep it simple simply heaping it in a nice serving bowl will work well too.

James Devonshire suggests a flavoured custard 'with added spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, plus a splash of your chosen spirit, of course.'


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