Marmalade and Sunshine

 

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When I began slicing the Seville orange peel into pretty slivers, the sky was dark and the treetops were doing a dance in the wind, whipping violently from one side to the other in a maniacal tango. By the time I’d finished, the sky was blue and golden light tumbled across the garden. It’s official. Marmalade makes the sun come out.

I’ve been mainlining citrus recently. It is one of winter’s greatest compensations, along with crocuses, porridge with cream and log fires. Each morning, as I walk back from the park with Barney, I drop in at my favourite greengrocer. At this time of year I often pick up some blood oranges, sherbet-y Sicilian lemons or juicy little limes. And when the Seville oranges appear in all of their bumpy-skinned loveliness, I know it’s time to drag out the preserving pan.

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So good with simit rolls for breakfast.

I used Dan Lepard’s recipe. It’s delicious as it is, or if you like you can add 50ml of whisky at the end of cooking to give your breakfast toast an extra kick.

This year my marmalade making was made a little easier by my new eBay bargain, a citrus press. I bought it because I’ve been making a glass of blood orange juice for breakfast (Tip: add a splash of rosewater. So good.) each morning and I wanted to shorten the distance between my half-awake state and good humour. But it certainly made quick work of juicing all those sevilles and left smooth, clean orange halves all ready to chop up. I’d say that was a tenner well spent.

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Seville oranges, ready to go.

 

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Putting my ebay bargain through its paces.

 

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Chopping the peel.

 

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Soaking the peel.

 

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Already well into the first jar.

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Come To Lunch, Bring Your Slippers

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Last Saturday night, as I roasted and whisked and rolled, I wondered if it all might be in vain. I was prepping for a Sunday lunch which might never happen. I dusted the counter with flour to roll out the pastry as snow fell heavily on the kitchen’s glass roof. The cats shot through the catflap and threw themselves in front of the fire where they meticulously licked fat flakes from their whiskers and paws.

Lunch the next day was to welcome home four of our closest friends, Vanessa and James from Cambodia and Richard and Stuart from Australia. Their planes were due to arrive at Heathrow between five and six on Sunday morning. It seemed a good idea, on Boxing Day, when we discussed getting together for a jet-lag-deferring Sunday lunch. But now every news bulletin came with dire updates about runways being closed. Newspapers screamed about ‘Snowmageddon’. Perhaps it would just be Séan and I, tucking into that rolled shoulder of pork and rhubarb and custard tart?

But planes landed. Guests came. Radiators were draped with lightly steaming mittens and scarves. Pegs struggled under the weight of damp wool and fat down coats. Boots lay in a heap in the hall. They’d all brought their slippers. I like that. I like having a house where people pad about in their slippers. It’s what makes it home.*

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Snow soufflés rise from plant pots.

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Frosted magnolia.

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A present from Cambodia. Silk, peppercorns, peanut brittle, a little aluminium coffee filter and ground coffee which smells so deliciously of chocolate, I want to rub my face in it.

 

*Or perhaps a prelude to The Home, where I hope we’ll all end up one day, surviving on soup, show tunes, gin and gossip, cheating at cards and fighting over the best lounger on the terrace.

 

Rhubarb and Custard Tart

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Back in 2008, on the very first shoot I did for River Cottage, we made this pretty, and pretty delicious tart . I’ve made it quite often since and I’ve tinkered with it slightly, adding some orange zest to the pastry and cramming in even more rhubarb, because you really can’t have too much of a good thing.

For the pastry:

225g plain flour, plus a little more for dusting the tin
110g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing the tin
110g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
A few gratings of orange zest
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten


For the filling:

800g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 5cm pieces
Zest of 1 small orange
Juice of half an orange
3 tbsp caster (or vanilla) sugar
1 vanilla pod, split and cut in half


For the custard:

250ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, split
5 large egg yolks
2-3 tbsp caster (or vanilla) sugar

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Sorry this picture is a bit rubbish. Snapped it on my phone just as I took the tart out of the oven and I forgot to take a new one the next morning, but it gives you an idea of the fruity, vanilla-y goodness.

First, make the pastry. Lightly greasy a 28cm, loose-bottomed flan tin, dust it with flour and tap out the excess. Sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Whisk in the sugar, zest and salt with a fork. Add the egg yolks and mix with a knife until the dough comes together. Knead very gently and quickly into a round, smooth disc. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate while you prepare everything else.

