Traditional British Christmas pudding is a make-ahead, steamed, fruit filled dessert, also known as plum pudding, which is set alight when served. It is beautiful culmination of many British Christmas dinners.
One of the main goals of my site is to introduce and promote British food to my readers–you probably already know that. So, the fact that I don’t have a recipe for Christmas Pudding on my site, five years later, is somewhat of a crime.
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What is Christmas Pudding?
Pudding, as Americans know it, is a soft, dairy type dessert, like custard, but to Brits, it simply means, “dessert”. Christmas Pudding, therefore, is translated to “Christmas Dessert”. You’ve probably also heard it called plum pudding as in Charles Dicken’s classic, A Christmas Carol.
Speaking of Christmas carols, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” has two references to figgy pudding, which is another name for Christmas pudding:
“Oh, bring us some figgy pudding…” and later, “We all like our figgy pudding…”
As you can see, it’s truly a quintessential British dessert. It is not baked, but steamed (to cook it and reheat it) and then doused with brandy and set alight before serving with brandy sauce or brandy butter. This is part of the Christmas dinner tradition in Britain. It really is a fun way to end the Christmas meal!
The dish itself is unique in that it’s made with mostly dried fruit and breadcrumbs.
NB: Christmas puddings used to include a silver coin or trinket baked inside. The person who found it would supposedly have good luck come their way. I’m not going to suggest that you put anything non-edible into your pudding in case the worst case scenario might happen (we don’t need any choking on Christmas)!
Is Christmas pudding the same as Christmas cake?
Christmas pudding and Christmas cake are two different desserts. The whole Christmas (fruit) cake is baked, then covered in marzipan (almond paste) and royal icing. It usually looks like this:
And once cut, it looks like this. Whereas Christmas pudding has no icing, and isn’t baked.
Christmas pudding is steamed, and served after being doused with brandy and set alight. Christmas cake is baked, and is “fed” with alcohol for months or weeks before serving it on Christmas day (without any pyrotechnics)!
What is Mixed Spice listed in the Ingredients?
Mixed spice is a British spice blend that, contrary to others’ advice, should not have pumpkin spice used in place of it. While both spice mixtures contain similar ingredients, they are used in significantly different quantities, which makes a big difference in the flavor. Don’t worry that you can’t find it in North American store shelves because you can make your own mixed spice using my recipe, which is much less expensive than buying it online.
What Special Equipment do I Need to make a British Christmas Pudding?
You will definitely need a pudding bowl/basin, some parchment paper, aluminum foil and string. A trivet (to go inside one of your pots) is the last item that you might not have on hand in your kitchen.
If you have a Mason Cash bowl, you’ll be using the same ones that Mrs. Patmore and Daisy use in Downton Abbey! In fact, you can see at least seven of the bowls in the photo above, including the exact same one as in my step by step photos below!
When should you make a Christmas pudding?
Traditional British Christmas pudding is usually made weeks before Christmas (about six weeks ahead or more), saving you from making it in the crazy days before the holidays. Actually, a six week old pudding will be considered quite fresh. You can make them up to a year in advance, but even six weeks is a good amount of time.
Here is an extensive list of Christmas cookies that I have curated (all from scratch)
What is “Stir Up Sunday”?
You may have heard this term on social media over the past few years. It is the last Sunday before Advent and reminds those who have not yet made their plum pudding to “stir one up” about a month ahead of time. However, this isn’t its original connotation as it was simply a religious reminder to prepare churchgoers for the upcoming Christmas season.
Is it too late to make Christmas pudding?
If you’re asking this question in December, the short answer is, no, it’s not too late. There’s nothing bad about a fresh Christmas pudding, and nothing makes it inedible. As you read above, it’s just a tradition that the pudding is matured for a few weeks or months. So go ahead and make it and teach your family and friends about the figgy pudding tradition!
Why do we put Brandy on Christmas pudding?
Other than it being a tradition that’s been passed down through the years, one theory is that the flames represent the Passion of Christ. However, given that Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth, that notion doesn’t really make sense to me. What do you think?
How do you Heat up Brandy for Christmas pudding?
You can carefully heat the brandy in a small pot or large metal ladle (I think the pot is safer). The purpose is just to get the brandy hot so it lights easier, but be sure not to boil it. Be especially vigilant when using gas cooktops.
How do you Light a Christmas Pudding?
If you heat the brandy in a pot, pour it over the figgy pudding and carefully light the pudding with a long match. If you heat the brandy in the ladle, you can do the same, or you can light the brandy in the ladle, then pour the alcohol over the pudding which will light from the brandy. Wait for the flame to extinguish before serving the Christmas pudding.
What is this Traditional British Plum Pudding Served with?
Since this is a brandy infused dessert, it only makes sense that the traditional accompaniment is drippy brandy sauce (as seen in the topmost photo) or brandy butter.
You can actually use whisky sauce, or freshly whipped cream, (double cream is even better if you’re in the UK or can manage to find it elsewhere) or custard)! As you can see, there are many options on how to serve a traditional British Christmas pudding.
Another idea for a British Christmas dessert, individual English trifles.
Let me know if you make a plum pudding as I’d love to know what you think! Happy December!
Traditional Christmas Pudding
(aka Plum Pudding or Figgy Pudding)
slightly adapted from A Country Christmas, Lorenz Books
serves 8 (will serve up to 12 with smaller pieces) FULL PRINTABLE RECIPE BELOW
NOTE: this makes a larger pudding, to make a small one, halve the recipe and use this sized bowl.
