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Ultimate Christmas Pudding

by . Featured in NIGELLA CHRISTMAS
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Introduction

I don’t deny it: there is something unattractively boastful about calling one’s own recipe “ultimate”. But having soaked my dried fruit for this pudding in Pedro Ximénez – the sweet, dark, sticky sherry that has a hint of liquorice, fig and treacle about it – I know there is no turning back. It’s not even as if it’s an extravagance: the rum or brandy I’ve used up till now are more expensive and do the trick less well. This is sensational. I love the same fruits, too, steeped in the magic liqueur, but this here is the Queen of Christmas puddings. It has to be tried, and clamours to be savoured.

I know that many of you, tradition be damned, are resistant to Christmas pudding, and I do understand why. But you must try this. For until you do, you probably think all that dried fruit is, well, dry, and the pudding heavy. Yet this is far from the case: the fruit is moist and sticky, and the pudding mystifyingly, meltingly light.

I don’t deny it: there is something unattractively boastful about calling one’s own recipe “ultimate”. But having soaked my dried fruit for this pudding in Pedro Ximénez – the sweet, dark, sticky sherry that has a hint of liquorice, fig and treacle about it – I know there is no turning back. It’s not even as if it’s an extravagance: the rum or brandy I’ve used up till now are more expensive and do the trick less well. This is sensational. I love the same fruits, too, steeped in the magic liqueur, but this here is the Queen of Christmas puddings. It has to be tried, and clamours to be savoured.

I know that many of you, tradition be damned, are resistant to Christmas pudding, and I do understand why. But you must try this. For until you do, you probably think all that dried fruit is, well, dry, and the pudding heavy. Yet this is far from the case: the fruit is moist and sticky, and the pudding mystifyingly, meltingly light.

Ultimate Christmas Pudding
Photo by Lis Parsons

Ingredients

Serves: 8-10

Metric Cups
  • 150 grams currants
  • 150 grams sultanas
  • 150 grams roughly chopped prunes
  • 175 millilitres pedro ximenez sherry
  • 100 grams plain flour
  • 125 grams fresh breadcrumbs
  • 150 grams suet
  • 150 grams dark brown muscovado sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 medium cooking apple (peeled and grated)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 125 millilitres vodka (to flame the pudding)
  • 1¼ cups currants
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup roughly chopped pitted prunes
  • ¾ cup pedro ximenez sherry
  • ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2⅓ cups fresh breadcrumbs
  • 14 tablespoons coarsely grated vegetable shortening (freeze overnight to make it easier to grate)
  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 medium apple (peeled and grated)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ½ cup vodka (to flame the pudding)

Method

You will need a 1.7 litre/3 pint/1½ quart heatproof plastic pudding basin with a lid, and also a sprig of holly to decorate.

  1. Although I stipulate a capacious 1.7 litre/3 pint/1½ quart basin, 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 portionsafter 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 2 pint/1 quart one for you, a 1 pint/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.
  2. Put the currants, sultanas and scissored prunes into a bowl with the Pedro Ximénez, swill the bowl a bit, then cover with clingfilm and leave to steep overnight or for up to 1 week.
  3. When the fruits have had their steeping time, put a large pan of water on to boil, or heat some water in a conventional steamer, and butter your heatproof plastic pudding basin (or basins), remembering to grease the lid, too.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the remaining pudding ingredients (except the vodka), either in the traditional manner or just any old how; your chosen method of stirring, and who does it, probably won’t affect the outcome of your wishes or your Christmas.
  5. 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.
  6. Scrape and press the mixture into the prepared pudding basin, squish it down and put on the lid. Then wrap with a layer of foil (probably not necessary, but I do it as I once had a lid-popping and water-entering experience when steaming a pudding) so that the basin is watertight, then either put the basin in the pan of boiling water (to come halfway up the basin) or in the top of a lidded steamer (this size of basin 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.
  7. When it’s had its 5 hours, remove gingerly (you don’t want to burn yourself) and, when manageable, unwrap the 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.
  8. On the big day, rewrap the pudding (still in its basin) in foil and steam again, this time for 3 hours. Eight hours combined cooking time might seem a faff, but it’s not as if you need to do anything to it in that time.
  9. To serve, remove from the pan or steamer, take off the lid, put a plate on top, turn it upside down and give the plastic basin a little squeeze to help unmould the pudding. Then remove the basin – and voilà, the Massively Matriarchal Mono Mammary is revealed. (Did I forget to mention the Freudian lure of the pudding beyond its pagan and Christian heritage?)
  10. Put the sprig of holly on top of the dark, mutely gleaming pudding, then heat the vodka in a small pan (I use my diddy 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.
  11. Serve with the Eggnog Cream, which you can easily make - it's the work of undemanding moments - while the pudding's steaming.

