Christmas Pudding is a British obsession; I don't think our American cousins are that keen on it, which is a great shame, 'cos it's a fine old thing. I love Christmas Pudding. The way your spoon plunges into the moist (you hope!), rich, fruity mass; the contrast with the smooth, rich, alcohol infused brandy butter, and the noble tradition of soaking the pudding in even further brandy, and then setting it alight. Traditionally, the Christmas Pudding was made on "Stir-Up Sunday", which was the last Sunday before Advent, (about four to five weeks before Christmas Day). This is the way I make it:
First, you need to stir up all the following ingredients in a pudding basin: 350g mixed fruit and peel (this means crystallised peel, dried apricots, currants, saltanas, raisins, grated lemon rind, and grated orange rind); 50g chopped glace cherries, 25g flaked almonds, 50g dried suet (you can't get the proper stuff anymore- the EU has made it illegal), 35g white breadcrumbs, 35g plain flour, 70g moist dark brown sugar, 50g grated apple, and a dash of mixed spice and grated nutmeg. Some weirdos add carrot- but very sensibly, I leave this one out.
Once you've stirred all the ingredients together well, add two beaten eggs, the juice of half a lemon, and half an orange, pour in two tablespoons of a dark stout (ie Guinness), a tablespoon of black treacle, and a dash of decent Scotch Whisky. Most recipes will tell you to add brandy, but being a contrarian, I've decided that whisky works better. Stir it like mad.
Now's the time to add the mixture to a basin. Recently, I've had this thing about those old-fashioned ball-shaped puddings- the ones that you see in Dickens and Walt Disney. I managed to track down a ball-shaped pudding mould from Divertimenti in the Fulham Road, and used that- but a traditional ceramic pudding basin will be just dandy. Smear the inside of the basin with butter. This will stop the pudding sticking to the side. Pour in the mixture. Top off with a piece of buttered greaseproof paper, ideally cut down to fit. Finally, place a cloth over the basin, and tie it off at the top with a bit of string.
Steam it for five to six hours. This means getting hold of a large pan, filling it about a quarter full with water and bringing it to the boil. Place the pudding in the middle of the pan, and put the lid on. The steam will rise up within the pan, and cook the pudding. Once it's cooked, leave it in a cool place with a piece of tin foil on top. It will mature in the run-up to Christmas. On the great day itself, you will need to steam it for a further three hours.