Stir-Up Saturday, Sunday, Whenever You Like

Christmas Pudding Ingedients


I know it’s Saturday but I’ve been tinkering with the Christmas pudding recipe and I’ve made a few spicy, fruity additions to the ingredients I posted earlier this week. You may need to add them to your shopping list. Also, you need to leave the batter for a few hours or overnight before you boil it for six hours so some of you may want to start today.

This recipe makes about 2.4kg of batter, enough for three 825g puddings, though you can divide it up as you like. I made one small pudding to give to my best friend and an enormous 2kg one for us on Christmas Day. I’ve always loved a fat, cannonball-shaped pudding so this year I treated myself to a round mould from Silverwood Bakeware. You can use it for ice cream puddings too, so it’s a cake mould for all seasons.

This recipe is based on the traditional plum pudding recipe in Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Food. This book has been a great favourite of mine for many years and Penguin have just released a beautiful new edition, complete with gorgeous spotted end papers (end papers are an obsession of mine, I’ve bought many books on this basis alone).

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I suppose I should write something here about the origins of Stir-Up Sunday, so you can gloss over this bit if you already know the story. This Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent, when the traditional collect from the Book of Common Prayer read out in Anglican churches is:

Stir up, we beseech thee O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded.


Though historically many in the congregation would also be familiar with this version too:

Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot Stir up, we beseech thee, and keep it all hot.


After church, families went home to make the pudding, each member of the household giving the batter a stir, from East to West, to represent the journey of the Three Wise Men. And they would make a secret wish for the coming year.

Now is the perfect time to make your pudding as it gives it several weeks to mature before Christmas Day, though in the most traditional homes, two puddings would be made: one for this year, one for next. You may not wish to do this. As Arabella Boxer writes: ‘The old houses had cool airy larders in which to store them, however, and anyone who tries to keep a plum pudding for long in a centrally heated flat is in for a nasty surprise, as it is sure to grow a coating of mould.’

And when the pudding making’s over, anyone fancy making a Christmas cake next weekend? I’ve left it a little late this year but I plan to get around that by adding a sailor-on-shore-leave quantity of booze.

Christmas pudding

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Arabella Boxer’s pudding contains no flour and is simply bound together with breadcrumbs and eggs, which makes it lighter than some traditional puddings.

If you’re making your pudding over the weekend and you have any questions, either leave me a message here or tweet me @lickedspoon.

500g dried vine fruits (raisins, currants and sultanas, or you can use just raisins if you prefer)
200g pitted prunes, halved
290ml brandy
340g soft white breadcrumbs
340g shredded suet
120g light muscovado sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges and 2 lemons
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
225g cut mixed peel
200g glacé cherries, halved
120g coarsely chopped blanched almonds
8 eggs, lightly beaten
150ml Guinness

Some softened butter, for greasing the pudding basins
A little more brandy for flaming the puddings on Christmas Day

Put the dried vine fruits in a large, Parfait-type jar and sprinkle over 200ml of the brandy. Give it a shake and let it sit for a few days, turning the jar over from time to time to ensure the fruit is evenly soaked. You can ditch this phase if you don’t have time, but even a couple of hours sitting in the brandy will increase the succulence of the fruit.

In a large bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the suet, sugar, zests, spices and salt until well combined. Add the vine fruits, prunes, mixed peel, cherries and almonds and mix again. Stir in the eggs, Guinness and remaining brandy. Leave for a few hours or even overnight for the flavours to develop.

When you’re ready to cook the puddings, grease three 825ml pudding basins (or whichever bowls or moulds you are using) with softened butter. Cut small circles of baking parchment and place them in the bottom of each basin. If you’re adding charms or sixpences (or five pence pieces –let’s be modern about it) to the puddings, wrap them in baking parchment and add them to the batter now. Don’t fill the bowls too full – you want about 2.5cm free at the top of the bowls to allow the puddings to expand as they cook.

Cut large circles of greaseproof paper, big enough to cover each basin generously. Butter one side of the paper and fold a pleat in the middle. Cut circles of tin foil the same size as the paper circles and pleat them too. Cover each pudding with paper then foil. Secure with string and trim off excess paper and foil with scissors. Tie loops of string to the string securing the paper and foil lids to make a handle – this will make it easier to lift the puddings out of the pan later.