While the pastry is resting, roast the rhubarb. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. In a roasting tin, mix the rhubarb, zest, juice, sugar and vanilla, then bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until soft and slightly caramelised. Cool, strain off the juices (save it to pour over greek yoghurt – so good) and remove the vanilla. You can rinse and dry the vanilla pod and use it in the custard if you like. Thrifty.

While the rhubarb is cooling, line the tart tin. On a lightly floured surface (or between two sheets of baking parchment or cling film), roll out the pastry and line the baking tin, letting the excess pastry hang over the side. Refrigerate again for 15 minutes or so.

Reduce the temperature to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Line the tart tin with several layers of cling film, leaving plenty hanging over the side. Fill generously with baking beans or uncooked pulses or rice. Bring the excess cling film over the top to make a sort of blind baking ‘pad’. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, take out the ‘pad’ and prick the pastry all over with the tines of a fork. Brush lightly with egg wash (steal a little of the egg yolk from the custard and whisk with a splash of water or milk) and return to the oven for about 8-10 minutes, until the case is golden and completely cooked through. Remove from the oven and trim off the excess pastry with a small, sharp knife.

Reduce the oven temperature to 130°C/250°F/gas mark ½.

Make the custard. Pour the cream and split vanilla pod into a pan and heat until the cream is just scalded. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar, then pour into the cream, whisking to combine. Pour through a fine sieve into a jug. Scrape the seeds out of the pod and into the custard.

Spoon the rhubarb into the pastry shell and pour over the custard until it’s about 5mm from the top. Bake on a tray for 30-40 minutes, until the custard is just set but not too firm – it should still have a little wobble to it. Serve cold.

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Scents of Christmas

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The sight of the tree glittering in the dining room window, twinkling fairy lights twining up the banisters and streams of cards dangling from ribbons stapled into the top of the sitting room doors lifts my heart at Christmas. But more than that, more than that, I love the way the house smells.

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The wreath on the front door, covered in oranges and lemons studded with cloves, sprigs of bay, bundles of cinnamon and dried orange slices, smells as good as it looks. The oven, with some assistance from me, churns out cookies and cakes, hams and sausage rolls, filling the house with delicious aromas. Pots of hyacinths and jasmine, vases of eucalyptus and off-cut pine branches from the tree, are crammed on every mantel, side table and desk.

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Along the sitting room mantel, I place candles stuck into old terracotta pots filled with damp sand (you could also use florists’ oasis). I cram them with clippings of myrtle, rosemary, Christmas box and bay from the garden. It takes minutes and smells wonderful. On Christmas Day, I’ll steal the candles from the sitting room and use them to decorate the dining table.

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Candle pots, decorated with myrtle, Christmas box, rosemary and bay from the garden.


I dry dozens of orange slices in December (see method, below). It’s easy and cheap and I use them in so many different ways – on the wreath, tied in bundles on the tree and in quick Christmas pot pourri.

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As well as making ooh-la-la pot pourri, I also just fling leftover citrus peels into the fireplace, where they dry and turn into very good, sweet-smelling firelighters.


For this, I mix the orange slices in a bowl with whatever I can grab from my spice drawer: cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves, cardamom pods and cassia bark (available very cheaply in big bags from Indian supermarkets). To this base mixture, I add fresh bay leaves and rosemary from the garden so I can enjoy their sweet, spicy, piney scents as they dry. I also stud a few oranges and lemons with cloves and toss these in the bowl too. The base mixture, with perhaps just a few drops of essential oil (sweet orange, frankincense, cedar, scotch pine and clove are all good, alone or in combination) to intensify the scent, bagged up and tied with a pretty ribbon, make a very good, inexpensive present.
What scents say ‘Christmas’ to you?

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Use a darning needle to make a hole in the peel before pressing in the clove – it’s a lot easier on your hands.

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Christmas pot pourri.

How to Dry Orange Slices:

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Preheat the oven to 130C/250F/Gas mark ½ .

Trim the ends off the orange and then slice thinly, about 3mm thick, with a sharp knife. Place sheets of baking parchment on metal cake cooling racks and arrange the orange slices on top. Place them in the oven. After 15 minutes, turn the temperature down to 110C/225F/Gas mark ¼ . After an hour or so, turn the slices over and return them to the oven. Keep an eye on them, turning from time to time. When they’re almost dry, turn the oven off and leave the orange slices in the oven until cold. The idea is to get them thoroughly dry but not to over ‘cook’ them as you want to keep the colour as vibrant as possible, so keep an eye on them and adjust the timings to suit your oven.

