English Plum Pudding aka Christmas Pudding aka Cake

English Plum Pudding aka Christmas Pudding is one of those super delicious, super impressive and super easy desserts. To Americans, the name can be fairly confusing because its not a pudding, its a cake…and there are no plums in it. You see, in England, pudding is a generic word for all sorts of dessert, and this particular dessert has undoubtedly been made many ways over the decades. Did it contain plums? Maybe. Or more likely plum refers to the raisins.

The first time I tasted plum pudding, I thought “where have you been my whole life?” I was already full of Christmas food and I was just going to have a sliver…you know… for the experience. Next thing I know, I’ve eaten an entire piece. No regrets.

So let me tell you why this cake is so freakin’ fantastic.

  • First off, its incredibly moist, like crazy moist.
  • Second, the flavor is intense and complex. Each bite is an experience.
  • Third, its special. In England, Christmas Pudding is widely available. However, in the United States, it’s near impossible to find this dessert. It won’t be at your local bakery or on a restaurant menu. Homemade is really the only option.
  • Fourth, you set it on fire before you eat it. How fun is that?

And yet, for some of you, I know that this dessert is a hard sell. After all, let’s be honest. This is a fruit cake. There, I said it. And I’m going to say some more. It is better after it ages. And it has raisins in it…lots of raisins. And for many people I know, that’s a deal killer right there. When did the raisin fall out of favor anyway? But I digress. I’m asking you to set all that aside and put a little faith in me and Christmas and give this unique dessert a try.

I am posting this 14 days before the big day, but if you want to make your own plum pudding, hurry up. Unfortunately, it may already be too late, if you can believe that. Here’s why. Plum pudding, like all fruit cakes, improves over time. I’ve heard stories of cakes made one year for consumption in the next. So if you want plum pudding for Christmas, you should make it yesterday, but no later than one week before Christmas so head to the store.

English Plum Pudding
Adapted from a recipe by the fabulous and sainted Julia Child

CAKE

  • 3 cups packed coarse fresh breadcrumbs from white bread (aka 1/2 lb. loaf, crusts on). I use Pepperidge Farm.
  • 1 cup dark raisins
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 lb (2 sticks) melted unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • a few drops of almond extract
  • 1/2 cup bitter orange marmalade
  • 1/2 cup bourbon or dark rum

HARD SAUCE

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons brandy or cognac

THE BIG FINALE

  • 1/2 to 1 cup rum (or brandy) to flambé

SPECIALTY EQUIPMENT: 8-cup capacity Steamed Pudding Mold & small rack that fits into a tall stockpot. If you don’t have a steamed pudding mold, you can use a small bowl, but a pudding mold is inexpensive and pretty easy to find at a kitchen store or online. You will also need a small rack to keep the mold off the bottom of the pot. I struggled with this for years until I finally found a small rack like this one in an Asian Supermarket. Whatever you devise, your goal is to keep the metal of the pudding mold (or bowl) from making contact with the very hot metal stockpot bottom. Instead, you want the water to surround the bottom of the mold while it steams. 

Tear bread into pieces and place in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to form rough crumbs. Empty the crumbs into very large bowl.

SIDE NOTE: Obviously this cake was made long before the invention of the food processor and you could chop all this by hand, but processing is soooo much easier.

Add the raisins and currants to the food processor and process until finely chopped, but not turned into a paste (that’s too much).

Turn the fruit out into the bowl with the bread. Put all of the other ingredients into the food processor and pulse to mix.

Pour all that over the bread and fruit. Stir to thoroughly mix. The batter will be quite wet.

Butter an 8-cup capacity steamed pudding mold (or medium-size bowl). Pack pudding into mold and top with a parchment round on surface.

Cover tightly either with the lid on the mold or with a plate and/or aluminum foil.

Place on rack in a deep stockpot. Pour water into the stock pot to come 1/3 of the depth of the mold (not in the mold, you understand, but surrounding it). Bring water to a simmer. Cover tightly and steam for 6 hours.

Do some laundry, watch some TV, check your blog. Go for a walk around the block even. Just check from time to time to make sure that your water has not evaporated below the 1/3 full level and add more if it does.

When six hours has elapsed, remove the mold to a rack and bring it to room temperature. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for a week, or even better, a month…or dare I say…longer. It keeps.

MANY WEEKS LATER…

When you are ready to serve, make the hard sauce. Hard sauce is basically a boozy buttercream. Just beat the powdered sugar and soft butter together until fluffy. Then beat in the salt and booze. Transfer to a serving bowl and chill. Later, when you slice the pudding, you can serve the hard sauce on the side letting your guests decide how much they want. 

