To our friends who are celebrating Christmas this morning, we wish you joy of the season. Of all of the traditions that surround holiday dinners, one of my favorites is the plum pudding. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino agrees that there is nothing as tasty as a well-made classic plum pudding, preferably one that uses a recipe from the time of Charles Dickens.
First of all, to be clear, this is not pudding like Jello Instant Chocolate Pudding, nor are there plums involved. Pudding is a generic British term for dessert, but it also refers to a cake-like concoction, filled with dried fruits and nuts, that is most often steamed.
In fact, plum pudding is more or less a dome shaped fruit cake, but with less density to it. Very few Americans seem to have tried to make a proper plum pudding. This is perhaps because two elements of the recipe may be unfamiliar to a lot of our contemporary cooks: cooking with suet, or equivalent, and steaming the pudding.
Suet, or more properly, shredded suet serves the same function as butter does in pie dough. It holds a place in the dough, and as it melts, it leaves behind a sort of hole that contributes to a flaky, light texture. Fresh suet, which comes from the fat around the kidneys in sheep and cattle, is a high grade fat, and when it is fresh, it contributes a pleasant flavor to the dish. Of course rancid suet should never, ever be used. Shortening is an acceptable substitute, as is high quality lard.
For purists, high quality shredded suet is easy to find on the Internet. Just look for Atora brand shredded suet, available in 7 ounce packages for just $6 or so. I can tell you from experience, it makes a difference. Beyond that, the batter is a very easy affair. Here's the recipe.
CLASSIC PLUM PUDDING
1 cup blackstrap molasses
3/4 cup melted butter
1/cup warm milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour (whole wheat flour is equally acceptable)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp each: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ground cloves, mace
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 /2cup dried currents
1/2 cup mixed candied fruits
shot of rum
1 lb. shredded suet
Equipment: a large metal bowl, 10" wide at least 4" deep to act as a mold
1. Combine molasses, butter, milk, eggs in a bowl, and beat until well mixed.
2. Whisk in the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Beat well.
3. Toss the fruit in a little flour to keep them from sticking. Add to the batter
and stir it in thoroughly. Add the rum and stir it in evenly.
3. Grease the bowl with butter and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Pout the batter into the bowl and smooth it on the top.
4. Cut a circle of wax paper to cover the top of the pudding. Place it and then cover the bowl with tinfoil. Get about 30" of string, make a loop, and tie it under the lip of the bowl, securing the tinfoil. With the remainder of the string, run it opposite the knot and tie it to the string to make a little handle. Make sure everything is tight.
5. In a large, deep stock pot, place a ramekin upside down in the bottom to elevate the pudding mold from the bottom of the pan. Place the mold and add boiling water about half way up the side of the mold.
6. Place the stock pot on the stove, and set the heat to keep the water simmering. Place a tight fitting lid on the saucepan, and steam cook the pudding for about 5 hours. You will have to top off the water with more boiling water from time to time.
7. When you are finished, use the string handle to carefully lift the pudding mold out of the saucepan. Let it cool a while before turning it out onto a serving dish.
The traditional accompaniment to plum pudding is hard sauce, which is very easy to whip up in advance.
1 stick of softened butter
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
a wee drop of rum
a dash of vanilla
1. Blend the butter and sugar thoroughly in a bowl. Stir in the rum and vanilla.
Smooth the sauce, then refrigerate.
Audio coming soon.