adventure, baking, britain, dessert, dining at downton, edwardians, escoffier, family, fruit, holidays, victorians, winter

Dining at Downton: How to make plum pudding

This time of year, my family is all about tradition. Previously I wrote about the Brunswick stew we’ve kept from my mom’s side of the family, though I tested out a Williamsburg variation of the recipe. That’s still on the menu this year. My sister and I maintain important traditions like decorating the tree while listening to a BBC dramatization of Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (because nothing says the holidays like a murder mystery), and she will read the January issue of Vogue on Christmas Eve. Our family is still adjusting to some major changes that took place this year, but we’re determined to maintain the key rituals. How else will we know it’s Christmas?

Vital to our Christmas Day dinner is the plum pudding. Another hold-over from my mom’s side of the family, it draws on our English heritage and recalls the classic Charles Dickens Christmas. If you haven’t tried plum pudding before, it’s basically a soft cake filled with dried fruit, nuts, and (most importantly) booze. It’s so historical that a mention of plum pudding first appeared in 14th-century England. 14th-century! That’s 1300. Clearly, England has had plenty of time to perfect the recipe. The “modern” version of plum pudding, complete with dried fruit and suet (beef fat), probably came to England with Prince Albert when he married Queen Victoria in the 19th century.

So the Crawleys definitely would have served this kind of plum pudding at their Christmas feast. Mrs. Patmore would have begun the cooking process five weeks before Christmas, since it’s an elaborate pudding (the British term for “dessert”) that requires a lot of time and energy. Additionally, it’s the kind of dessert that tastes the best when it’s been around for a few weeks–that way the dried fruit can absorb the alcohol and the whole pudding gets nice and brandified. The alcohol also gives it a long shelf life, so you just need to let it sit in a cool, dark place. Traditionally, cooks made their puddings on the Sunday right before Advent, known as “Stir Up Sunday.” (This is such a tradition that the Telegraph, a U.K. newspaper, published an article a few years ago about how few British citizens make their own puddings now. The horror!)

I am not nearly as well-prepared as Downton’s cook, so I made mine on Saturday afternoon. It won’t be quite as tasty with only a few days of ripening time, but we’ll still enjoy it. You can even make yours the day of. Today you’ll read about the preparation process, but I’ll save the cooking process for a separate post. (I meant it when I said this was an involved recipe.)

Some notes before we begin:

  • You’ll need a pudding mold to turn the batter into once it’s ready. A pudding mold looks a lot like a Bundt pan, but it’s ceramic or glass rather than metal. A Bundt pan, I have been assured, will not work. If you don’t have a pudding mold, an oven-safe glass bowl will do the trick.
  • I adapted a recipe from a French classic that Mrs. Patmore certainly referred to (what with the Edwardians’ obsession with French food). The changes are few but important.
    • First, I substituted butter for the suet. I was all set to use actual beef fat, but my mom was hesitant. Butter does just as well.
    • Second, I cut the ingredients in half, and it still produced way more batter than I was prepared for. Be sure to have a few glass bowls on hand in case your designated mold is filled too early.
my pudding mold

But don’t be scared! Plum pudding just takes some careful preparation, and it’s well worth the effort. Think of it as a culinary adventure!

Plum Pudding
(adapted from Escoffier: Le Guide Culinaire)

1 cup + 2 tbsp butter (or chopped beef suet)
1 cup + 2 tbsp breadcrumbs (I used leftover bread)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup peeled, chopped apple
2/3 cup mixed raisins and sultanas
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp chopped, crystallized orange peel (I used leftover orangettes)
2 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup stout (I used Guinness)
1/3 cup brandy
juice and zest of 1/4 lemon and 1/4 orange

Soak the raisins and sultanas in the brandy. You can do this overnight or an hour or two before preparing the mixture.

Prepare all the other ingredients. If using butter, melt over low heat. If using beef suet, chop it up into small pieces.

Mix the flour, breadcrumbs, brown sugar, and spices together in a large bowl. Then add the apple, crystallized orange peel, and citrus zest. Mix well. Finally, add the citrus juice, butter, eggs, and soaked raisins together with the remaining brandy. Add the stout at the very end, and mix until just incorporated.

Pour the batter into buttered pudding molds or glass bowls, filling until about 2/3 full. Stay tuned for the next post, where we cook the pudding!

Works cited: The Telegraph.


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