I do realise that it is October. The month of pumpkins, witches hats and the will to hibernate when the sun goes down at 4pm. But that doesn’t mean one can’t think ahead to the joys of December and all its Christmassy magic.
One of my biggest festive pleasures has to be the food. All the food. And sweeter the better, if you ask me. I’m talking selection boxes for brekkie, chocolate coins for lunch and at least three dessert options per evening meal. Because what’s Christmas without the sugar-spiked food comas and the odd bit of tooth decay?
If you’re a sweet-toothed Christmas fanatic like me, you’ll probably agree that as far as festive desserts go, the humble Christmas pudding comes up tops.
Provided they’re cooked (or steamed in this case) the right way, they tick all my boxes: sticky, sweet, gently spicy and oh-so comforting. Especially when on the ever-so-slightly stodgy side (never a bad thing in my book) and finished off with a generous dollop of good old brandy sauce, or custard.
It’s the over-done, over-boozed and over-iced in dusty marzipan fondant (yack) kind that gives this top pud a bad rep – a real shame, as they’re a doddle to make. The process is astonishingly fuss-free and, actually, very fun. It’s the main thing I took away from my recent Christmassy cooking class at Wynyard Hall.
Hosted by one of the hotel’s leading chefs, Colin, the class took place in The Glasshouse one crisp Sunday morning. Around 10-12 people showed up in their pairs, all with one aim – to tackle and conquer the Christmas pud the professional way and pick up a few top tips along the way – and boy did we do just that.
Things kicked off with a mini demo from the chef, showing us how he created his easier-than-ever pudding batter; essentially butter, sugar, flour, eggs and white breadcrumbs, mixed with dried fruit, chopped nuts (if you like), grated apple (if you like), a squeeze of orange juice (or clementine for an extra Christmassy kick) and as much spice and brandy as you like. Pretty straight-forward, right?
You basically chuck it all in your mixer (though you can go old-school with a wooden spoon and bowl if you fancy), cover with a layer of greaseproof paper and foil, and steam away for about eight hours.
Just make sure you don’t leave it overnight. This isn’t the time to kip – you need to top up the water as and when necessary. You can go down the DIY route and boil it too, if that’s more your thing. Both methods, along with easy-peasy recipe, are at the end of this post – definitely worth checking out.
Demo done, aprons on and a few cuppas down the hatch, we rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in to the good stuff – making the accompaniments for our puds, which our chef had kindly made for us a couple of weeks’ prior. We were welcome to take them home with us to try with our hand and lovingly-made add-ons: brandy sauce, brandy butter and proper English custard.
I can report that Team Luxe decided to tackle the custard side of things – and (surprisingly) came top of the class for our creamy creation.
Put off by the prospect of creating a curdled mess with scrambled lumps, neither myself or my chum had dared to make custard from scratch before, but the Wynyard way is so fuss-free that we took to it like ducks to water.
Again, the recipe is below, but all you really need to know are a few simple steps and once nailed, you’re well on your way to making the silkiest, most decadent custard you’ve ever tasted. Pale yellow, infused with quality vanilla (pod or paste) so you see those beautiful black specks, thin enough not to drown the pud, but thick enough to just about coat the back of your spoon.
A mix of full-fat milk, double of heavy cream, caster sugar, eggs and vanilla are your players and as a team, they’re heaven. If you like your custard sweeter, add a touch more vanilla (not sugar), and you can even add a splash of alcohol – dark rum perhaps – for a caramel-y twist on the traditional.
Our peers did a good job indeed on the brandy side of things, creating bowls full of fluffy, boozy butter, spiked with a drop of Cognac, and thick and wickedly-sweet brandy sauce. For this, our chef advised adding five tablespoons of alcohol to the mix, but go with as much or as little as you can handle. Strictly for grown-ups this one!
After an hour or so, the class came to an end and we were free to taste test around the table. Then, out came a fresh-from-the-steamer pudding that, unbeknownst to us, had been plumping up behind the scenes, ready to be topped with our custards, sauces and butters and devoured.
We couldn’t believe the results – truly the best Christmas pudding that’d ever passed our lips. Golden brown (not black), studded with toasty nuts and soft, juicy fruit and filled with the festive aromas of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg.
Its sweetness was spot on, too, especially when drizzled with custard (which we ended up taking home) and topped with a splodge of our pals’ brandy butter – because, let’s face it, Christmas is no time to count calories.
We left with full bellies and full of Christmas cheer – and with heaps of kitchen confidence. Who knew all this pudding malarky could be so enjoyable and easy-peasy?
I, for one, will definitely be giving Wynyard’s recipes a go come December (ideally you should make your puds a week in advance) and I hope you find the bottle and put them to the test, too. The results are worth it, I assure you. Happy eating!
WYNYARD’S EASY CHRISTMAS PUDDING
450g dried fruit – you choose your favourites
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and roughly grated
The zest and juice of 1 orange
50ml brandy or rum, plus extra for feeding and flaming
100g light muscovado sugar
100g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon of mixed spice – feel free to add more and pick and choose your spices
40g fresh white breadcrumbs – ensure they’re fresh, not stale
40g nuts – almonds work well
Lightly butter a 1.4-litre pudding basin. Cut a small square of foil and press into the base of the basin.
Measure your fruit and apple into a bowl with the orange juice. Add the brandy (or rum) to marinate for about an hour.
Put the butter, sugar and orange zest into a large bowl and whisk until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs, adding a little flour if the mixture starts to curdle.
Sift together the flour and spices, then fold into the creamed mixture with the breadcrumbs and nuts. Add the dried fruit, apple and liquid and stir well until all combined.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared pudding basin, pressing the mixture down, and levelling the top with the back of a spoon.
HOW TO STEAM
Cover your pudding with a layer of greaseproof paper and foil, ensuring both are pleated across the middle to allow for expansion. Tie securely with string and trim off excess paper and foil with scissors.
Put the pudding in the top of a steamer filled with simmering water, cover with a lid and steam for around eight hours, topping up the water as necessary.
HOW TO BOIL
Put a metal jam-jar lid into the base of a large pan to act as a trivet. Put the pudding on to this and pour in enough boiling water to come one-third of the way up the bowl.
Cover with a lid, bring the water back to the boil, then simmer for around seven hours, topping up the water when necessary until the pudding is golden brown in colour.
Once you’re done steaming/boiling, remove your pudding and allow to cool completely. Make holes in the pudding with a fine skewer and pour in a little more brandy or rum to feed. Discard the paper and foil and replace with fresh. Store in a cool, dry place for around a week before Christmas.