To simmer the puddings, you will need a large, lidded saucepan or several saucepans. Place an upturned saucer or small cake tin under each pudding basin to act as a trivet which will keep the base of the bowls off the bottom of the pan/s. Fill the pan/s with boiling water from the kettle until it comes halfway up the sides of the basins. Simmer steadily for 6 hours, topping up with boiling water from time to time to ensure it comes halfway up the sides of the bowl/s.

When the puddings are cooked, carefully lift them out by placing a long wooden spoon through the loops of string. Leave to cool then remove the paper and foil coverings. Pierce the tops all over with a fine skewer and feed the puddings with a little brandy. Cover with clean, unbuttered paper and foil and tie securely with string. Store in a cool, dry place until Christmas.

On Christmas Day, the puddings should be boiled again in the same way for 4-6 hours. To serve, turn out onto a flat dish and stick a sprig of holly in the centre. Gently warm some brandy in a small saucepan, set it alight with a long match and pour it over the pudding just as you’re about to bring it to the table. Each of these puddings will serve 6-8 people; but 2 larger ones – or one giant – can be made if preferred.

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Spices

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Juicy fruit

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Mixing it up


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Covering the pudding basins


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Heaped into the mould

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Marvellous new cannonball mould. It looks like it might go into orbit at any second.

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas

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Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.


I wanted to make some crystallised peel for my Christmas pudding. The bought stuff often looks so impossibly tragic, the sad remains of citrus long past and barely lamented. Making your own takes a little time but it’s very easy and fills the house with the most deliciously uplifting smell as it bubbles away in the sugar syrup. A Dyptique Oranger candle costs £38. The ingredients for your crystallised peel cost about £4. This ensures money left over for Christmas cocktails. You’re welcome.

As we’re peeling and slicing and simmering anyway, I thought I’d make more than I need for the pudding to transform into orangettes – little slices of candied peel dipped in melted dark chocolate. They make a great little treat to go with coffee after dinner. They’re also a good Christmas present if you can bear to give them away.

Crystallised citrus and orangettes

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About 450g of peel, this will give you enough for the pudding and some left over to dip in chocolate, I used:
1 pink grapefruit
4 oranges
3 lemons
900g caster sugar
Granulated sugar for dredging

For orangettes:
About 200g dark chocolate, 70% works well with the orange

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Trim the top and bottom off the fruits with a sharp paring knife then go around the fruit cutting six incisions through the peel without piercing the flesh. Remove the segments of peel with your fingers. Cut away some of the pith – you still want a little cushion of the bitter white stuff so don’t cut all the way to the zest. Trim into strips about 5mm wide.

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Slicing the peel into strips.


Put the strips into a non-reactive pan and cover generously with cold water. Bring to the boil, boil for a minute, then drain in a colander. Repeat twice – this will help to remove some of the bitterness and will make it easier for the strips to absorb the sugar later.

Rinse out the pan, add the caster sugar and 1.2l water. Warm gently, stirring, until the syrup is clear and the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring to the boil then add the citrus strips. Lower the heat a bit and simmer until they’re very soft and the pith is translucent – this will take about an hour or so. Remove from the heat and cool the strips in the pan. If you want a break at this point, cover and refrigerate before going onto the next stage. You can keep them in the fridge for several days until you’re ready to proceed.

With a slotted spoon, scoop out the strips and put them on a wire rack on a tray and let the excess syrup drip off. Pat with kitchen paper to make sure they’re not too sticky. At this point, reserve the 225g crystallised peel for the Christmas pudding – chop it quite coarsely. It will keep for a couple of weeks in an airtight container.

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Draining the fruit.

Heap a layer of granulated sugar on a plate and use two forks to toss the remaining slices a few at a time in the sugar. Make sure they’re coated all over. Arrange on a clean wire rack and leave to dry out for three or four hours.

