Up until last year pudding came in a plastic container from the supermarket, but last year I had some time on my hands and thought it would be interesting to try out a homemade version instead. Well, sorry Mr Ernest Adams but I don't think you'll be gracing our Christmas dinner table again - the bought ones just can't compare with a homemade fruit pudding.
As with fruitcake the fruit flavours develop over time (I am told this still happens in the freezer, though I believe a liberal dousing of alcohol may act as a preservative if you prefer not to go the frozen route), so you can make your puddings quite a while ahead. I made mine this week so I could bring them to Christchurch this weekend, and I figured getting some of the Christmas freight into Mum's freezer would leave me more room for presents when I fly down in December. I'm sure none of the family will begrudge me that!
This recipe came from Taste magazine, and is delicious; I actually made three different puddings last year, in keeping with the variation we used to have when we had the bought ones; there had to be the heavy fruit, for the serious pudding-lovers; the light fruit, for those who appreciate the tradition but like cake in between the sultanas; and chocolate, for the non-traditionalists. This was my light fruit option, and though it's still pretty fruity the sage keeps it moist and dense without it being 90% sultanas. ;-) Almost everyone favoured this one, so this year I'm simplifying - I'll still make chocolate fondants but those do have to be made on the day, but as far as the fruity puddings go this will be the sole offering.
The sago and fruit need to be prepared the day before you make the pudding (you can soak the fruit for ages, actually, but a day is enough to get it nice and plump and juicy, so that it doesn't steal moisture from the batter). The milk for the sago is brought to boiling then poured over it, stirred up and left to soak overnight in the fridge. I was busy chatting to my mum on the phone when I did this part, and put the sago in the saucepan with the milk as I warmed it, which is wrong - it worked out fine but was hard to keep the sago off the bottom of the pot so the recipe way is easier.
For the fruit, you can play it by ear; measure the fruit into a bowl, and add a splash (as restrained or generous as you like) of brandy or rum (I'd probably go with about a quarter of a cup but I don't like the boozy flavour, just the richness it gives), or if you are not into alcohol fruit juice is fine - actually, ginger beer might work rather well too. Lots of options! Then just top it up with water so the fruit is covered and pop it aside to slurp up the liquid.
With regard to what fruit to use, you can easily purchase mixed fruit in bags, but I prefer to mix my own with roughly 40% sultanas, 40% raisins and 20% currants (alter to suit yourself) as I loathe the peel which is inevitably in the pre-mixes.
You drain the fruit (there will be some liquid still in the bottom of the bowl, which will make the mixture too sloppy if you don't let it dribble out) then pretty much just pop everything else in a bowl (preferably a large one - my mix is double and as you can see I was rather pushing the limits of my large-but-not-that-large Tupperware bowl) and mix it together. So easy!
To prepare your pudding basin (or cups, as the case may be - I do rather like the single-serving sized ones for prettiness) you need to grease them, and then put a circle of baking paper in the bottom - use the basin/cup to trace out a circle and then trim to fit. You'll also need a large circle to go on top - you seal up the puddings with a buttered, tented circle of baking paper, then two layers of foil, tied over the top of the basin with string.
To make the baking paper into a little tent or hat make a folded dart from the middle of the circle, with the overlap increasing to about 1cm at the edge - it's not one of those it-must-be-just-so things but the idea is to make enough space to allow the pudding to rise a bit. The tinfoil should leave a bit of room for this too.
When you tie it you can get clever and make a handle from the string, but I find for these little ones I can easily just lift them out by the loose end of the string, so I don't fuss about too much.
A large pudding takes aaaages to steam, and even these little ones aren't all that speedy; about an hour and a half, and you'll need to top up the water often. If you are doing little ones you'll probably want a couple of pots on the go - I only have 8 pudding moulds so put four in each of two pots - though still had to do two rounds to make enough for our Christmas!
Even though they take a while to steam you don't have to do much - just make sure they don't boil dry - and then you'll have a much nicer pudding than if you bought it, plus have the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself. What are your Christmas pudding tips and tricks?
Sago Plum Pudding
2 tsp baking soda
330g brown sugar
480g mixed dried fruit
about 1/4 cup rum, brandy or fruit juice to soak fruit, plus water to cover
4 eggs, lightly beaten
120g butter, melted
Bring milk to the boil and pour over sago in a bowl. Stir then cover and refrigerate overnight to soak. Add water and rum (if desired) to dried fruit and cover to soak overnight.
The next day, add baking soda and a pinch of salt to the sago. Drain any excess liquid from fruit and add with all remaining ingredients to the sago.
Grease an 8 cup pudding basin or 10 single serve pudding containers. Line base(s) with a circle of greaseproof paper. Spoon in pudding mixture, packing down firmly with spoon. Cover basin(s) with a circle of buttered baking paper and two layers of tinfoil, pleated, then tie to seal. Pour enough boiling water into a saucepan to come halfway up side of basin(s). Lower pudding in, cover, and simmer for four hours for a large pudding or two hours for small ones. Check the pot every 20 minutes to ensure there is enough water remaining, topping up as needed. Cool and refrigerate or freeze until needed.
To serve, microwave each pudding for about 30 seconds. Serve with custard and cream.