Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Recipes: Traditional Plum Pudding

Plum pudding is similar to fig pudding in the way that it’s made and in the fact that both are English traditions for the Christmas season. I once heard someone remark that Christmas plum pudding is a culinary sign for the anticipation of Advent. It is to be made and then set aside for Christmas. We must wait for it to be ready, just as during Advent we prepare ourselves and wait for the coming of Christ at Christmas. 

With my success at fig pudding years ago, I was thrilled to come across this recipe from Julia Child for plum pudding (it doesn’t actually have plums in it).  It is placed in the same mold and steamed, just like fig pudding. The recipe includes a method for microwaving, but I have never tried it in the microwave. Some things you just need to take the time to prepare in the traditional manner, in my opinion.

The first time I tried this recipe, I was afraid to attempt the zabaione sauce, so I just used the same hard sauce that I always made for fig pudding. Later I decided to make the zabaione sauce, and I highly recommend it! It is not really that difficult, just follow Julia Child’s instructions. I should never have doubted that if Julia said I can do it, I can do it. (I'm not sure how this traditional Italian sauce came to be linked with a traditional English dessert, but who am I to argue with Julia Child?)

I first came across this recipe in Parade magazine in the Sunday newspaper. I lost it somewhere along the way and then discovered it online.  This is worth going out and buying a steamer mold if you don’t already have one. I should also state that you do not need a wine cellar to store it, nor do you need to "flame" this dessert to enjoy it!

A Glorious Plum Pudding For Christmas
From chef and author Julia Child

Originally published in The Way to Cook, by Julia Child (1989, Knopf)

For about 6 cups baked in an 8-cup mold, serving 12 or more


The pudding mixture
 3 c. (lightly packed down) crumbs from homemade type white bread-a 1/2-lb. loaf, crust on, will do it.                               
 1 c. each: black raisins, yellow raisins, and currants, chopped
 1 1/3 c. sugar
 1/2 tsp. each: cinnamon, mace, and nutmeg--more if needed
 8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, melted
 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
 few drops of almond extract
 1/2 c. bitter orange marmalade
 1/2 c. rum or bourbon whiskey, heated before serving
 sprigs of holly, optional
 2 c. Zabaione Sauce

Zabaione Sauce:
(Makes about 2 cups)
 1 large egg
 2 egg yolks
 small pinch of salt
 1/3 c. rum or bourbon whiskey (or Marsala or sherry)
 1/3 c. dry white French vermouth
 1/2 c. sugar

Special equipment suggested:
A food processor is useful for making the bread crumbs and chopping the raisins; an 8-cup pudding container, such as a round bottomed metal mixing bowl; a cover for the bowl; a steamer basket or trivet; a roomy soup kettle with tight-fitting cover to hold bowl, cover, and basket.

Timing note:
Like a good fruitcake, a plum pudding develops its full flavor when made at least a week ahead. Count on 6 hours for the initial, almost unattended steaming, and 2 hours to reheat before serving.


The pudding mixture:
Toss the bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl with the raisins, sugar and spices. Then toss with the melted butter, and finally with the rest of the ingredients, except, of course, the holly and Zabaione Sauce. Taste carefully for seasoning, adding more spices if needed.

To microwave Plum Pudding:
Butter the dish you are cooking the pudding in, then cover the bottom of the dish with a buttered piece of wax paper. Pour in batter. Cover dish with plastic wrap and pierce the plastic with a knife in several places. Cook at "defrost" (low speed) for 30 minutes. If your microwave oven does not have a carousel which turns the dish during cooking, stop the process several times during the cooking and rotate the dish manually. Finally, cook at 5 minutes on "bake" (high speed). Let the pudding set for a few minutes before unmolding. The pudding is ready when it is firm to the touch. The microwaved plum pudding is somewhat paler than its steamed counterpart.

To steam a Plum Pudding:
Use a special pan made for this purpose. You must have a container with a very tight lid on it which will stay sealed throughout the cooking. Steaming--about 6 hours: Pack the pudding mixture into the container; cover with a round of wax paper and the lid. Set the container on the steaming contraption in the kettle, and add enough water to come a third of the way up the sides of the container. cover the kettle tightly; bring to the simmer, and let steam about 6 hours. Warning: check the kettle now and then to be sure the water hasn't boiled off!

When is it done? When it is a dark walnut-brown color and fairly firm to the touch. Curing and storing. Let the pudding cool in its container. Store it in a cool wine cellar, or in the refrigerator. Ahead -of-time note: Pudding will keep nicely for several months. Resteaming: A good 2 hours before you plan to serve, resteam the pudding-it must be quite warm indeed for successful flaming. Unmold onto a hot serving platter and decorate, if you wish, with sprigs of holly.

Flaming and serving:
Pour the hot rum or whiskey around the pudding. Either ignite it in the kitchen and rapidly bring it forth, or flame it at the table. Serve the following Zabaione Sauce separately.

Zabaione Sauce:
Whisk all the ingredients together for 1 minute in a stainless saucepan. Then whisk over moderately low heat for 4 to 5 minutes, until the sauce becomes thick, foamy, and warm to your finger-do not bring it to the simmer and scramble the eggs, but you must heat it enough for it to thicken. Serve warm or cold. Ahead-of-time note: The sauce will remain foamy for 20 to 30 minutes, and if it separates simply beat it briefly over heat. If you wish to reform the sauce, whisk in a stiffly beaten egg white.

Post script: This year when I made this recipe, instead of currants, I substituted 1 cup of dried cranberries. It turned out great! - CK

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Last year during the month of December I posted 12 of my favorite Christmas songs. These songs are still on my blog. To read about them and hear them go up to the top of the blog page and click on "Videos." Then scroll down to "The Joys of Christmas" where you will see the web links listed. 


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