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Orangettes

You can eat them as they are or dip them in melted dark chocolate. Break up the chocolate into pieces and place in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely-simmering water (you can also melt chocolate easily in a microwave, but I don’t have one so you’ll have to look elsewhere for instructions for that). Dip the slices of peel in the chocolate so it covers half of each slice. Shake gently to remove the excess chocolate and place on a piece of baking parchment to dry completely. Once dry, store in an airtight container in single layers divided by sheets of baking parchment. They will keep for a couple of weeks, though the chocolate will lose its gloss after a few days.

Christmas is coming , the fruit is getting fat

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This is a public service announcement. Next Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent. You know what that means.

If you don’t, it’s the day with the most cheering of titles: Stir-up Sunday, the day we traditionally make Christmas puddings to give them plenty of time to mature before the big day. I’ll be stirring up next weekend but I want to soak my dried fruit in booze first to make the pudding especially delicious.

If you want to make your pudding along with me, here’s how to get started. 

Mix together 200g pitted, halved prunes with 500g dried vine fruits (a combination of raisins, currants and sultanas. You could just use raisins if you prefer. You could also use 700g of raisins and ditch the prunes). 

Tip them into a Parfait-type glass jar which will hold them with some space to spare. Pour over 200ml brandy and seal. Store in a cool, dark place, shaking the jar from time to time so that all of the fruit gets evenly soaked.

Here’s the rest of the shopping list for next week:
225g chopped mixed peel (I’ll give you a recipe this week if you want to make your own)
225g glace cherries
120g blanched almonds
340g shredded suet
340g soft white breadcrumbs
8 eggs
150ml Guinness
Brandy

These quantities make enough for three 825ml puddings; each one serves 6-8 people. You can divide the pudding into two larger puddings or a single, enormous one if you prefer.

Parks and dogs and sausage rolls

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I’ve been to grander parties, it’s true. This is a long way from silver trays of canapés in elegant hotels, premier cru in posh houses fragrant with pine Diptyque candles and money, or carefully constructed cocktails in private members’ clubs.
But this is the party I look forward to as soon as I flip the calendar over to December. Every Christmas, those of us who walk our dogs in Clissold Park assemble in the breath-misting morning chill to swap stories, drink, eat.

Rachel put together her camping stove for the mulled wine and the graffiti’d picnic table quickly disappeared beneath foil-wrapped and plastic-boxed Christmas treats, thermoses of coffee, paper napkins and plastic cups.

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It’s a very Stoke Newington affair. Mince pies and Christmas cake sit alongside Phil’s home-smoked cheese, Riccardo and Alastaire Spanish cinnamon cookies and Cat’s spanakopita.
It was -2ºC, so I perked up a cup of Lee’s hot chocolate with a nip of rum from Alastaire’s hip flask. Dogs barked, sniffed, made covert and not-so-covert attempts to raid the table. Toddlers nibbled chocolate brownies as a few feet above their heads, adults discussed favoured routes to Devon and Denmark, snow warnings and the misery of Oxford Street. People swapped cards and invitations, exchanged hugs, kissed.

By 11am I was at my desk, trying to nudge my rum-warmed brain to focus on my last feature of the year. But what I was really thinking was that it would be a good thing for the happiness of the nation if there were more parties where it was entirely acceptable to wear your gardening shoes.

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Polly looks hopeful.


Chorizo sausage rolls

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There are so many sweet offerings at the dog walkers’ Christmas party, I always try to make something savoury to balance the early morning sugar rush. Sausage rolls filled with River Cottage’s  Tupperware chorizo have a fiery kick, appropriate for a morning when ducks skid across thick ice on the pond and walkers swaddled in Gore-tex and wool tread gingerly on frosty pavements.

The chorizo is easy to make – you just squish it all together – but you need to refrigerate it for at least a day for the flavours to develop.

