I know I'm a very old fashioned sort of geezer, and I accept that. And guys like me think good old Charles Dickens taught us how to celebrate Christmas pretty near perfectly. To wit: in my mind nothing captures the spirit of the holiday season better than plum pudding. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino will agree this impressive dessert is shockingly easy to prepare... provided you understand a few key things.
Plum pudding is not unlike a dome shaped fruit cake, but with a less dense
cake to it. Two elements of the recipe may be unfamiliar to a lot of American 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.
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 and some kitchen twine
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 sauce pan, 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 saucepan 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.