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The ancestor of plum pudding was initially served in the dim, pre-Christian Celtic past of Britain as the climax of a feast at the winter solstice, that point in December when the sun is at its lowest arc in the sky. It was served flaming to entice the sun to return, with a sprig of holly in the center to ward off witches and misfortune.
Like mincemeat, plum pudding was originally much more savory, flavored with meat and thickened with suet. It was also more like a pudding, hence its name. But sometime at the beginning of the 18th century, it became the firm cake we know today. Until a century ago, it was boiled in a pudding bag and was thus round or football-shaped.
Sometime towards the latter part of the 19th century, pudding bags were replaced by tin pudding molds which is what we still use today. These are much simpler affairs to use, and the resulting pudding is more elegantly shaped although not any tastier. Like mincemeat, it is good luck for everyone to give the pudding a stir clockwise, or toward the sun.
It's best to make the pudding ahead of time so the flavors have time to blend and mellow. But don't despair if the inspiration to make it comes the day before you want to serve it. It will still be rich and festive and will certainly help you light up the dark season of the year.
1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 cups fresh bread crumbs (hopefully from a loaf of homemade bread!)
1 cup firmly packed grated suet
1 cup currants, soaked overnight in tea
2 cups golden raisins (also soaked in tea)
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup chopped candied peel
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon each nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and ginger
1 cup milk
juice and grated peel (zest) from 1 lemon
1/4 cup brandy or rum
Lightly grease a two-quart pudding mold or a large coffee can. In a large bowl, mix the flour, bread crumbs, suet, fruit, carrots, candied peel, salt, sugar and spices together thoroughly.
In a smaller bowl, beat together the milk, eggs, lemon juice and zest until light.
Mix the liquids into the dry ingredients. (The easiest way to do this is with your hands.)
Put the combined ingredients lightly into the mold, making sure it is only two-thirds full. Cover tightly. (aluminum foil and a large rubber band will do as a lid.)
You'll need a kettle or pot that is large enough to cover with a lid with the pudding mold in it. You will also need something to keep the mold off the bottom of the kettle; a vegetable steamer or even a crinkled-up piece of aluminum foil will do.
When you're ready to steam the pudding, place the mold in the kettle and pour boiling water around it until it comes about two-thirds of the way up the side of the mold.
Cover the kettle and, when the water has come back to a boil, turn the heat as low as you can and steam for 5 hours, adding water when necessary.
When the pudding is done, remove the lid and sprinkle with the rum or brandy. Let it cool a bit to allow the pudding to set before removing it from the mold. When it is thoroughly cool, wrap it in plastic wrap and store it in a cool place.
To reheat for serving, place the pudding back into the mold and steam it for about 2 hours. Turn it out onto a serving dish with a lip.
Heat 1/4 cup of brandy in a small saucepan on the stove until it is close to a boil. Pour it over the pudding, carefully(!) ignite it with a match and carry the flaming pudding to the table. (It has the most impact with the lights off, but watch your step as you carry it to the table.)
Serve with the following sauce:
Hard Sauce With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and brandy or rum. To adjust the consistency, add either sugar or liquid. Cover and chill before serving.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter at room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown (or 1 1/2 cups confectioners') sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 or 3 tablespoons brandy or rum (or to taste)
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. III, No. 2, December, 1991 issue.