Christmas is looming. Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, is waiting to do the impossible and deliver gifts to millions of kids on Christmas Eve. Santa is a slightly baffling modern evolution of St Nicholas, who was in fact born to a Greek family, in what is now part of Turkey but was then part of the Roman Empire, in the late 3rd century.
St Nicholas’ feast day is actually 6 December (in Western Christianity; 19 December in Eastern Christianity) and in many cultures that date is still a big deal, with celebrations and special baked products: speculoos biscuits in the Netherlands; ciastka miodowe, honey cakes, in Poland; and vanilkove rohlicky, vanilla crescent biscuits, in the Czech Republic, among others. Even here in England there was apparently1 a traditional pudding – though I can’t imagine many people still make it for 6 December. Which is a shame, as it’s rather good, and could even make a good alternative to the traditional British Christmas pudding – a heavy, alcohol-infused concoction I’ve never liked.
Traditional British Christmas pudding is often called “plum pudding” – though its main fruit component is raisins, not plums. It gets the name as in older English “plum” was used to mean raisin, or dried fruits in general. St Nicholas pudding, on the other hand, is a genuine plum pudding.
I’m slightly confused by this as the plums on our Victoria tree were all ripe in August, and while there are later varieties, any fresh plums in early December would surely have been imports – but importing fruit was a less commonplace activity in Olde England than it is now in our industrial, seasonality-quashing modern world. More likely, it used prunes – dried plums. This recipe uses both. Luckily I had 3kg of our plums stoned and frozen from August.
Like Christmas pudding, this is a steamed pudding2 so it’ll need a good 2 hours cooking time. Plan ahead!
125g caster sugar
1 orange, zested and juiced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
90g plain flour
8g ground cinnamon
4g ground cloves
4g baking powder
200g plums, stoned
60g prunes, stoned and chopped
80g golden syrup
About 6 more plums or prunes, stone and halved
240g caster sugar
1. Cream together the butter and sugar.
2. Add the zest of the orange.
3. Add the egg a little at a time.
4. Sieve together flour, baking powder and spices, and add to the mixture, along with the breadcrumbs.
5. Fold to combine.
6. Add the orange juice, plums and prunes and mix gently until well-combined.
7. Grease a pudding basin, then put the 80g (two generous tablespoons) of golden syrup in the bottom.
8. Arrange the halved 6 plums or prunes in the syrup.
9. Spoon the batter onto the top.
10. Seal with foil and tie.
11. Steam for approx 2 hours.
12. Make the sauce by slicing plums into saucepan, with a little water. Simmer until well softened then puree by putting through a mouli, or blending and putting through a strainer.
13. Dissolve the sugar with about 60-80g water. When it’s dissolved, turn up the heat and boil to caramelise slightly. Remove from the heat, stir in about 60-80g more water – carefully, as it’ll spit.
14. Add the plum puree to the syrup, and stir well to combine. You can add some booze if you like – port, Kirsch, a dash of brandy.
14. Check if the pudding is cooked by lifting the foil and sticking in a skewer; it’s basically a moist cake, so the skewer won’t come out clean – but nor should it come out with bits that still resemble batter. If it’s still battery, keep steaming.
15. When the pudding is cooked, turn it out onto a plate and serve with the sauce.
You could even serve with some cream or vanilla ice cream, if you’re feeling really indulgent. It’s a lovely pud, with the orange, and possibly the caramelised sugar, tempering the sweetness of the sugar and syrup and adding some bitterness.
1 I say apparently as although a recipe appears in my 1997 copy The Pudding Club Cookbook, and that one is essentially copied in Cooking With the Saints (Ignatius Press, 2001), I can’t find any mentions of the pudding in my books of older traditional British recipes.
2 OK, some Christmas puddings are boiled still. See this post for more discussion of just what is meant by “pudding” and its history.