The secret to a perfect Christmas pudding is all in the fruit, explains Paul Gray, who is master cake-maker at Bettys, the famous bakery and tea shop in Harrogate, Yorkshire.
“Don’t use dried sultanas you’ve found at the back of the cupboard,” he says.
“Buy the freshest and best quality fruit you can afford.”
He should know – he’s made millions of cakes during his 20 years at Bettys.
“Today, I’m at their equally famous cookery school making my own Christmas pudding, along with other festive treats.
“We start the pudding at 10 a.m. – although the kitchen fairies have soaked the fruit in brandy overnight for us. Along the way we learn many tips, such as always juicing and zesting fruit that is at room temperature – this give you double the amount.
“Likewise, eggs should always be room temperature to prevent curdling (it’s the change in temperature that causes it).
“The day is a revelation, accompanied by friendly banter, good company and delicious treats for snacking – plus, you get to take home all your Christmas cooking.
“After five hours of steaming, the pudding is ready to cool and then be put away for at least four weeks (longer if possible) to mature before the big lunch.”
INGREDIENTS (6-8 serves)
- 230g (8 oz) raisins
- 50g (1 ¼ oz) currants
- 75g (2 ½ oz) sultanas
- 50g (1 ¾ oz) glace cherries
- 15g (1/2 oz) flaked almonds
- 100ml (3 ½ fl oz) brandy
- Zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
- Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 orange and 1/2 lemon
- 50g (1 ¾ oz) vegetable suet
- 30g (1 oz) wholemeal breadcrumbs
- 50g (1 ¾ oz) plain white flour
- 90g (3 oz) light brown sugar
- 2g (1/2 tsp) mixed spice
- 1g (1/4 tsp) each of ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, ground cloves
- 5g (1 tsp) salt
- 2 medium eggs, beaten
- The day before, place all the dried fruits and flaked almonds in a bowl. Pour over the brandy and add the lemon and orange zest and juice. Mix together lightly. Cover with clingfilm and leave overnight.
- Put all the remaining ingredients and the pre-soaked fruit in a large mixing bowl. Mix lightly with a wooden spoon, so as not to break up the fruit. Place a small disc of baking parchment in the base of a 1 ½ pt pudding basin and then fill it with the mixture. Smooth the top down evenly. Place another, larger disc of parchment on top. Cover the basin with foil and seal tightly.
- Stand the filled pudding basin on a strip of foil long enough to make a handle (to help you lift the pudding out of the pan once it is steamed). Place the basin on top of a trivet in a deep-sided pan. Pour hot water into the pan, so it comes halfway up the pudding basin. Place a lid on the pan and bring back to the boil. Lower the heat and keep the water at a steady simmer. Steam the pudding for 5 hours. Check the level of water in the saucepan during cooking and top up if necessary.
- Remove the pudding from the pan and allow it to cool completely. Remove the foil. Wrap the pudding basin in a piece of greaseproof and a layer of foil. Store in a cool, dark place for at least 1 month to mature. The longer the better.
- On Christmas Day, steam the pud for 2 hours in a pan of water, as before. Warm some brandy in a ladle until it ignites and pour over the pudding to flambe.