How to make the best Christmas Pudding in a pudding cloth

A traditional Christmas pudding

You may yearn for the traditional at Christmas time? The damp fug of a pudding you’ve made yourself gently boiling in your kitchen. The rattling of the saucer underneath lets you know that there’s still enough water in the pan.

As the air gets colder many of us yearn for traditional Christmas food.

Come along on the 26th November 2023 for an online Christmas Pudding course. For more info and to book your place here’s the link.

Read on for some tips to make your Christmas extra special.

Choose an old Christmas pudding recipe

Many of the older recipes are more delicious thanthe puddings we now see as traditional. You probably know the black ones that all the shops sell? If you try Eliza Acton’s recipe, below, from the 1840s, you’ll discover a lighter version that is truly delicious.

Pudding cloth

You might like to try a pudding cloth. It is extra work. It would be easier in a pudding basin.

But for me preparing the cloth, filling it with pudding mixture, tying it up tight and letting it fall into the hot water, releasing those spicy aromas, is what makes Christmas special.

Cooking in an old kitchen

Cooking in an old Regency kitchen is something I have never wanted to keep just to myself.

Down here in the basement you can feel the spirits of the servants who used to toil down here. They would have had access to Eliza Acton’s recipes and could have been making this pudding below. In the future, I’ll share the kitchen again but until then you can imagine yourself in a Regency kitchen during my online course.

Ingredients for an Eliza Acton Christmas Pudding

  • 85 grams (3oz) of plain flour
  • 85 grams (3oz) of fine, lightly grated breadcrumbs
  • 170 grams (6oz) beef kidney suet chopped small or vegetable suet
  • 170 grams (6oz) of raisins
  • 170 grams (6oz) of currants
  • 113 grams (4oz) minced apples
  • 141 grams (5oz) sugar, I used dark brown sugar to darken the colour of the pudding and add extra taste
  • 56 grams (2oz) candied orange-rind
  • Half a teaspoon of grated nutmeg
  • Half a teaspoon of mace
  • Salt
  • A small glass of brandy
  • 3 whole eggs

Soak your fruit in brandy

I do like to soak my fruit in brandy first. It’s not mentioned in the original recipe but I think it makes sense. The soothing act of stirring dried fruit every morning knowing that the fruit will find its way into the pudding is one of life’s small pleasures. 

Mixing bowl

Empty your soaked fruit into a mixing bowl and add the flour, the fine and lightly grated breadcrumbs, the suet, the apples, the sugar, the candied orange-rind, the nutmeg, mace and salt and the 3 whole eggs. Mix and beat these ingredients well together.

China plate

Put a big pan of water onto boil and place a china plate on the bottom (this prevents the pudding from burning on the bottom). The clattering of the saucer in the pan also helps you to hear that the pudding is staying on the boil, an important part of the cooking process.

Drop your pudding cloth into the water. Let it boil for 20 minutes. Take the cloth out of the water and wring the excess moisture out. I put on rubber gloves for this because the cloth is very hot.

How to use a pudding cloth

Lay your cloth on the work surface and generously flour the wet cloth with plain flour. This will form a protective pudding skin. Drape the wet and floured cloth over a pudding bowl or a mixing bowl and pile the prepared pudding mixture into the centre.

Flour the top of it before you again gather up the corners of the cloth tautly and tie the pudding off very tightly with real ‘string’ (not twine it will break).

Wrap the string doubled around and around a number of times tying knots as you go making sure at the end you leave a large ‘handle’ of string tied at the top to lift it up and to hang it from.

Boiling the pudding

Lower gently into half a very large pan of boiling water. Add extra water to ensure the pudding is completely covered and place the lid on the pan.

Keep checking and add more boiling water from a kettle kept at the ready, if required throughout the cooking process. A large one will need 3 hours and smaller ones 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Lift out into a bowl if possible and carefully remove the string and open the calico out. Place a large plate that has been rinsed in cold water on the top and invert it. The moisture will help you ease the pudding into the centre of the serving plate.

Pre-cooking for convenience?

The small pudding can be cooked for 1 hour and 30 minutes then set aside until needed. It will need to boil again for a further 1 hour on the day it is served. A larger pudding will need 2 and a half hours.

Traditionally the boiled pudding would have been patted dry and hung up in a cool pantry or larder. A fridge is probably better in our modern times.

Eliza Acton recommends serving this pudding with German wine or punch sauce.

Stir up Sunday

Since the Victorian period, it has been traditional to make Christmas pudding on stir-up Sunday. Perhaps you’d like to join me this year online?

Come along on the 26th November 2023 for an online Christmas Pudding course. For more info and to book your place here’s the link.

Christmas pudding in a pudding cloth