There is no other season when digging out cherished family recipes is more welcomed. In a time where your inbox gets a daily influx of menu ideas for super speedy suppers or the latest super food to boost your morning smoothie, the holidays are the perfect reason to return to your cooking roots. In my house you know Christmas is around the corner when there is a crock of fermenting peaches and pineapple on my kitchen counter with a “stir me” post note stuck to the lid, (it’s the starter for my mother-in-laws friendship cake) and the baking of a tray or two of “Breton Brittle” is a nightly occurrence. These are special treats that we share with family and friends. However, when it comes to that singular classic dessert that made an appearance at the end of every Christmas dinner on my Mum’s side of the family since long before I was born, it has always been my Great Grandmother MacDonald’s Christmas Pudding.
Christmas Pudding is largely associated with traditional British cuisine. My family has a strong Scottish heritage with names like MacDonald, Robertson and Hayman thrown in the mix but the basic ingredients of this quintessential Christmas dessert also made its way over the highlands and into the hearts and to the celebratory tables of the clans.
These sticky puddings laden with raisins, molasses and suet date back to medieval times and in fact find their pedigree in sausage making when fat, spices and fruit were mixed with pretty much what ever could be found in the larder and stuffed into casings for maximum preservation. Over the years Christmas Pudding, sometimes called Figgy Pudding evolved into a sweet dessert often accompanied by a brandy sauce. They are best prepared a few days prior to presentation with the melding of spices and fat that improves the intensity of flavor given time to sit for a few days.
I was a teenager before I gave much thought to how our Christmas pudding was made. Like most aspects of my childhood Christmas, things just magically appeared. I remember being in my Gramma’s kitchen and watching her mix the batter and being appalled at the thought of the suet, animal fat, on her list of ingredients. “It’s no different than the lard in the pie crust,” she said to me. But the other revelation was learning that the pudding was actually steamed in a can in a big pot of boiling water. I am not sure where the can came from or what it originally contained before it became the vessel to mould our pudding but it is the same can that has been used year after year. So from my Great Grandmother Mary to her daughter Ella to her daughter Ann, the recipe is now in my hands, or at least in my kitchen for the day. I am not quite ready to take on the full responsibility of steaming the perfect Christmas Pudding but I thought maybe it was time I give it a try. Thanks for the lesson Mum!
- 1 cup suet
- 1 cup molasses
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon clove
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups raisins
- Flour to thicken (Mum says at least two cups and gluten-free flour works fine, too.)
- 1 ½ cups milk
Mix all of your ingredients in a large mixing bowl in the order listed above. Butter and lightly dust the sides of your baking canister or pudding mould and place in a large pot of simmering water. The water should come at least half way up the sides of your canister. Steam the pudding for three hours. You will have to add a little water occasionally.
After three hours remove from pot and let cool before emptying pudding from the canister. Mum puts her pudding in a large ziplock bag and sits it upright in the fridge for a day or so before serving.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon salt (Not needed if you are using salted butter)
- ¾ cups heavy whipping cream (If you want a creamier sauce. This sauce is great without the heavy cream.)
You can also add ¼ of rum or brandy to this sauce.
Mix all ingredients in a medium sauce pan. Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly for three to four minutes. The sauce will start to thicken. Serve warm over the pudding. Store covered in the refrigerator.