What’s the Pudding?

Last year’s Christmas Pudding (Miniature version) set aflame

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s time to start planning what to eat for Christmas.  Yes, the cookies will be baked, but what I get excited about is pudding.  Good old Christmas pudding.  Not just lore from A Christmas Carol, Christmas Pudding is a rich and indescribably delicious dessert (“pudding” simply means “dessert”  in the British vernacular).  The indescribable part refers to trying to explain it to folks who have never had it — most people envision the dreaded fruitcake of yore when they hear that it’s made from bread crumbs, raisins and other dried fruit. And then you mention the suet.  Yes, lovely suet — rendered beef fat.  Mmm…yum.  “No, thanks,” is the usual reaction. No, no, I say imploringly, it’s nothing like fruitcake, and I don’t use suet.  Fruitcake is baked and dry, while pudding is steamed.  For hours on end – I steam mine for about nine.  It takes but a few minutes to mix all of the ingredients together, but hours for all of the flavors and textures to meld into a beautifully dark and mysterious looking mass.  Next, you soak it in brandy or rum, wrap it well, and let it sit for days, weeks, months, or even a year.  In fact, some cooks make their pudding this year to serve at Christmas next year (talk about planning ahead). Like a fine wine or cheese, it actually improves with age.

Is it worth it?   Toss some brandy on it before serving, light it with a match, and bring it to the table blazing in all of its glory — there’s really nothing like it. The flavors are truly complex, deep, sophisticated, with layers of zesty fruit, spices, brandy, all enrobed in a buttery richness.

But the nine-hour steaming ordeal deters me from making it a yearly ritual.  Last year, after a several-year hiatus from pudding, I finally succumbed to the urge.  When I told Kate, an English friend of mine, that I was thinking of making pudding, she immediately asked if I would make her one.  I must explain here that years ago, I fell in love with the idea of pudding after reading about it in some ancient cookbook, and then set about to make a vegan version, but in truth, I have never actually tasted “the real thing.”   So I was a little nervous as to whether my version would fly in a British crowd, and was shocked when she reported later that it had been possibly the best pudding she had ever had.  Just a couple of weeks ago, Kate asked me if I would be making pudding again this year.  So I invited her over, and together, we made pudding.  We even dug out remnants of last year’s pudding from the depths of the pantry and nibbled away.  Delicious!

But the suet.  How do you get past that?  Basically, any sort of saturated fat will suffice, so you can just substitute another somewhat artery-clogging, but nevertheless vegan, alternative like coconut oil, palm oil shortening, or buttery Earth Balance.  I use a combination of coconut oil and Earth Balance with excellent results.  And at last, the recipe.

Toss the dried fruit below with 1/4 cup rum or brandy and allow to sit for about a half-hour.

1 lb. raisins
1 cup currants
1 cup sultana raisins
1 cup other chopped dried fruit of choice – mango, pineapple, papaya, cranberries, etc.
1/4 cup rum

Meanwhile, coarsely pulverize in a food processor:

1 lb. good quality whole-grain bread

Put the bread crumbs and raisins in a large bowl along with the following seasonings:

1 tsp. salt
Grated zest of one lemon
Grated zest of one orange
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger, or 2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cloves

In a mixer, cream together:

8 ounces saturated fat of choice:  Earth Balance, coconut oil or palm oil (or a combination)
1/2 cup maple syrup or agave nectar
1/4 cup brandy or rum

Now work this fat/sugar mixture into the bread crumbs/raisin mixture using your hands, mixing everything really well.  Finally, add the egg replacer:

1 Tbs. Ener-g Egg Replacer mixed with 3 Tbs. water

And mix again well.  Lightly oil and then line a 2-quart ceramic pudding or glass bowl with a double layer of cheesecloth with the edges hanging over.  Pack the mixture in it well. Cover with a double layer of aluminum foil and place in a large pot.  Fill the pot with water half-way up the bowl and then cover the pot, either with a lid or with aluminum foil.  Now turn the heat on to bring the water to a boil, and then turn down very low to a low simmer. Put on a good movie or go about some other business as you steam this for 5 – 9 hours.  Make sure that the water doesn’t run out — I usually replenish it a couple of times.  Other than that, no particular attention is required.  Over the long steaming, the pudding will get darker and darker as all of the ingredients sort of melt into each other.  If  you’re serving it right away, let it sit for an hour before inverting onto a plate.  Otherwise, leave the pudding in its bowl and just cover well and store in a cool, dark place for as long as you like. As I mentioned, it improves with age, so it’s best to make it at least a few days before serving.  If you plan to make it way in advance, it’s a good idea to baste it with a little rum or brandy every few weeks.  

Now, to serve it, you’ll need to steam it again for about an hour before serving.  I’ve also microwaved it for several minutes; this works great if  you are serving just slices. But to display it in all of its flaming glory, it’s best to steam it the whole thing again for an hour. Then invert onto a platter, pour a few tablespoons of brandy or rum on it, light it with a match and carry it proudly to the table.

It’s delicious by itself, but even better if you pass a little brandy sauce or vegan ice cream.

Kate packing the mixture into traditional pudding bowls
Pudding after 7 hours of steaming. Notice the darkening of color.



  1. giving this one a try, later this week!

  2. Xmas pudding is yum, will try this one.

  3. Bravery rises! Go for it — you won’t regret it! Let me know if you want a brandy sauce recipe as well.

  4. NINE hours? what does the long term cooking do to the pudding? what happens if i steam it for 1 hour? with the expensive utility bill in italy, wonder if i can do an abbreviated version?

  5. Nancy,

    Well, you can steam it less, but no less than 5 hours if you want it to be good. As you can see in the picture, the pudding gets darker the longer you steam it. This means that the flavor from the dried fruit has permeated the bread crumbs and everything sort of blends together beautifully. In the beginning, all of the ingredients are separate – as it steams, it melds together. That’s why the long steaming is necessary. You can get a good pudding starting around five hours, though.