Are we there yet?

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Here we are on Day 800 of our Christmas preparations and I feel like I’m on first name terms with every single piece of dried fruit in my larder. But this mincemeat really is worth the tiny bit of effort involved in making it. It will see you through an Office Hero quantity of mince pies and if you have any left, you could try this Mincemeat Crumble Tart which makes a nice alternative to a traditional pudding on Christmas Day for those of you who don’t care for it. I know you’re out there.

While we’re on the subject of puddings and fruity things, I’m a bit furious at Morrisons for their Christmas advert which features a little boy sneaking some Christmas pud to his dog under the table. Unless you want this Christmas to live on in family memory as the one where Timmy accidentally killed Rover, this is a really bad idea. Raisins, currants and sultanas can be highly toxic to dogs and ingesting them can lead to renal failure and death. Not very festive.

I know this because a couple of years ago, I had a box filled with Christmas puddings sitting in the corner of my dining room ready to do a taste test for a magazine feature. Our dog Barney got into the box, into one of the puds and was halfway through it before I discovered the crummy little buggar. Cue a trip to the vet’s, charcoal tablets, three days on a drip and a bill of ‘nice little holiday somewhere warm’ proportions. So don’t be as silly as Morrisons and do keep all of the pud, cake and pies for yourself.

Plum and apple mincemeat

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This recipe comes from River Cottage Handbook No. 2 Preserves, by Pam ‘The Jam’ Corbin. Pam’s recipe is unusual as it contains no suet. I like this as I think it gives the mincemeat a fresher, cleaner more lively flavour. Pam uses Russet apples but I didn’t have any of these kicking about so used Blenheim Orange instead. This is one of my favourite apples, great for eating and cooking, so grab some if you can find them.

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Makes 4 x 450g jars

1kg plums 
Finely-grated zest and juice of 2-3 oranges (200ml juice)
500g russet apples, peeled, cored and chopped into 1cm cubes 
200g each currants, raisins and sultanas 
100g orange marmalade 
250g Demerara sugar 
½ tsp ground cloves 
2tsp ground ginger 
½ nutmeg, grated 
50ml ginger cordial or wine (optional) 
100g chopped walnuts 
50ml brandy or sloe gin

Wash the plums, halve them and remove the stones. Put them into a saucepan with the orange juice and cook gently until tender. This could take as little as 15 minutes but may take longer if your plums are not very ripe. Blend into a purée in a blender or liquidiser, or press through a sieve. You should have about 700ml plum purée.

Put the purée into a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients, apart from the brandy or gin. Mix thoroughly, cover and leave for 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 130˚C/250˚F/Gas mark ½. Put the mincemeat in a large baking dish and bake, uncovered for 2 – 2 ½ hours until thickened. Stir in the brandy or gin (it will bubble up and steam quite a bit), then spoon into warm, sterilised jars, making sure there aren’t any air pockets. Seal and store in a dry, dark, cool place until ready to use. It will keep for up to 12 months.

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Christmas cake: Part II (the really good bit)

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So you’ve been watching that fruit getting wonderfully fat and juicy in the booze for three days and now you’re ready to embark on the cake itself. This is essentially the Rich Plum Cake from The Constance Spry Cookery Book, but like lots of cookbooks from that era, the instructions are a little light on detail, presupposing you’ve made many a plum cake in your time. I’ve fleshed it out a bit as we’re not all Mrs Patmore. For cooking times and other great tips, such as covering the top with a double layer of baking parchment so it doesn’t brown too quickly, I referred to Saint Delia

Measure everything out before you start, ticking everything off as you go so you don’t forget anything, and it’s pretty plain sailing from there.  This is slightly lighter than some Christmas cakes, but in my opinion all the more delicious for that.

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Measuring bowls.

If you have any queries, leave a message here or tweet me @lickedspoon. Tweet LOUDLY as I’ll be at the football between about 2.30 and 5.30 and I’ll need to be able to hear you over the roar of the crowd.

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Mixing in the fruit.

