Kitchen Tips

How to make the perfect Christmas pudding

To suet or not to suet? Can I leave out the booze? Is it sacrilegious to use a microwave? We answer some frequently asked questions about the fine art of pudding-making.

Making your own Christmas pudding is no easy feat. Assuming you've already got your recipe sorted, why not check out these answers to some frequently asked Christmas pud questions before getting stuck in? After all, this business with brandy, cloth and currents can get pretty confusing!

How soon can I start?

The pudding can be made up to three months before Christmas and kept refrigerated, or made up to one year ahead and frozen. If the pudding was made in an aluminium steamer, remove it from the steamer and wrap in plastic wrap before storing.

The recipe calls for suet, can I use butter instead?

It's best not to. Suet is a very hard fat, which melts slowly through a mixture during the cooking, whereas butter melts very easily and quickly through a mixture. They are different types of fats and shouldn't be substituted for each other. Packaged suet has a lot of starches added to it and is quite different from fresh suet. It's best to order fresh suet from a butcher (order double the amount to end up with the quantity the recipe specifies). Remove all the connective tissue, grate the suet finely, then rub it into the flour with your fingertips.

What about a vegetarian Christmas pudding?

If you or someone in your family is a vegetarian and doesn't want to eat suet, look for a recipe that uses butter or margarine instead, such as this recipe for individual Christmas puddings.

Can I make an alcohol-free Christmas pudding?

Alcohol is a key ingredient in traditional Christmas pudding recipes, but if you prefer to make a sober pud, you could use fruit juice (apple, apricot, peach, grape or cherry, for example) or even spiced tea instead of booze. We don't recommend adapting a traditional recipe though; instead, search for an alcohol-free Christmas pudding recipe.

Can I make a gluten-free Christmas pudding?

You sure can! If you have a coeliac in the family, try this gluten-free Christmas pudding recipe which uses gluten-free breadcrumbs (it's booze-free, too).

Can I make mini puddings?

Of course! You can make individual steamed Christmas puddings in small steamers, china bowls, mugs, soup mugs, ramekins, soufflé dishes, teacups (but not fine bone china) – just about anything that will withstand the heat from boiling water and can be covered securely with a piece of foil or a pudding cloth. Alternatively you can make mini boiled puddings in cloth, but bear in mind that it's quite difficult to make really small puddings, as there ends up being too much cloth in relation to pudding.
The minimum steaming or boiling time would be an hour, but remember that's not enough cooking time for the ingredients to darken so don't expect your mini puds to look as rich and dark as their larger relatives.

What can I use instead of a pudding steamer?

You can use stainless steel or china mixing bowls to steam your pudding, but check that they will fit into your boiler. They also need to have a lip or rim of some sort to hold the pudding's covering in place, whether it's cloth or foil. There are metal steamers available that come with clip-on lids and in varying sizes. These are quite good, but they don't seem to appear in the shops until it's almost Christmas.

Why did my pudding go mouldy last year?

Traditionally, Christmas puddings were hung in cloth to mature over the days leading up to Christmas. But these were cooked and eaten in the chilly European winter rather than the hot and humid Australian summer. To avoid mould, we recommend you wrap the cooled pudding in plastic wrap and seal it in a freezer bag or airtight container.

How do I reheat a boiled Christmas pudding?

If the pudding is frozen, thaw it for three days in the refrigerator. Remove it from the refrigerator 12 hours before reheating. Tie a dry unfloured cloth around the pudding. Boil, covered, for 2 hours in a large boiler about three-quarters filled with boiling water. Hang the hot pudding for 10 minutes before removing the cloth, then stand for at least 20 minutes before serving.
After removing the cloth, allow the pudding to come to room temperature then wrap it in plastic wrap and seal tightly in a freezer bag or airtight container. A boiled Christmas pudding can be refrigerated for three months or frozen for up to one year.

Can I reheat a Christmas pudding in the microwave?

Yes. Contrary to popular belief a Christmas angel will not lose its wings if you use a microwave to reheat your Christmas pudding. To reheat a whole, large pudding, cover it with microwave-safe plastic wrap, then microwave on MEDIUM (50%) for about 15 minutes. To reheat a single serving, cover the slice with microwave-safe plastic wrap and microwave on HIGH (100%) for 30 to 60 seconds. These times are only a guide; you should check the oven manufacturer's instructions.

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