Plum Pudding should be served warm. To unmold it, bring it to room temperature again and warm the mold slightly to loosen. In fact you can reheat it completely in simmering water in the mold. OR perhaps even easier, turn the pudding out onto a deep plate, cover the pudding with vented plastic wrap and reheat it in the microwave until very warm.
For the big finale, you set it on fire. The fancy term for this is flambe.

NOTE: Make sure that both the cake and the booze are pretty warm/hot or the flambe probably won’t light.

WARNING: Make sure that the person in charge of the flambe isn’t also lit. This is fire after all and someone who is a little drunk on the Xmas spirits might accidentally set their kitchen counter on fire…Yes, that was me. Oops.

Anywho, here’s how to do it. Heat 1/2-1 cup of hot brandy or rum in a saucepan. Light the alcohol on fire and then carefully pour the flaming liquid over the cake.  Here is a good example of how this should be done
Turn down the lights and have your camera ready people. That’s a Norman Rockwell moment right there.
Here’s Mine. A flaming pudding photographed in a dark room looks a bit like a UFO. Merry Christmas!

29 Comments

  1. Can I use a “tamales” pot to steam the pudding? the pot has a perforated lid that is set at a few inches from the bottom, then you set the Tamales on it to steam.

    Reply
    • That might work really well, but I would still recommend filling the tamale pot such that the water came 1/3 of the way up the steamed pudding mold. That would mean that the perforated lid that sits in the bottom would also be completely submerged. Thanks for the suggestion. I may need to get a tamale pot now.

      Reply
  2. I just made one of these – my third! My wife is an Anglofile and kept getting the “Crosse and Blackwell” canned puddings. (I suppose they’ll due in a pinch.) I used the recipe from an old Fannie Farmer cook book. Used suet instead of butter. This thing is gorgeous and MUCH better than the commercial variety. The whole house smells good!!! I can hardly wait to eat it.

    Reply
  3. Wonderful end to a special Christmas dinner. Next year I will use little less brandy to flambe. My dish was not deep enough and spilled over on the tablecloth. Might have been tragic but husband snuffed it out. All in all fun and delicious.

    Reply
    • Hi Kristi,

      Your post made me laugh. I also had a small flambe incident when the flame spilled over onto my kitchen counter. I blew out that part of the flame and the counter was unharmed. Next year, perhaps a little less wine before I start playing with fire. :) Merry Christmas!

      – Heather

      Reply
  4. I love plum pudding. I am half british and I loved it as a little girl when my grandmother made it. Thank you for the recipe.

    Reply
  5. How many does it serve?

    Reply
    • Well…that depends in part on the people and whether or not they just ate a big holiday meal right before. This is a very rich dessert, so when I serve it the pudding goes a long way. It would serve a minimum of 10. However, we end up slicing it quite thinly and so we have served as many as 16. It also makes excellent post Holiday treat leftovers and keeps a really long time as long as you keep it tightly wrapped in plastic. Best, H

      Reply
  6. What do you serve it in. I always use a rather unattractive glass/pyrex baking dish because I am afraid that if I light it on a non-tempered dish, the plate might break… I don’t know where to go for a pretty tempered serving dish… Any thoughts??

    Reply
    • Gosh. I really don’t know. I always use one of my everyday plates. Haven’t broken one yet. ;) – Heather

      Reply
      • okay–maybe I am being overly cautious… Thanks

        Reply
  7. Thank you! We have Christmas Pudding on Christmas Day and leftovers on the Feast of Epiphany…Jan 6. Well this year no leftovers for the 3 Kings. So I searched for a new recipe after 27 years and found yours. Again thank you…it was just perfect. Moist, tasty and came out so beautifully from the mold. This now my “new tradition” Plum Pudding!

    Reply
  8. We used your recipe last Christmas. It is delicious. Thank you for sharing it.

