It’s the end of November and Christmas is just around the corner! I always try to be on top of things coming up to the Festive Season, so I can enjoy it, rather than be stressing about getting everything done at the last minute!
Some things cannot be done until the day itself, like cooking the turkey and decorating the ham ; Some things need to wait until December, like decorating the Christmas tree or writing Christmas cards, though these days, instant email has a lot of advantages. I do still like Christmas cards to hang on a string across windows or decorate the mantelpiece, but I’m very selective now with my Christmas card list, especially given the price of postage these days!
Christmas gifts are often bought during the year, when I see the perfect present or a great sale price!
And I really like to prepare my Christmas Pudding and Christmas Cake by the end of November at least, so their flavours can develop!
There are so many wonderful recipes for these Festive offerings. These are my favourite standbys :
Light Christmas Pudding
I found this recipe in a book called ‘Creating Gourmet Gifts’ by Barbara Beckett, which I bought over 20 years ago. It is a lovely book with many wonderful culinary gift ideas, so well worth searching for in secondhand bookstores.
I really like this recipe, as it is comparatively healthy and much lighter than the old suet-based recipes. Remember to allow extra time, as the fruit needs to soak for a few days before cooking and make sure all family members are present in the house on Pudding Cooking Day to make their wish for the coming year!
A few days beforehand
Slice 1.5 cups of prunes and put in a bowl with 2 tbsp mixed peel, 1/2 cup raisins, 1 cup sultanas, 1/2 cup currants, 1 grated carrot and 1 grated apple (I like to use a Granny Smith apple).
Pour over 1/2 cup brandy and stir well. Cover and leave to macerate for several days.Pudding Cooking Day
Put the zest and juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange, 2 tbsp sugar and 2 eggs in a bowl and whisk well. Stir into mixed fruit.Add 1 tsp grated nutmeg, 1 tsp ground allspice, 1 tsp ground cinammon, 3 cloves ground, 1 cup fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs, 1 cup sifted wholemeal self-raising flour and 1/2 cup slivered almonds. Let stand for 1 hour.Meanwhile, double-grease the pudding basin to ensure the pudding turns out easily. Grease the bowl well with butter, put in the fridge for 15 minutes, then grease it again and refrigerate until ready to use. In the old days, I used to tie the pudding mixture up in a boiled, sterilized calico pudding cloth, but it was messy to clean up at the end and in the hot, humid Queensland Summers, I would invariably end up with a mouldy pudding by the time Christmas arrived. It is so much easier and quicker to use a bowl, so it is well worth investing in a classic pudding basin!Clean and sterilize pudding silver and let dry before use. I have a much prized collection of old shillings, sixpences and threepences, which I count out every year after eating the pudding, as they are not so easy to come by now. When our family was young, we also bought each family member their own significant sterling silver charm – a lyrebird for Ross (which has disappeared since) , a thimble (well-chewed) for me and a pig, camel and hippo for the kids, representing their alter-egos. Note that the silver used must be sterling silver, so modern currency cannot be used. Also, be extra carefully when eating, so that you don’t swallow the charms or break a filling or dentures!!!
Put the coins in the pudding mixture.
Assemble all the family to each take their turn at stirring the pudding mixture and making a wish for the coming year, eyes shut of course !Fill the pre-greased pudding basin with the pudding mixture and smooth the top flat. Cover the top of the basin with 2 layers of Gladwrap for a tight seal, then 2 layers of aluminium foil and tie around the lip of the bowl with string, then create a string handle to lift the bowl in and out of the boiling water.Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, then lift in the pudding basin and replace the saucepan lid. Make sure you don’t put too much water in the saucepan, as the pudding bowl will displace water. If the pudding bowl is sitting on the bottom of the pot, put a folded teatowel between the bottom of the pot and the pudding bowl, so the heat is not concentrated on the base.
Steam pudding for 4 hours, covered. Check the water level regularly and keep topped up with boiling water. When the four hours is up, remove the pudding basin from the hot water very carefully with the string handle and let cool.When cold, refrigerate pudding till Christmas.
On Christmas Day, boil for another 1.5 hours before eating.
Remove pudding from the basin. It should slide out easily. Serve upside down on a Christmas plate and decorate the top with a holly leaf or greenery.When you reach dessert, remove the decoration, then pour over spirits – rum, brandy or whiskey and set it alight! When the flames have died down, cut slices for everyone, hiding any exposed silver as you go, and serve with Hard Sauce or Rum Butter, both recipes of which also come from Barbara Beckett’s book ‘ Creating Gourmet Gifts’ and both of which can be made days or weeks beforehand.
Hard Sauce for Christmas Pudding
Mix 1/2 cup caster sugar and 1/2 cup milk powder together.
Add 1/3 cup melted butter and 3 tbsp rum and mix well.
Chill and serve cold with hot pudding.
Put 1 cup unsalted butter in a bowl and stand in a saucepan of simmering water.
When the butter has melted, stir in 1.5 cups soft brown sugar.
When the sugar has dissolved, pour in 1 cup brown rum slowly, whisking all the time.
Add 1 tsp ground cinnamon and 1 tsp grated nutmeg.
Pour into a butter dish and when cool, cover and keep in the fridge. This recipe can be made weeks beforehand.
For the last few years, I have used an Irish Fruit Cake recipe, as I love the idea of soaking the fruit for three weeks, turning it every day and dreaming of the coming Christmas. It’s an exciting time! Here is the method :
Three weeks beforehand
Chop 360 g raisins, 360 g sultanas, 90 g dates, 90g glace cherries, 60 g mixed peel, 60 g depipped prunes and 30 g glace pineapple.
Combine in a large screwtop jar with a tight seal with 1 tsp grated lemon rind, 1 tsp grated orange rind, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/3 cup whiskey and 1/2 peeled grated green apple.
Shake well to mix fruit evenly.
Store in a cool, dry place for 3 weeks, reversing the jar every day.
Baking Day :
Line a 20 cm square tin with Gladbake, extending 5 cm in height above the top edge of the tin. Set the oven to 150 degrees Celsius, with the baking shelf in the middle of the oven.
Add 30 g chopped walnuts and 60 g ground almonds to the fruit mixture in a bowl.Sift 1.5 cups plain flour, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg and 1/4 tsp salt.
Cream 180 g butter and 3/4 cup caster sugar and add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well.Add fruit and nut mixture to the above, then fold in the flour and spice mix.Pour into tin and flatten the top.Decorate with blanched almonds in your desired design.Bake in 150 degrees Celsius oven for 1 hour, then reduce the temperature to 140 degrees Celsius for 1.5 – 2 hours, covering the tin with reflective aluminium foil, if the top of the cake looks like it is burning .
When cooked, brush with 1 tbsp whiskey, cool in the tin and wrap in greaseproof paper and foil.
Remember to leave a slice out for Father Christmas with his beer on Christmas Eve ! Happy Feasting!!!