Stir it up! That is the chorus in Britain on Stir it Up Sunday, right before Advent. Churchgoers hear, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people,” and anyone—churched or not, with a love for boozy Christmas puddings stirs up the fruity mix to get the holidays going.
Loaded with spice, fruit, nuts, and tradition, the Christmas “pud” is a lovely creation, more moist and mellow than American fruit cake. Since it is fed little tipples of brandy from the day it is made until Christmas, the treat emerges a well-spirited highlight of the holidays.
Our recipe yields one large pudding centerpiece (made with a 7.5-inch x 5.25 inch pudding mold), with enough extra batter to make six little minis to go alongside. We have included a bright mix of raisin, dried cranberry, and apricot as the fruit base, but you can substitute in sultanas or currants, dried cherries, figs, or dates. Because the traditional “mixed spice” used to make British Christmas puddings is not readily available as a blend here, we have incorporated it in the recipe as separate spices, along with a simple and delicious method for making your own candied citrus peel. To finish the pudding, you can cloak the finished pudding in a glaze of our brandy cream, or, simply dust it with a little powdered sugar snow. We have garnished with true sprigs of holly—the customary topper which represents the crown of thorns—but if you do the same, be careful not to let the berries touch the treat—they are not edible.
Adjusting beloved British pud recipes for American larders, our recipe gives the quantities in cups and tablespoons. We have made it with frozen butter, rather than suet (although you can sub in a bit of suet if you like that savory flavor). And if you do not have a steamed pudding mold on the shelf, you can use a 6-cup mixing bowl. For the minis, little metal pudding molds are available online, but you can also use porcelain ramekins in a 3/4-cup size. Note: There is a little leeway in how much you fill the molds. If you use smaller molds for the minis, be sure not to fill beyond 3/4 full. There is enough space in the 6-cup pudding mold to fill with the main pudding batter, plus what you do not put in the minis.
Makes one large pudding centerpiece (pudding will be about five-cups in size), and 6 mini puddings (each 1/2 cup)
Make fruit mixture:
In a large, non-reactive bowl, combine raisins, cranberries, apricot, and apple with the orange and lemon juices and sherry. Mix, then set aside while making candied citrus peel.
In a small saucepot over medium-high heat, cover the orange and lemon peel with 2 inches of water. Heat to boiling and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain peel out and discard water. Replace cooked peel in pot, cover with a second batch of fresh water, heat to boiling, and simmer for another 15 minutes. Strain peel out and discard water. Repeat one more time.
Next, heat 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water, and bring to a boil. Simmer for three minutes. Add cooked citrus peel, reduce heat to low and continuing simmering, stirring occasionally until peels are translucent and liquid becomes a syrup. Scoop candied citrus into the bowl of marinating dried fruit. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to marinate for 24 hours.
Sift flour, sugar, salt, and spices into a large bowl. Add crumbled bread. Stir in the fat (butter, and suet, if using) and chopped pecans. Whisk egg and honey with stout and milk. Stir into dry ingredients (this is traditionally where each family member gives the bowl a stir). Spoon all of the fruit mixture into the batter and stir to incorporate.
Prepare and fill pudding molds: Using softened butter or solid vegetable shortening, copiously grease the inside of each mold. Starting with the mini pudding molds, fill each with about 1/2 cup of the mixture, making sure each mold or ramekin is no more than 3/4 full. Smooth tops to level. Spoon the rest of the pudding mixture into the large mold. Remaining batter should fill the mold about two-thirds of the way. Smooth top to level.
Cut and grease rounds of parchment paper to place on the top of each mold. Cover with lid (if using a pudding mold that comes with a lid) or cover each mold tightly with two layers of foil. Using kitchen twine, encircle each pudding, wrapping from top around bottom and up again. Tie to create a handle. Fill each of two large pots with enough water to come half the way up the sides of the molds you are steaming. Cover pots, heat water to slow boil, and steam the puddings for four to five hours, replenishing water if the level gets low.
Remove finished puddings from steamers and cool. Remove wrappers. Prick surface of puddings with a toothpick and drizzle with a little brandy or sherry. Cover and store in a cool, dry spot. Unwrap occasionally to drizzle with a little more brandy, until Christmas day.
Make brandy cream:
In a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add flour and whisk constantly to create a thick, smooth paste. Continue whisking for 1 minute. Add milk and continue whisking for three minutes to form a smooth sauce. Add sugar, whisking until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low and whisk for another five minutes. Whisk in brandy. Pour over pudding. Note: brandy cream can be made ahead, kept in the fridge, and reheated at service.
To serve: Remove puddings to serving plates. Prepare brandy cream to pour over or serve on the side. Garnish with holly sprigs, being careful not to let any holly berries touch the puddings—the berries are inedible.