Christmas pudding: A dessert steeped in tradition - Hindustan Times
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Christmas pudding: A dessert steeped in tradition

ByShara Ashraf Prayag
Dec 27, 2022 06:53 PM IST

Fragrant, fruity, full of boozy spiciness — the Christmas pudding or the plum pudding is a festive gem that stirs delicious nostalgia

Fragrant, fruity, full of boozy spiciness — the Christmas pudding or the plum pudding is a festive gem that stirs delicious nostalgia. Served as part of the Christmas dinner, it comes loaded with the delightful Christmas fruit mince – a mixture of dried fruit, citrus zest, nuts and warm, aromatic spices soaked in brandy for at least a couple of weeks.

Every year, the pudding brings you hope lovingly wrapped in celebratory flavours, with a note that the best is yet to come. (Shutterstock)
Every year, the pudding brings you hope lovingly wrapped in celebratory flavours, with a note that the best is yet to come. (Shutterstock)

The pudding is sometimes confused with the Christmas cake or the plum/fruit cake due to the similarities in the ingredients. The fragrant mix is typically what makes both the cake and the pudding Christmassy. And both taste better with age. But the two are distinctive in their texture, sweetness and richness. “While the Christmas cake has a dry to moist crumbly texture (like a rich dry teacake), Christmas puddings are incredibly moist, dense, richer and sweeter,” says chef Rajesh Wadhwa.

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The pudding is served with a rich alcoholic, buttery, creamy sauce. (Shutterstock)
The pudding is served with a rich alcoholic, buttery, creamy sauce. (Shutterstock)

The pudding containing the fruit mix, flour and eggs is prepared in pudding basins, while its cousin, the Christmas cake is made in cake tins. And while baking the cake is comparatively faster, the Christmas pudding is a labour of love: one needs to steam it for hours to achieve the perfect texture. Traditionally, the pudding basins are wrapped with parchment paper and foil, tied with twine and suspended in boiling water to steam. The steaming time can vary between 5-8 hours, depending on the recipe you pick.

Bordering on black in colour with the addition of black treacle, the pudding also has the richness of suet (animal fat) while it’s butter that holds together the cake.

Stir-up Sunday, an age-old family tradition

The Christmas pudding is steeped in family traditions in Britain that date back to the Victorian era. Families would ‘stir’ their Christmas pudding five weeks before Christmas, the last Sunday before Advent. “Those buying one off the supermarket shelf would probably never know the tradition of the whole family taking turns in stirring the mix, tossing in sixpence, making a wish and hoping that whoever found it on the day, their wish would come true!” says British chef Shaun Kenworthy.

Along with coins, British chef Alice Helme’s family puts charms in the pudding that are said to carry special meanings. “We do it for fun! If a single woman finds a thimble, she will remain single for another year, a button for a single man means another year of bachelorhood, a bell says that wedding is on the cards while an anchor symbolises a safe harbour,” says Helme.

Luxe and indulgent flavours make the pudding a real treat. “It is filled with ingredients that families could preserve and enjoy. Traditional recipes encourage you to make the pudding at least three or four weeks in advance. There is another tradition of ‘feeding the pudding’: you make a hole on top of the pudding and you put in brandy, cider or rum. And you tie it up tightly for the flavours to get absorbed,” she says. The pudding is steamed again for three hours on the day before serving.

“The pudding is served flaming with brandy, with a rich alcoholic, buttery, creamy sauce. A little certainly goes a long way!” says Kenworthy.

From the pages of history

One can trace back the origin of the plum pudding to medieval England. “Fat, spices and fruits that acted like preservatives were combined with grains, meat and vegetables, stuffed into animal intestines and steamed to make long-lasting sausages. In the 15th century, plum pottage, a savoury concoction thickened with meat and root vegetables became popular,” says British chef Grant Brunsden. The term ‘plum’ was used to refer to dried fruit raisins and currants, along with prunes that were added to the preparation.

“Steaming was more common in those days. Baking on wood fired ovens was something that only the rich could afford. Puddings were essentially porridge like concoction, and not necessarily sweet,” says food writer and historian Anoothi Vishal.

“It is believed that when Oliver Cromwell, the ‘Lord Protector of England’ came to power in 1647, he clamped down on Christmas celebrations. The pudding could make a comeback only in 1660 when the Puritans were ousted and English monarchy was restored. Much later, during the Victorian era, journalists, artists and novelists popularised an ‘English Christmas’ that was also a celebration of family bonds”, says the chef.

Despite contemporary tweaks such as quick soak recipes and the omission of suet, the Christmas pudding spells indulgence in every bite. Every year, it brings you hope wrapped in celebratory flavours, with a note that the best is yet to come.

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