January perhaps isn't the ideal time to write about such specifically Christmassy fare - it is after all 10 months before it's time to think about it again but I'm so excited about how the puddings and chutney turned out that I really feel the need to share the results. I only wish I could share the actual food.
The Christmas chutney came from Diana Henry's brilliant 'Salt, Sugar, Smoke' - everyone who has tried it has been enthusiastic, two of them have requested the recipe. I can't recommend this book highly enough, it's one I keep going back to - it's not just that everything in it works brilliantly, but everything I've made from it has since been made again and again. There are a number of books about on preserving, there's at least one other that I'd recommend (the River Cottage handbook by Pam Corbin) but 'Salt, Sugar, Smoke' is the indispensable one (buy it if you don't have it!). The Christmas chutney is filled with fresh and dried cranberries, dried cherries, dates, prunes, raisins, sultanas, cinnamon, mixed spice and other good things. It proved excellent with cheese, pork pies, cold meat and the like. I'd been waiting since late October to try it, it most certainly didn't disappoint.
The thing that had put me off making chutney for so long is the same thing that put me off making Christmas puddings in the past - they take such a long time to cook. With the puddings this feels like even more of a commitment than the chutney because they require hours more boiling again before eating. It's one thing to spend hours cooking a thing in early November but quite another to contemplate doing it all over again on the same day you have so many other demands on your oven.
Turns out it's worth it. I used two recipes from Dan Lepard's 'Short and Sweet', two because I had plenty of dried fruit to use up and wanted one for our family gathering and one to send away with D for his. I ended up with three puddings due to bowl size which meant that I got the chance to try both. Both were good but I know which one I'll be making next year. I can only remember having shop bought microwaved puddings so homemade was something of a revelation. They're much lighter and juicer than anything I've had that's been through a microwave and now that I've adjusted to the idea of cooking it properly it turns out that sticking something into a pan to simmer isn't really so much effort.
The winning pudding was the 'Simple Christmas Pudding' based on a 1930's recipe. It may not be the ultimate in puddings but we were all more than impressed with it. It serves 6 -8 and contains 400g of mixed dried fruit including prunes, 75g suet, 200g muscovado sugar, 100g black treacle, 125g breadcrumbs, 50g plain flour, half a teaspoon of baking powder, 2 teaspoons of mixed spice, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 2 beaten eggs, 50g grated carrot, 100g blanched almonds, zest and juice of a lemon and an orange (unwaxed), and 125mls of stout.
Mix everything together, butter an 18cm diameter pudding basin and place a disc of non stick baking paper in the bottom of it. Fill the basin and then take large squares of baking paper and foil, place then together, fold a pleat in the middle and with the paper pudding side tie them securely round the lip of the basin with some string, trim the foil so it doesn't come to far down the basin. Either make a handle of string or wrap the whole lot in a square of muslin so you can lift the whole lot in and out of the pan. Find a large enough pan to hold the basin which needs to be placed on a trivet or old upturned saucer, pour water half way up the sides (don't let it touch the foil, it leaves nasty marks on your pan) and summer for 3 hours. Diverging from Lepard's instructions I uncovered the pudding after cooking and cooling so that it could be fed weekly with a liberal amount of drambuie before covering it with paper and foil again for it's final 3 hours boiling on the day of use.
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