Nigella Lawson's Ultimate Christmas Pudding

Ultimate Christmas Pudding
By Nigella Lawson

Serves 10-16 as part of the Christmas feast, or 8-10 if not.

Ingredients:
¼ cup currants
1 cup saltanas
1 cup roughly chopped pitted prunes
¾ cup Pedro Ximénez sherry
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/3 cups fresh breadcrumbs
¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 eggs
1 medium Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons honey
Sprig of holly to decorate
½ cup vodka to flame

Also:
Eggnog Cream to serve

1½-quart Pyrex mixing bowl


Although I stipulate a capacious 1 ½ -quart bowl, and cannot extol the utter gloriousness of this pud too much, I know that you're unlikely to get through most of it, even half of it, at one sitting. But I like the grand, pride-instilling size of this - plus it's wonderful on following days, microwaved in portions after or between meals, with leftover Eggnog Cream, or fried in butter and eaten with vanilla ice cream for completely off-the-chart, midnight-munchy feasts.

But it wouldn't be out of the question (and it would certainly be in the spirit of the season) to make up the entire quantity of mixture, and share between smaller basins - a 1 quart one for you, a ½ -quart one to give away. Three hours' steaming both first and second time around should do it; just keep the one pudding for yourself, and give the other to a friend, after it's had its first steaming and is cool, with the steaming instructions for Christmas Day.

Instructions:

Put the currants, sultanas and chopped prunes into a bowl with the Pedro Ximénez, swirl the bowl a bit, then cover with plastic wrap and leave to steep overnight or for up to 1 week. Put the vegetable shortening in the freezer overnight.

When the fruits have their steeping time, put a large pan of water on to boil, or heat some water in a conventional steamer. Butter your Pyrex mixing bowl. Grate the shortening on the coarse side of a box grater and return to the freezer while you measure out the other ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl combine all the remaining pudding ingredients and mix either in the traditional manner or any old how, until there are no large lumps of vegetable shortening, though you should see small flecks.

Add the steeped fruits, scraping in every last drop of liquor with a rubber spatula, and mix to combine thoroughly, then fold in cola-cleaned coins or heirloom charms. If you are at all frightened about choking-induced fatalities at the table, do leave out the hardware.

Scrape and press the mixture into the prepared Pyrex bowl, squish it down and wrap in a layer of aluminum foil, followed by a layer of plastic wrap and a second layer of aluminum foil, so that the bowl is watertight. Then either put the bowl in the pan of boiling water (to come halfway up the bowl) or in the top of a lidded steamer (this size of bowl happens to fit perfectly in the top of my all-purpose pot) and steam for 5 hours, checking every now and again that the water hasn't bubbled away.

When it's had its 5 hours, remove gingerly (you don't want to burn yourself) and, when manageable, unwrap the foil and plastic wrap. Put a circle of parchment paper over the surface of the pudding, then wrap tightly in foil and put the pudding in its basin somewhere out of the way in the kitchen or, if you're lucky enough, a larder, until Christmas Day.

On the big day, rewrap the pudding (still in its bowl) in extra plastic wrap and foil and steam again, this time for 3 hours. Eight hours' combined cooking time might seem a waste of time, but it's not as if you need to do anything to it in that time. And by the way, when I give it its Christmas Day steaming, I sit it in the bottom of my pan, in the water, and steam the Chocolate Sponge Pudding in the top part of my steamer.

To serve, remove from the pan or steamer, unwrap and remove the parchment paper, put a plate on top, turn it upside down and give the bowl a little shake to help unmold the pudding. Then remove the bowl - and viola, the Massively Matriarchal Mono-Mammary is revealed. (Did I forget to mention the Freudian lure of the pudding beyond its pagan and Christian heritage?)

Put the sprig of holly on top of the dark, mutely gleaming pudding, then heat the vodka in a small pan (I use my cute little copper butter-melting pan) and the minute it's hot, but before it boils - you don't want the alcohol to burn off before you attempt to flambé it - turn off the heat, strike a match, stand back and light the pan of vodka, then pour the flaming vodka over the pudding and take it as fast as you safely can to your guests. If it feels less dangerous to you (I am a liability and you might well be wiser not to follow my devil-may-care instructions), pour the hot vodka over the pudding and then light the pudding. In either case, don't worry if the holly catches alight; I have never known it to be anything but singed.

Serve with the Eggnog Cream, overleaf, which you can easily make - it's the work of undemanding moments - while the pudding's steaming.

Make Ahead Tip:

Make the Christmas pudding up to 6 weeks ahead. Keep in a cool, dark place, then proceed as recipe on Christmas Day.

Freeze Ahead Tip:

Make and freeze the Christmas pudding for up to 1 year ahead. Thaw overnight at room temperature and proceed as recipe on Christmas Day.


Chocolate Sponge Pudding for Pudding Haters

From "Nigella Christmas" by Nigella Lawson. Photographs by Lis Parsons. Copyright © 2008, 2009 Nigella Lawson. Photographs copyright © 2008, 2009 Lis Parsons. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.
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