1 lot of fruit soaked in booze for 3 days
300g plain flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp each of ground cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves and mixed spice (if you want to make your own mixed spice, and it’s delicious and easy to do, check out my friend Thane Prince’s excellent blog.)
225g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing the tin
225g light muscovado sugar
6 eggs, separated, yolks lightly beaten
140ml black treacle
Juice of a lemon
260ml cider, apple juice or milk (I used cider, obviously)
70ml dark rum, plus a few more tablespoons of rum or brandy for feeding the thirsty little cake until Christmas
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Butter a 22.5cm/9” spring-form tin and line the bottom and sides with baking parchment. Cut a double strip of baking parchment that will come about 2.5cm/1” above the top of the tin and tie it tightly around the outside of the tin with kitchen string. Cut another couple of circles of baking parchment the same diameter as the tin and cut a small hole in the top of them. This is to cover the top of the cake while it cooks, to protect the top from browning too quickly.

Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas mark 1.

Sift together the flour, spices and salt into a large bowl, raising the sieve high above the bowl so that you incorporate as much air as possible.

In a stand mixer, beat the butter until light and creamy then add the sugar and continue to beat on a medium-high speed for about 10 minutes, scraping down the bowl and spatula a couple of times, until very light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks a couple of tablespoon or so at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the treacle and lemon juice. Reduce the speed of the mixer to low and gently beat in half of the soaked fruit, half of the flour mixture and about half of the cider, juice or milk.

At this point, I use a spatula to scrape all of the batter into a large mixing bowl as it gets too unwieldy to combine properly in my mixer. It also means I can wash the mixer bowl so that it’s scrupulously clean, change the beater to a whisk and beat the egg whites until quite stiff – you want them to hold soft peaks but be careful not to mix them too much or they will become grainy.

Tip the rest of the fruit into the bowl with the batter and sift the remaining flour and bicarbonate of soda over it. Use a spatula or large metal spoon to gently fold the mixture together, incorporating as much air as possible as you go, until almost mixed. Pour in the rest of the cider, juice or milk and rum. Fold a couple of times then add the beaten egg whites. Fold them in gently – you want the batter to be smooth and well combined, but stop exactly at this point. Don’t overmix. Gently does it.

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In the tin. Oh you pretty thing…

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All wrapped up. Peekaboo…

Spoon the batter into the prepared tin, smooth the top and bake for between 3 3/4  hours and 4 hours. It can take a little more or a little less time, depending on your oven, but don’t check until the 3 1/2  hour point. A skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean with no damp batter clinging to it – the little hole in the middle of the baking parchment makes it really easy to check the cake. If it isn’t done, return it to the oven and check every 10 minutes.

Cool the cake for 30 minutes in the tin then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. When it’s cold, use a fine skewer or cocktail stick to pierce it all over the top and trickle over a few tablespoons of brandy or rum. Let it soak in then turn the cake over and do the same to the base. Wrap in clean baking parchment secured with string or a rubber band, then wrap it in foil and store in an airtight container. Feed it with a little more booze every 4-5 days until you’re ready to cover it in marzipan and ice it.

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Fin.

Christmas cake

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Last Sunday, quite a few of you stirred up your Christmas pudding along with me. I wondered if you might also like to make a Christmas cake this weekend? I’ve left it a little late this year, but I plan to overcome that terrible oversight by soaking the fruit in booze for a few days and then being very diligent about feeding the cake with yet more booze between now and Christmas.

The cake I’m making is based on one in The Constance Spry Cookery Book. I often turn to it when something very trad is required, and nothing’s quite so trad as Christmas. In my house, at least.

To start, assemble your fruit:
If you’ve already made a Christmas pudding, you’ve probably got quite a few of these ingredients kicking about already.

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225g raisins
225g sultanas
170g currants
170g glace cherries, washed, patted dry and halved
170g crystallised, chopped, mixed peel
200ml sherry
50ml brandy
Finely grated zests of 2 oranges and 1 lemon
Mix the fruit together in a bowl with 200ml sherry (I used Solera Jerezana Rich Cream, Lustau) and 50ml brandy. If you prefer, you could use all brandy, or stout or port. Add the finely grated zest of two oranges and a lemon and stir again. Cover tightly with cling film and leave in a cool, dark place for three days, giving it a good stir every day to make sure the fruit is evenly soaked.

The rest of the shopping list for the cake:
225g unsalted butter
225g light muscovado sugar
6 eggs
1 lemon
Cinnamon, ground cloves, mixed spice, ground nutmeg
Small tin black treacle
Plain flour
250ml apple juice, cider or milk
Bicarbonate of soda
125ml rum or brandy

Got it? Great. See you at the weekend.

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.