Special equipment: a 5 or 6 cup pudding basin/mold like this Mason Cash bowl.
- butter (butter and suet)
- dark brown sugar
- baking powder
- mixed spice (see recipe in notes if you don’t have any)
- fresh breadcrumbs
- sultanas (golden raisins)
- raisins (note: I soaked my raisins in brandy, overnight)
- Zante currants
- rind of one fresh orange (or lemon)
- juice of one fresh orange or lemon with brandy or rum
- (optional: mixed candied peel)
Butter the pudding bowl and line the bottom with a disc of parchment or waxed paper, and butter the paper, too.
Beat the suet/butter and sugar together until soft.
Then add the flour, eggs, and spices until mixed. Then add the remaining ingredients and mix well. It will look like this. Isn’t it crazy-easy?
Put the mixture into the buttered bowl and flatten the top.
Cut a disc of waxed or parchment paper the size of the top, butter it and place on top of the pudding mixture.
Tear a piece of parchment paper and aluminum foil, large enough to cover the top of the bowl, and go halfway down the sides, and place the foil on top of the parchment. Create a pleat down the center, so that the pudding will have space to expand when cooking.
Place the paper and foil over the pudding basin, then tie some string under the lip of the bowl, leaving extra string to tie over the top to form a handle, tying it on the opposite end.
If you don’t have a steamer, like me, place a trivet in a pot and fill the water so that it’s halfway up the bowl and use a tight fitting lid.
Steam for 6 hours, checking the water level once an hour or so, and topping it up.
Once you’ve taken the bowl out of the pot, remove the aluminum foil and waxed/parchment paper, wipe the bowl and replace with clean paper. Store in a cool place. I had a little peek first! Note: if you don’t want your bowl out of commission for weeks or months, you can remove the pudding from the bowl, replace the waxed/parchment paper at the top and wrap the pudding tightly with aluminum foil and store it without the bowl.
To serve: you can steam it for another two hours, or simply microwave it for a few minutes until it’s piping hot (microwaves are great for heating up puddings such sticky toffee pudding, too)! Let stand for a few minutes before removing from the bowl.
Place on a heatproof serving dish and douse with brandy. Carefully light the plum pudding (please do this in a safe area), then when the flame extinguishes, cut and serve with brandy sauce, brandy butter, whipped cream (without added sugar) or real homemade custard.
If you’re trying to make things in advance for Christmas or to give as holiday gifts, here are a few ideas. Click the photos for the recipes. You can also peruse my Amazon page where I’ve added lots of items that I recommend throughout my posts. (And some of my favorite things, too). 😍
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- ½ c (113 g) good quality butter (see notes)
- 1 heaped cup (200 g) dark brown sugar
- ½ cup (70 g) all purpose flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp mixed spice (see recipe in notes if you don't have any)
- 2 cups (100 g) fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 cup (150 g) sultanas (golden raisins)
- 1 cup (150 g) raisins (note: I soaked my raisins in brandy, overnight)
- 1/2 cup (60 g) Zante currants
- 1 small apple, peeled, cored and grated
- finely grated rind of one fresh orange (or lemon)
- juice of one fresh orange or lemon, made up to 5 oz (150 ml) with brandy or rum
- (optional - 3 Tbsp mixed candied peel, chopped)
- Butter the pudding bowl and line the bottom with a disc of parchment or waxed paper, and butter the paper, too.
- Beat the suet/butter and sugar together until soft.
- Then add the flour, eggs, and spice until mixed. Then add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
- Put the mixture into the buttered bowl and flatten the top.
- Cut a disc of waxed or parchment paper the size of the top, butter it and place on top of the pudding mixture.
- Tear a piece of parchment paper and aluminum foil, large enough to cover the top of the bowl, and go halfway down the sides, and place the foil on top of the parchment. Create a pleat down the center, so that the pudding will have space to expand when cooking.
- Place the paper and foil over the pudding basin, then tie some string under the lip of the bowl, leaving extra string to tie over the top to form a handle, tying it on the opposite end. If you don't have a steamer, like me, place a trivet in a pot and fill the water so that it's halfway up the bowl and use a tight fitting lid.
- Steam for 6 hours, checking the water level once an hour or so, and topping it up.
- Once you've taken the bowl out of the pot, remove the aluminum foil and waxed/parchment paper, wipe the bowl and replace with clean paper. Store in a cool place.
- To serve: you can steam it for another two hours, OR simply microwave it for a few minutes until it's piping hot! Let stand for a few minutes before removing from the bowl. Place on a heatproof serving dish and douse with brandy. Carefully light the pudding (please do this in a safe area), then when the flame extinguishes, cut and serve with brandy sauce or butter, whipped cream, or custard.
- If you don't have mixed spice, get the easy recipe to make your own (with spices you already have in your cabinet.
- If you only have light brown sugar, and add a tablespoonful of treacle or molasses.
- You can use ¼ c (57 g) butter and ¼ c (57 g) suet if you want to make the pudding more traditional and don't mind it not being vegetarian if you use real suet)
Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1 small slice
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 189Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 38mgSodium: 145mgCarbohydrates: 30gFiber: 1gSugar: 18gProtein: 3g
Nutrition information is only estimated.
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