February 12th is National Plum Pudding Day.
Also known as Plum Duff in the Victorian era, Plum Pudding is a fascinating dessert that doesn’t have any plums in it nor is it a pudding. So why plums? It’s thought that it was initially “plumbs” which is colonial terminology for raisins, one of the key ingredients. And why pudding? Although it’s not technically a pudding, this dessert has a pudding-like texture created by steaming.
A popular way of serving this is to invert the pudding onto a plate and doused it in brandy, and then flambe it.
In 1843, Charles Dickens describes the scene in A Christmas Carol:
Mrs Cratchit left the room alone — too nervous to bear witnesses — to take the pudding up and bring it in… Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper which smells like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that. That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered — flushed, but smiling proudly — with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Plum Pudding Recipe
makes 2 large puddings, serving 8 to 10 each, and 1 small pudding that serves 6 to 8
12 ounces pitted prunes, chopped
10 ounces dried currants
8 ounces raisins
4 ounces candied fruit-peel
zest from 1 orange
1/3 cup orange juice
zest from 1 lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon apricot puree
1 tablespoon molasses
1/3 cup Guinness stout
1/2 cup or more Cognac or brandy
1/4 cup tawny port
1/4 cup or more Frangelico liqueur
1/2 rounded teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 rounded teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 scant teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
8 cup fresh white breadcrumbs from homemade-style sliced white bread
6 oz butter, melted plus additional-as needed
glace cherries for garnish
Combine the prunes, currants, raisins, candied citrus peel, citrus rinds and juice, apricot puree and molasses in a large nonreactive bowl.
Add the stout, 1/2 cup Cognac, the port and 1/4 cup Frangelico. Mix well.
Stir in the cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and cloves.
Add the sugar and mix very well.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap; refrigerate for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
The following day, let mixture stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
Fold in the breadcrumbs with a rubber spatula, in batches if necessary, until crumbs are thoroughly combined and no white specks are visible.
Mixture will be stiff. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Thoroughly fold in the melted butter.
There should be about 9 cups of batter.
Lightly butter two 4-cup and one 2-1/2-cup steamed pudding molds, heat-proof ceramic bowls or stainless-steel bowls.
Lightly pack 3 1/2 cups of batter into the 4 cup molds and 2 cups of batter into the 2 1/2-cup mold.
Smooth tops with a rubber spatula.
Press a lightly buttered round of baking parchment directly onto the surface of each pudding.
Cover each mold with its lid or each bowl with aluminum foil.
Place molds in pots with boiling water that comes 3/4 of the way up the sides of the molds; cover pots.
Steam puddings for 4 hours over low or medium-low heat, so water boils gently.
Replenish boiling water as necessary to maintain level.
Transfer puddings to wire racks; cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate puddings, covered with baking parchment and plastic wrap, for up to 6 days.
Brush them lightly once or twice with Cognac or Frangelico, if desired.
To serve, let pudding stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Steam, covered with parchment paper and aluminum foil, for 2-1/2 hours.
Let cool on a rack for 1-1/2 hours. Pudding should still be warm.
Run a knife around the edge of the pudding.
Invert pudding onto cake stand or platter.
Decorate with glace cherries.
To flambe pudding: Pour about 2 tablespoons hot Cognac over the top. Carefully and immediately ignite it with a match. Blue flames will subside when alcohol has burned off. Slice the pudding and serve with whipped cream.