For as long as we’ve had children, the husband has read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to them. By now, Scrooge is a member of the family and we toast his continuing Bah! Humbug! health with sincere fondness.
A part of the story that I’ve always loved is the suspense over Mrs. Cratchit’s plum pudding. She’s the adoring wife of Scrooge’s put-upon clerk and the one person around the Cratchit table who decidedly does not raise her glass to Scrooge’s continuing well-being.
I’ve always thought I should make my own plum pudding but I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that it calls for suet. I love suet. It is my version of Proust’s madeleine–not as classy, I know, but just as evocative a memory, recalling my mom’s Sunday roast beef dinner cooked with a healthy slab of suet on top that kept the meat moist and added a rich flavor of its own. I just couldn’t see it playing any part in a cake.
Another thing–suet is hard to find. I once went to three butchers trying to find some for one of my roast beefs and they each told me it couldn’t be sold in New York City. Some kind of health code violation, I was appalled to hear.
But then a series of fateful suet incidents occurred. First my son, Sam, decided to try making a brisket in the smoker he received for Christmas and, as a result, I received a large chunk of suet for my birthday.
Recently I unearthed from the far back corner of the cabinet this little tin mold from France. I found it in a dollar store years ago and never used it.
Finally, I came upon a recipe for plum pudding in an early issue of The Pleasure of Cooking, a magazine founded in the late 1970s by Carl Sontheimer, the inventor of the Cuisinart. The magazine started as part of the Cuisinart Cooking Club that helped cooks learn how to use the newfangled machine. Nearly every great chef of the time contributed recipes and articles. The magazine introduced its readers to world cookery, broke down classical haute-cuisine dishes, unearthed historical recipes, and gave culinary school-grade technique lessons. A great collective shriek bellowed across the earth when the magazine ceased publishing. I’m lucky to have a complete set, by stained and crusted, folios loose, covers missing.
The plum recipe I found is from one of it’s first issues. The pudding–which is, in fact, a steamed cake and uses no plums–is suppose to be made several weeks or, better yet, a year before serving, the time spent spiking it with brandy. Suet soaks up booze better than almost anything else, making this one drunk cake.
This is such an easy, quick recipe that I merely glanced through the steps, relieved it didn’t require much skill and totally missed the final instruction about the soaking. Nevertheless, I decided to press onward.
If you don’t have a tin mold, you can use a bowl which will give you the half dome similar to Mrs. Cratchit’s. The big thing is to grease it well with butter. Because my mold has indents, I also sprayed it with Pam.
The recipe calls for candied fruit and since I couldn’t find any, besides not liking them, I substituted a mixture of dried fruit. I soaked them in brandy for awhile, figuring there would be at least this would provide a trace of alcohol.
One more tip before the recipe: The suet is shredded. I stupidly took my mountain out of the refrigerator way before starting and it came close to mush when I tried grating it. I pulsed it in the food processor but ended up having to break up some lumps. Be sure to keep your’s firm in the refrigerator.
Happy holidays, dear readers. Here’s wishing you and your’s a GOD BLESS US, EVERY ONE saner, more peaceful, less use of ! from crazy White House tweets New Year.
The following recipe will serve 16 to 20 people. I cut it in half and it was enough for six. I would give those measurements but, believe me, you don’t want to rely on my math skills.
Butter for mold/bowl
1 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon grated cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (I used fresh, chopping it in the food processor)
2/3 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups plain breadcrumbs
1 cup chopped mixture of nuts
1 cup shredded suet
1 cup chopped mixed dry fruit, including raisins
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup molasses
3/4 cup milk
In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Mix in brown sugar, breadcrumbs, nuts, suet, dried fruit. Blend in eggs, molasses and milk. The batter’s pretty stiff, a little like bread.
Pour the mixture into your prepared mold/bowl. If you don’t have a lid, cover with two layers of aluminum foil and be sure to crimp the sides tightly to form a seal. Set the mold/bowl in a stock pot big enough to hold it. Surround it with 2 inches of boiling water. Cover the pot and steam the pudding for at least 2 hours or until there’s a slight resistance to the touch.
Take off the lip, place a serving plate over the bottom and carefully turn the pudding over. It should slip easily out.
Whip up a batch of Hard Sauce (see recipe below) and serve hot. If you’ve made the pudding ahead, reheat by steaming it for about 40 or 50 minutes.
Brandy Hard Sauce
This will make up for not spiking the pudding. It’s very intoxicating. You can substitute whiskey (I used Jameson) or rum. I’m giving the original recipe here that calls for softening the butter in a sauce pan over the stove. I don’t get why you can’t soften the butter and cream it with a mixer. I’ll do that next time.)
1 stick butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup brandy (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Place the butter in a medium saucepan and warm gently over a low flame until the butter can be beaten with a wooden spoon until light and creamy.
Add the powdered sugar and stir very hard until well combined with the butter. Warm slightly again if the consistency isn’t creamy. Add the brandy and spices and stir until completely blended.