Makes about 30 small sausage rolls

For the chorizo:
750g pork shoulder, coarsely minced
1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tsp hot smoked paprika
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp fine sea salt
1½ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
50ml red wine
Freshly ground black pepper

A little oil for frying
3 sheets of ready-roll all-butter puff pastry, about 35cm x 22cm
An egg beaten with a little water


Put all the chorizo ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands, squishing the mix through your fingers to distribute the seasonings evenly. Heat a little oil in a frying pan, break off a walnut-sized piece of the mixture, shape into a tiny patty and fry for a few minutes on each side, until cooked through. Taste to check the seasoning, remembering that the flavours will develop further as the mixture matures.
Cover the mixture and store in the fridge for at least 24 hours before using; this will allow the flavours time to develop. It will keep for about 2 weeks.

When you’re ready to make the sausage rolls, unroll the pastry and give it a gentle going over with a rolling pin to increase its size slightly. Cut it in half lengthways, make the chorizo into a long snakes about 2cm thick and lay them down the middle of the pastry rectangles. Brush one long edge of the pastry lightly with the egg wash, roll the other edge over the top to join and press the edges together firmly. Trim with a sharp knife so you have an even edge (if you like – wonky sausage rolls are also incredibly delicious). Cut them into 4cm pieces and place them on baking sheets lined with baking parchment, keeping them about 2cm apart as they will expand a bit. Chill for about 30 minutes.

Brush the sausage rolls with the egg wash. I also ground some black pepper and sprinkled a bit more sweet paprika over the top but that’s not essential. Place them in a hot oven, 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6, for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the pork cooked through. If you can, eat them warm.

Deck the halls

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Every December, I buy a plain evergreen wreath from Mrs Grover’s stall at Columbia Road. She sells her own beautifully decorated wreaths but I love the slow, scented ritual of creating my own. This year, I raided the kitchen cupboards to make a cook’s wreath finished with some of my favourite flavours of the season: oranges and lemons, cloves, cinnamon and star anise.

Making a wreath is incredibly easy and – a bonus – it gives me the chance to get my glue gun out (£2 at a church jumble sale, thank you very much). In my enthusiasm, I always forget how bloody hot the glue gets. Still, and I’m sure Martha would agree, nothing says ‘Happy Christmas’ like a new set of fingerprints.

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You need…

  • A plain wreath
  • Glue – a glue gun works brilliantly, particularly if you are on the run, but any strong, clear-setting glue is fine
  • Green florist’s wire from garden centres or DIY shops
  • Raffia or ribbon
  • A selection from the decorative bits and pieces below


Dried orange slices
Preheat the oven to 130°C/250°F/Gas Mark 1. Slice the oranges about 4mm thick. Lay them out on a tea towel and press out some of their moisture with another tea towel or kitchen paper. Lay them on an ovenproof rack and place it on top of a baking tray. Place in the oven and after the first 15 minutes, turn the oven down to its lowest setting and leave the oranges to dry out for about 5-6 hours, turning them halfway through and opening the door from time to time to let out the steam. Turn off the oven and leave them to continue to dry out in the cooling oven. You can dry apple slices in the same way.

Once the orange slices are completely dry, glue them together in piles of three or four. Poke two holes in the stack of slices with a dowel and thread enough green florists’ wire through the holes to hold them together and to tie them around the wreath. Hide the wire by sticking a star anise over the top.
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Cinnamon bundles
You can buy packs of cinnamon for crafting quite cheaply on Ebay – I bought mine, £2.50 for 40x8cm sticks, from www.floristrywarehouse.com. Stick them together in bundles, tie some floristry wire around them with enough excess to tie them around the wreath. Hide the wire with a raffia or ribbon bow.

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Oranges and lemons
Whole fruits look great and smell wonderful tied to your wreath. Poke a hole through the fruit with a skewer, thread some wire through the hole, leaving enough excess to tie around the wreath. If you like, you can stud the fruit with cloves.

Other things you can tie or stick onto your wreath if you like…

  • Pine cones
  • Bundles of woody herbs such as rosemary or thyme
  • Bits of holly or ivy
  • Nuts
  • Sprigs of eucalyptus or laurel


To assemble your wreath…
Simply tie all of your orange slices, lemons and bundles of cinnamon to your wreath, twisting the wire several times at the back of the wreath to secure them firmly. Trim off the ends of the wire with secateurs. Lighter things, such as apple slices and nuts can be glued directly onto the wreath.