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Diary of a Christmas cake and a pudding too

November 21, 2010

Stirring the Christmas puddingToday is ‘Stir-up Sunday‘, the last Sunday before Advent in the Anglican Christian calendar and the day that Christmas puddings are traditionally made.  After a rewarding but totally manic month I made the most of another religious holiday, Eid al Adha, to do some soothing baking earlier this week.  Shutting myself away in the kitchen with no distractions, playing the music of my choice (after competing with two teens and a indie-loving husband) is really calming and knowing that a few more essential items are being ticked off the Christmas list removes some of the frantic voices from my head. OK, I’ll confess what was on my playlist if you’ll keep it a secret – The Very Best of Chic and Sister Sledge.  Teens soon scarper in horror when they get a peek of a highly embarrassing, disco-dancing, apron-wearing Mum.

Christmas pudding

Part of the pleasure, for me, is mulling over every recipe I have before making the final choice.  Good Housekeeping is a stalwart but this year I turned to Nigella for my pudding recipe, swayed by her generous use of alcohol.  In her other recipes, this is often not a good thing and husband begs for mercy after eating her trifles.  However, the point of the Christmas pudding is for it to be laden with tastes that don’t get an outing for the rest of the year.   I couldn’t get hold of the exact typr of sherry la Lawson advocates, so used a combination of medium sherry and Glenfiddich whisky (don’t use a supermarket brand here).

Mixing bowlStirring up a pudding is no trouble at all and my last visit to Lakeland produced some plastic pudding pots I’d had my eye on for ages.  I gladly sacrificed my ceramic pudding bowls with their layer of parchment pleated and tied with string for this less attractive version for the ease of snapping on the lid.  I made up for this by investing in a rather beautiful Mason Cash mixing bowl so I could pretend I was Jill from the Archers when she was still grand dame at Brookfield.  Full recipe and instructions for making your Christmas pudding at the bottom of the page. Now onto the cake…

Making a Christmas cake

Christmas Cake – part two

For the next stage of my Christmas cake, I popped over to The Pink Whisk for Ruth’s recipe.  Having steeped my fruits in brandy for many weeks I was lured again by the promise of a dark, treacley mixture sprinkled with spice. Note to Dubai-dwellers, if you can’t find it on the supermarket shelves, you can make your own mixed spice.

Ruth’s step by step pictures and instructions for making the cake are superb, so I won’t reproduce them here.  I will share what went wrong with my cake in case it happens to you.  I used an oven thermometer and placed the tin on the middle shelf.  However, even with these precautions, the heat underneath the tin (despite being placed on newspaper) must have been too intense and instead of a nice flat cake there was a bit of a cracked volcano look to the top.  Once the cake had cooled I levelled it off with a bread knife as this will be easily hidden under its layer of marzipan and icing later.  The cook’s treat was to eat the top and gave an early preview of how magnificent this will taste when completed.  I’ll be icing it in December so please do revisit then – in the meantime I’m feeding my pet with brandy.

Fruit steeped in brandy

Make time for your Christmas baking this week if you haven’t already and if you can find time to write your Christmas cards now you won’t regret this, I promise.  Is there anything you’ve baked or made for Christmas this week?

Christmas pudding (adapted from Nigella Christmas)

Makes 1 x 1.7 litre (3 pint) pudding which will serve 10-16 if part of the Christmas feast. I made two puds, 1 x 2 pint and 1 x 1 pint.


150g currants
150g sultanas
150g prunes, cut into pieces
75ml sherry
100ml whisky
100g plain flour
125g breadcrumbs
150g suet
150g dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
grated zest 1 lemon
3 eggs (large)
1 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons honey
Brandy or vodka (about 125ml) to serve

Making a Christmas pudding


  1. Put the currants, sultanas and prunes into a bowl and pour over the sherry and whisky.  Give it a stir, cover with clingfilm and leave to steep overnight (or for up to a week).
  2. Butter the inside of the pudding basin and lid.
  3. Put a large pan of water on to boil.
  4. Combine all the ingredients and stir together in a large bowl.  Tip: to measure out the honey, pour boiling water over the tablespoon first and it will pour off the spoon easily and cleanly. There are various traditions about stirring a Christmas pudding (East to West because of the wise men and everyone in the family taking a turn) but I usually do it solo.
  5. If you want to use pudding charms add them now.  I can NEVER find mine when I’m making the pud and anyway, in the interest of fairness surreptitiously drop one in the top of each serving on the day.
  6. Use a spatula to scrape the mixture into your basin or basins and level the top.  Snap on the lid (or tie on your paper).  I used Nigella’s belt-and-braces-method of wrapping a layer of foil round too.
  7. Place the basin in the saucepan of boiling water which should come halfway up the sides and put on the lid.  Alternatively you could use a lidded steamer if you have one. Steam the pudding keeping the kettle boiled ready for topping up every now and again. A large pudding will need 5 hours, the smaller ones 3 hours.
  8. Keep in a cool place until Christmas.  Mine are in the fridge at the moment but only due to the proliferation of ants in Dubai this year.
  9. On the day you are going to serve the pudding, replace the foil and steam as above for 3 hours.
  10. Remove the lid of the basin, place a plate on top and invert, gently squeezing or tapping to release the pudding.
  11. Warm the brandy or vodka in a small pan (do not boil).  Take the pudding and pan to the table, dim the lights, pour the alcohol over the pudding and set light to it (using a long stemmed barbecue match or lighter for safety).  I do not recommend walking with a lit pudding!

I like whisky cream and brandy butter with mine.  Or even better, custard.

  1. November 22, 2010 12:19 am

    This looks like it would be a lot easier to make than some of the Xmas pudding recipes I have seen in the past! I love it and would even love to eat some!

  2. Tricia Evans permalink
    November 22, 2010 9:56 am

    I am SO not a cook, but I get real vicarious pleasure from reading your blog posts…your love of the whole process literally oozes out of the page!! x

    • November 22, 2010 3:35 pm

      I really value your comment Tricia.

  3. November 22, 2010 11:55 am

    I teetered on making a pudding this year, even bought a little basin as you say from Lakeland but since I had one during the week to do a taste review of I couldn’t face it!!

    Love the idea your kids running a mile when you stick the disco music on!

  4. November 27, 2010 11:24 pm

    Sally, there is absolutely nothing that evokes the feeling of Christmas as much as the moment when the lid is lifted on the soaking fruit, and the aroma of brandy and sweet fruit come wafting out. Oooh, just thinking about it is enough to make my mouth water!

    Teenagers..sigh..mine said to me recently, “mum, your taste in music is the skeleton in our family closet.” 🙂

  5. dana permalink
    July 19, 2012 11:57 pm

    what can i replace the whisky with?

    • July 20, 2012 12:06 am

      I would make a different kind of pudding. This recipe really is centred around soaking the fruit for a long time with whiskey or brandy. The alcohol preserves the ingredients and stops it from going off.


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