Following a quick online search without ever tasting one, seeing Christmas pudding described as a burning fruitcake in haggis form is enough for many Americans to erase it from the grocery list. But don’t write off the famous dessert so easily.
It’s important to remember that a Christmas pudding is not the chocolate-mousse-like swirl served in a glass or pudding cup you pack in the kids’ lunchboxes. Christmas pudding is a dessert filled with dried fruit and traditionally served at Christmas dinner. The dish is also known as figgy pudding or plum pudding, referring to raisins and other dried fruits included, not actual figs or plums. The dessert originates from medieval England, with early versions calling for dried fruit, suet, breadcrumbs, flour, eggs, spices, and milk or wine. Today, ingredients include suet, breadcrumbs, brown sugar, raisins, orange peel, eggs, and spices nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. According to preference, the dessert is moistened with citrus juices or alcohol.
So why describe it as haggis? Like haggis, Christmas pudding’s fat, spices, and dried fruits are mixed with savory meats and vegetables and packed into animal stomachs to keep longer. Plum pudding, or “plum pottage,” was a savory concoction consisting of meat and vegetables served at the start of a meal in the 15th century. As preserving techniques improved, savory elements of puddings decreased as the sweet content increased. People began adding additional dried fruit and sugar to puddings as they became more plentiful, though suet, the fat found around beef kidneys, remains a key ingredient.
Christmas pudding is often dried out to enhance its flavor. Prior to the 19th century, Christmas pudding was boiled in a pudding cloth. During the Victorian era, cooks instead put the batter into a basin and steamed it. Initial cooking usually involves steaming for many hours. To serve, the pudding is reheated by steaming it again before setting it alight with brandy. Today, it may be made at home in a bundt cake mold. It can be eaten with a cream, custard, or powdered sugar topping. Holly is a popular decorative topping around Christmastime.
In the late Victorian age, a tradition grew that Christmas puddings should be made on the Sunday four to five weeks before Christmas. Everyone takes turns stirring the pudding while making a wish, but it is also common to include coins in the pudding for guests to find. The coins are supposed to bring wealth in the coming year and came from the Twelfth Cake tradition.
With all that in mind, don’t dismiss the idea of serving a traditional Christmas pudding this year with a glass of milk to wash it down. Guests will enjoy taking part in a tradition uncommon in America, though they may refrain from setting it alight and singeing their eyebrows!
What Christmas desserts will you be serving this year? Share your fabulous holiday eats with us on social.