Each year, Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier. The lights have gone up in Oxford Street (do you remember that dreadful "Birds Eye" affair?), and our television set has suddenly erupted into full Christmas mode. Teflon snowflakes are having a field day. I suspect sales of Charles Dickens are on the increase. And yet, autumn leaves remain: it's still November. The world's gone barmy.
Having said that, right now is the time to start making your Christmas Pudding; and if anything it may even be a bit on the late side. 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), but in our family we used to make it as early as late October.
I love Christmas Pudding. The way your spoon plunges into the moist (you hope!), rich, fruity mass; and the contrast with the smooth, rich, alchohol infused brandy butter.
This is the way I make The Official Greasy Spoon Christmas Pudding:
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, mix in 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 Scotch 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 you see in the illustrations of "Phiz" and in Walt Disney. A few years ago, 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.