The holiday season is just getting under way, but it's not too soon for one project, says Marialisa Calta, a food writer in Calais, Vt. It's time to make Christmas Pudding. Calta uses a recipe she got from a neighbor, who got it from a friend in England. It's enough for two puddings, each "with the heft of a bowling ball."
Try it yourself; here's the recipe:
1 pound currants
1 pound golden raisins
1 pound suet, ground
1 pound raisins
1 pound all-purpose flour
1 pound bread crumbs
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 large apple, grated (but not peeled)
1 cup rum, or more if needed
1/4 pound candied lemon peel
1/4 pound candied orange peel
3/4 pound brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 teaspoons mixed spices (ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and/or cloves)
juice and grated rind of 2 lemons
2 ounces ground almonds
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten, or more, if needed
vegetable oil, solid vegetable shortening or butter for greasing pudding molds
4 cups brandy or rum for storing and serving
In a very large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, using clean hands to mix. Add additional egg (or eggs) if you need to or a bit more rum; the mixture should be uniformly moist, but it will not be batter-like.
Note: if you want to add a coin or good-luck charm to your Christmas pudding, sterilize it first for 5 minutes, and then wrap it in foil, before placing it in the batter. Remember to warn your guests when you serve it.
Generously grease two two-quart quart pudding molds, with tops, or two two-quart, heat-proof bowls without tops. If using a decorative mold, make sure to carefully grease any indentations or patterns. If using lid-less bowls, line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper, cut to fit and oiled on both sides.
Pack the pudding mixture into the molds or bowls, leveling the mixture with a spoon. If using lid-less bowls, cover the tops with another circle of oiled paper, cut to fit.
If your molds have lids, put them on. If not, cut two pieces of cheesecloth (one per bowl) so they will adequately cover the top and hang well over the sides. Sprinkle cheesecloth with water to dampen. Sprinkle with flour and place one over each bowl, floured side down. Tie each cloth with a string below the rim of the bowls, leaving the cloth loose so that the puddings have room to rise as they steam. Bring the cloth ends up over the string, over top of each bowl, and tie them to form a handle.
Place a trivet or steaming rack into two pots, each large enough to hold one pudding. Lower a pudding into each, and pour boiling water into each pot until each pudding is immersed half-way. Cover the pot and simmer the puddings for 8 to 10 hours, adding boiling water as needed. (I read somewhere that the pudding would be safe to eat after 1 and 1/2 hours of steaming, but the additional time is called for so that the flavors intensive. I usually aim for 9 hours).
Remove puddings from pots and allow to cool thoroughly.
The puddings will be best if kept for at least 2 weeks for flavors to mature: unmold the puddings, wrap them in cheesecloth, pour a cup of brandy or rum over the cheesecloth. Wrap each pudding in a plastic bag and refrigerate. (You can keep the pudding for at least 2 months, refrigerated).
To serve, unwrap each pudding and return them to their molds or bowls, covered with a lid, or with parchment and cheesecloth on top (the idea is to keep water out). Steam each for two hours, half immersed in boiling water.
To serve, unmold the puddings and pour a glass of warm brandy over the top of each. Hold a lighted match near the pudding and ignite the brandy.
Serve with whiskey sauce (below) or hard sauce.
Note: I've never tried halving the recipe, but it could probably be done. I figure that if I'm going to all this trouble, I might as well make two; one to keep and one to give away.
Yield: two plum puddings, at least 20 servings each
Recipe adapted from one given to me by Nancy Webb, Montpelier, VT
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup bourbon, rum or other whiskey
Melt butter in top bowl of a double boiler set over hot, not boiling, water. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and egg. Add to melted butter. Stir 2 to 5 minutes, until sugar dissolves completely and mixture is thick and smooth (DO NOT BOIL or egg will scramble). Remove pan from heat and let sauce cool slightly. Stir in bourbon.
This makes enough for ONE of the puddings.
Recipe from Karen Ziner, Providence, R.I.