You will need a 1.7 litre/3 pint/1½ quart heatproof plastic pudding basin with a lid, and also a sprig of holly to decorate.

  1. Although I stipulate a capacious 1.7 litre/3 pint/1½ quart basin, 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 portionsafter 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 2 pint/1 quart one for you, a 1 pint/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.
  2. Put the currants, golden raisins and scissored pitted prunes into a bowl with the Pedro Ximénez, swill the bowl a bit, then cover with clingfilm and leave to steep overnight or for up to 1 week.
  3. When the fruits have had their steeping time, put a large pan of water on to boil, or heat some water in a conventional steamer, and butter your heatproof plastic pudding basin (or basins), remembering to grease the lid, too.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the remaining pudding ingredients (except the vodka), either in the traditional manner or just any old how; your chosen method of stirring, and who does it, probably won’t affect the outcome of your wishes or your Christmas.
  5. 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.
  6. Scrape and press the mixture into the prepared pudding basin, squish it down and put on the lid. Then wrap with a layer of foil (probably not necessary, but I do it as I once had a lid-popping and water-entering experience when steaming a pudding) so that the basin is watertight, then either put the basin in the pan of boiling water (to come halfway up the basin) or in the top of a lidded steamer (this size of basin 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.
  7. When it’s had its 5 hours, remove gingerly (you don’t want to burn yourself) and, when manageable, unwrap the 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.
  8. On the big day, rewrap the pudding (still in its basin) in foil and steam again, this time for 3 hours. Eight hours combined cooking time might seem a faff, but it’s not as if you need to do anything to it in that time.
  9. To serve, remove from the pan or steamer, take off the lid, put a plate on top, turn it upside down and give the plastic basin a little squeeze to help unmould the pudding. Then remove the basin – and voilà, the Massively Matriarchal Mono Mammary is revealed. (Did I forget to mention the Freudian lure of the pudding beyond its pagan and Christian heritage?)
  10. Put the sprig of holly on top of the dark, mutely gleaming pudding, then heat the vodka in a small pan (I use my diddy 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.
  11. Serve with the Eggnog Cream, which you can easily make - it's the work of undemanding moments - while the pudding's steaming.

Additional Information

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.

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.

Tell us what you think

What 47 Others have said

  • A splendid recipe this. Christmas 2016 will be the third year in a row I have used it and I can't see me using another. Two years ago was my first time trying to make a pudding and it was a triumph - everything Nigella said it would be - light and delicious. The sherry is also available from Sainsbury's.

    Posted by davyK on 5th November 2016
  • This is the most AMAZING Christmas Pudding ever! I never had a Christmas Pudding before but with 12 people over for Christmas Lunch decided to give this recipe a go. Instant winner. I added a about 100ml more alcohol (I used a mix of 1/2 sherry, 1/2 port in mine) in, substituted sultanas for cranberries, and added juice of a lemon to give the sweetness more balance. Was delish. The person's comment directly above mine mentions confusion with the cooking times... the times 3hr and 3hr in the recipe relates to splitting the pudding across two different pudding moulds. The actual cook time for one pudding as intended by this recipe is 5 hours, then 3 hours before serving.

