what? bread?

a blog about making bread at home

Christmas puddings – a quick waddle along memory lane (again)

OK – can I do the blog about Christmas puds in less than half an hour while I wait for the LakesBakes bread bakes?

Christmas puds are an ‘essential’ part of a British Christmas, but some people don’t like them, actually quite a lot of people don’t like our traditional Christmas foods but that’s their loss. I do like Christmas pud and would eat more of them if they weren’t so calorie and fat endowed. You can read the history of Christmas puds on many websites and the wikipedia one has most of what you really need to know. Recipes also abound and include all sorts of sugars, alcohols, dried fruit etc etc. all the baking names have their own take – Delia, Nigella, Nigel Slater and the BBC Goodfood website has recipes you can browse and find one you like the look of.

But the humble or not so humble Christmas pud means different things to everyone, and something that most people eat only once per year can be invested with associations and memories. When I was younger my great auntie used to make us two, one for Christmas and one for Easter. I don’t know what she put in them but they were always very dark in colour and they set a sort of pudding benchmark in my mind. My mum died when I was in my early 20s, so I have been a ‘provider’ of Christmas ever since and choosing or making the pudding forms a central part of my festive activities.

On balance I prefer not to have to buy a pudding for our Christmas dinner, mostly because I think they are very expensive for what they are, but sometimes you can get a surprisingly good one from an unusual source. As a post-grad student at Lincoln College, Oxford, the kitchens there used to make puds for sale to the students and staff, and very good they were too.  I read recently that the chef, Jim Murden, and butler, Kevin Eglestone, both retired recently, and their successors have a lot to live up to. As a mark of the respect the college held them in they had a portrait painted. How cool!

When I worked at Bournemouth University (or Wally Poly as it was then) the trainee chefs on the catering courses produced puds for sale as well, and they weren’t bad either. Unfortunately the catering courses seem to have gone the way of good things and the courses are all to do with hospitality management these days, not making food for people! So those puds are consigned to memory lane as well.

Caterers, however, sometimes let the side down. I really should know better than to order Christmas pud when work takes us out for festive meals. The drive for profit in the organisations that provide these meals means they tend to select the cheapest, least fruity and toughest puds they can. Little Horwood House – I hope they read this – probably supplied the worst Christmas meal I’ve ever had a couple of years ago and included little carrots that were under-cooked and squirted off onto the floor more often than they made it into anyone’s mouth, and a dreary slab of treacle flavoured goo that was closer in texture and spirit to parkin than it was to Christmas pud. They deserve the *** rating they get on Tripadvisor and probably don’t care what I think about their pud.

It is also possible to get good puds from supermarkets, and the ones I’ve liked best in recent years have come from cheaper supermarkets that sell bargain puds. The reviews of this year’s Aldi offering that beat the Fortnum & Mason version fall into this category and if I hadn’t already made my pud for this year I would try and get one of theirs. Although Waitrose should be ashamed of tarting up their offering with glitter, that’s for kids and cards not food.

Just checked the bread, a few more minutes….

Just how British they are struck home a couple of years ago when I was working on a project that involved, amongst others, a chap from Lancashire and a company based near Montpelier in France. As a gift to the French colleague, the chap from Lancashire sent some Christmas puds to France, and I believe they were well received down there, and consumed with gusto by their recipient, although I understand his children didn’t think much of them.

This year I’ve made my pud using a recipe from the Great British Bake-Off Showstoppers book – no treacle involved as I don’t particularly like that. And I’ve had to have two goes at it because the first one drowned itself as it was steaming. Lesson learned – do not try to use a plastic bowl with a clip on lid because it will float and capsize in my largest saucepan, even with a 1lb weight on the top. So I did it again in a ceramic bowl with traditional greaseproof and foil on the top and all was good.

And here’s the bread – two loaves of 50:50 and two of sour cream bread.

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