    Reply
  9. Thank-you for this recipe, I have my great great grandmothers recipe which is very similar but over the years (well over a hundred) the cooking instructions have been lost, so now I am going to try my recipe using your cooking instructions……fingers crossed

    Reply
  10. If I half all the ingredients to make a smaller batch, would I steam it less time?
    Thanx

    Reply
    • Hi Erika,
      That is a very interesting question and I’m not sure of the answer. It seems logical that if you were to make a smaller amount, it would take less time to steam, but I think that would depend on the shape of the vessel that you were to cook it in. My pudding mold is a lot like a tall bundt pan. There is a hole in the center. If you were to fill the same pan with half of the batter, it would almost certainly cook faster. However, if you were to steam your half-size pudding in a tall bowl with no hole in the center, it would still probably steam faster, but not 50% faster. Batter steamed in a shallow bowl would probably cook quite quickly indeed. You would need to watch it to see when it was solid all the way through. If you try it, let me know how it turns out. Best, H

      Reply
  11. Wow…this cake sounds amazing! I would love to try it for Christmas this year, but it would be impossible for me to get hold of a steaming dish (I’m in India). Is there any way this pudding can be baked, and if so, for how much time and at what temperature. Pleeeaaase do let me know!!! Thanks :)

    Reply
    • Hi Neetu,

      If you can’t find the official pudding tin with a lid, you can substitute any heatproof bowl. Cover it tightly with tin foil and steam in a large pot according to the recipe. The final cake would be a different shape, but that’s OK.

      Regarding baking in the oven, I’ve never tried it. I fear that it would result in a dry cake. Still, if you do decide to go this route, I would cover the baking dish with tin foil and bake in a 350 degree oven until cooked through (not sure how long this would be). In order to help prevent drying, consider placing a large pan filled with water in another part of the oven to keep the air inside moist.

      Whatever you decide, please drop me a note or send me a picture if you can. I’d love to know how it turns out!

      Merry Christmas,
      Heather

      Reply
      • Hi Heather,

        Tried making the pudding as you suggested, and it really turned out fabulous!! I’m a home baker, just starting to get my fingers dusted with flour(!) and this was my first for any kind of pudding…the flavour of the cake was awesome and it was indeed, very, very moist. The recipe seemed quite daunting, but when it actually came down to making it, turned out quite simple to make. Thanks for a great recipe…it’s a sure keeper :)
        Hope you had a wonderful christmas…happy new year!!

        Neetu

        Reply
  12. My English grandmother would make plum pudding for Christmas nearly every year. But she did not bake it. She cooked it on the stove and then spooned it into cheesecloth and hung it in the cellar for months and months. What resulted was a ball of extremely dense fruitcake that, when sliced very, very thin, was the best thing you ever ate.

    Reply
  13. I am currently steaming a pudding made from this recipe. One taste of the batter transported me back to childhood days of eating Cross & Blackwell pudding for Christmas dessert. Thank you for helping me bring back a much-missed family tradition. Fingers crossed that the final product is just as tasty!

    Reply
  14. can you make this the day of serving? most of the recipes including yours call for it to be made several weeks in advance.

    Reply
    • Alexander, I think it does need at least a few days to fully develop it’s flavor. Having said that, I’ve never tried it the day of serving. Maybe it is just fine. If you try it, let me know. – H

      Reply
  15. My grandmother always had plum pudding at Christmas and it has always been a favorite holiday treat. I use to be able to get R&R plumb pudding a t our local shop, but not any more. I was so excited to find your recipe. I was wondering, when it’s made a month or more in advance do you continue to add rum once a week, and if so how much?
    Thanks for your help.

    Reply
    • I keep it in the tin with the parchment paper on the pudding and the lid on top and store it in the fridge. Done and done. I don’t add anything extra (no extra rum) until the day I serve it (the hard sauce, flambe and all that) :) It stays super moist that way.

      Reply
  16. I’ve been trying to track down a perfect traditional plum pudding recipe for months, and just took the plunge with yours – it’s steaming now! I have a dear friend who has many childhood memories of traditional plum pudding with his family, and can’t wait to surprise him with this one in a month…the directions – including photos – were perfect and very easy to follow. The tone of this whole recipe was completely delightful! thanks for a lovely afternoon, and for a kitchen that smells pretty amazing already… I’ll let you know how it turns out at Christmas.

    M

    Reply
  17. isnt the hard sauce missing the heavy cream?

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. February 12: Here comes the sun | Rally and Meels - [...] English Plum Pudding from Making Life Delicious [...]
  2. An Simple Dictionary of Fruit Desserts - Its Not Easy Eating Green - […] Pudding (steamed): A cake that is steamed rather than baked. Although puddings can be both savory or sweet, they …
  3. Susana Ellis goes all out to celebrate the release of A Twelfth Night Tale! | Rue Allyn - […] English Plum Pudding: Making Life Delicious […]
  4. DELICIOUS FRUITCAKE RECIPES | Best Friends For Frosting - […] This English Plum Pudding will be the life of the party with its flambé finale. If you’re tired of hard fruitcakes, …

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>