    Posted by nz-helen-nz on 2nd February 2016
  • Just made this - yet to be tasted! My first ever homemade Christmas pudding! I did notice though that in the first part it says steaming or 3 hours twice should do it but then it says steam for 5 hours and then 3 later on. Also it would have really helped to tie it with string as it was so hard getting it in the pan without splashing the water up and also getting it back out again as no room to get hold of the pudding. I then realised why they used to put string round as a handle in the old days!

    Posted by hannah10000 on 13th December 2015
  • 10/10 Made this for the first time last year and considering I've never been a fan of Christmas Pud, it was really quite brilliant. Living in Finland it would be easier to find the holy grail than suet, but we used butter and it still turned out very well. This year's has had its five-hour cook, and Christmas Day awaits!

    Posted by helsinki on 13th December 2015
  • Fabulous Christmas Pudding, faultless each year. I follow the recipe exactly and use Pedro Ximenez Sherry (Waitrose sell it-after much hunting). I make mine at the beginning of November, then keep it in a dark cupboard and every week I drizzle extra Pedro Ximenez over to "feed it" right up to Christmas. Then Christmas Morning I steam it again as the recipe say's. And...........Awwwww pure heaven, very boozy, but just heaven.

    Posted by Kez P on 8th December 2015
  • This is just as delicious as everyone has stated!! I've tried a couple for recipes over the last few years but this one is the definite winner! I used vegtable Suet for vegetarians amongst us and it works just fine, don't forget to leave a bit of rising room in the basin as my first attempt I packed full and it burst the lid open! Steamed one in a pan and one in a slow cooker both just perfect - Oh and I found the sherry stated at Marks and Spencer :)

    Posted by SusanHopper on 22nd November 2015
  • I decided to have a go at making this 3 years ago and have been making it yearly since. I now have to do a double batch as I get requests for them from friends and family every year. This has even converted non Christmas pudding eaters into putting in their annual request for their Christmas pudding and preferably a bigger one than they had the previous year. I tend to put this into 1 or 2 pint basins instead of one large one so that there are enough to go around. If you make nothing else for Christmas, you should definitely make this.

    Posted by MOMMA J on 16th September 2015
  • Hi after all the rave reviews I have managed to track down the Pedro sherry and the correct bowl size. My only reservation is that the recipe doesn't contain nuts which I LOVE in a christmas pudding. Has anyone tried adding walnuts for an extra crunch and if so did it work ok?

    Posted by Izzyjm on 6th November 2015
  • Hi, I have just used this recipe for the first time and have the first pudding in now boiling away. However I haven't got any plastic bowls so I have had to use my heavy china ones, do you think this will be okay when it comes to getting them out!!!!! also will it make a difference to the heat penetrating to cook???

    Posted by karenogon on 25th November 2012
  • Hi there, first posting & I'm a newbie to cooking christmas pud. The sherry's on the fruit already so I've started. If I make 3 x 1lb puds I'm thinking it would take less than the time Nigella suggests for 1 x 3lb pud - am I right? We've a large slow cooker in which I plan to place the water with the pudding bowls ... how long pls?

    Posted by Brug on 20th November 2012
  • I am wondering if I am doing something wrong. This is the first time I cook a xmas pud. I have followed the recipe very closely but my puds are turning out heavy and hard. I am even using more ximenes sherry than the recipe asks for. Any suggestions? Also how long should I steam my puds if I am cooking 3 one pint basins in the same pot? I was hoping to give them as xmas gifts but I am afraid my friends might use them as weapons of mass destruction!!

    Posted by gorillapassion on 23rd November 2012
  • Hi, I was wondering if anyone could answer 2 questions for me - is it possible to cook the pudding for the whole cooking period in one go and then microwave on Christmas day? and is it possible to cook the pudding in a metal basin or does it have to be plastic for this recipe? Many thanks!

    Posted by Olgawyn on 29th October 2012
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