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Real Plum Pudding

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This is based on a recipe published in New Zealand House & Garden in (probably) about 1999-2000. The author was Annett Kesler. 'My' version follows hers closely, except I'm not as prescriptive about the quantity of figs and ginger as she was. I also tend to use rum where her recipe specified brandy (I've used both on different occasions - they both taste great).

This is a twice-a-year thing for me - I do it for 'real' Christmas, which happens in summer for us (there are those who claim not to like hot things like this in summer. They have clearly never tasted it) and again around June/July for midwinter Christmas. I haven't made it other than at those times but really, why shouldn't I?

The recipe serves 8-10 people, if you can restrain them. Make it well ahead of time so the flavours develop, and reward yourself by taking a deep sniff any time you open it to add more rum or brandy.

 125g each currants, raisins, sultanas, candied peel, glace cherries and slivered almonds

 4 (or more) dried figs, finely chopped

 2 large pieces preserved ginger, finely chopped (or more, if you like)

 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped

 Half a carrot, peeled and grated

 Zest of one large orange and one lemon

 125g butter, cut into small pieces

 125g all-purpose flour (not self-raising)

 2 teaspoons baking powder

 Crumbs of 2 slices white toast bread, crusts removed

 125g brown sugar

 1 teaspoon mixed spice

 Half teaspoon each ground nutmeg and ground cinnamon

 3 eggs

 1 tablespoon marmalade

 4 tablespoons dark ale or stout (eg Guinness)

 2 tablespoons brandy or dark rum

 Juice of one large orange and half a lemon

1. Place the currants, raisins, sultanas, peel, cherries, almonds, figs, ginger, apple, carrot, orange and lemon zests and butter in a large bowl. Mix well, then stir in the flour, baking powder, breadcrumbs, brown sugar and spices

2. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy. Stir in the marmalade, ale, brandy and orange and lemon juices. Pour the mixture over the fruit and mix thoroughly until well blended (the original recipe says ‘with a wooden spoon ‘ but I see no reason you shouldn’t use an electric mixer if you have one). Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave it overnight

3. The next morning, stir the mixture again before spooning into a generously-buttered 8-cup pudding bowl/steamer. Fill three-quarters full, pressing the mixture down to avoid air holes

4. Butter a sheet of baking or greaseproof paper and place, buttered side down, over the bowl to cover the top completely. Tie down tightly with cotton string under the rim. Trim off the edges of the paper. Cover the top with a double thickness of foil and secure this with string as well

5. Steam in a large, heavy saucepan filled with fast-boiling water, enough to reach halfway up the side of the bowl. Cover the pan with a well-fitting lid. Keep the water gently but steadily boiling for the entire cooking time, adding more boiling water if necessary. Steam for eight hours

6. Lift the bowl out of the water and leave to cool. Remove the wrappings and re-cover with fresh foil. Store for at least three weeks before serving. Every few days, make holes in the pudding with a metal skewer and dose liberally with more brandy or rum

7. On the day of serving, place the bowl in a pan with sufficient boiling water to come half to three-quarters of the way up the side. Cover, reduce the heat to low and steam for a further two hours

8. To serve, loosen the pudding around the edges with a thin-bladed knife. Place a warmed serving plate on top of the bowl and, holding the two firmly together, invert the bowl. Top the pudding with holly and serve with brandy butter, custard, cream, vanilla ice cream or whatever you like

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