Plum pudding is an English steamed sweet dish traditionally made of dried fruit in a batter of suet, sweetener, breadcrumbs, and eggs. A particularly rich version, Christmas plum pudding, is often served during the holiday season. Plum pudding is eaten warm and usually is served with flaming brandy poured over it. Despite the name, there are no plums or prunes in the dish. Plum pudding instead contains raisins, which have often been called plums in some traditional recipes.
As with any traditional food, there are many variations in recipes for Christmas plum pudding. All recipes include dried fruit, principally raisins, and sometimes also include dried citron, orange peel, or currents. Bread crumbs, eggs, and either sugar or molasses are also basic ingredients. Other common recipe items include dark beer, or other spirits, and apple. Suet, the cooking term for beef fat, is an essential ingredient in traditional recipes but is now sometimes replaced by vegetarian versions of suet or vegetable shortening.
Originally the thick batter was cooked in a pudding bag. Modern chefs will cook it in a pudding basin, a special mold made for steamed puddings. Pudding cooked in bags was usually boiled, while pudding basins are made for steaming in a large pot. Christmas plum pudding must boil or steam for three to six hours to make sure that the middle is cooked.
Traditionally, the pudding was made several weeks before Christmas, usually on stir-up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent. Every member of the household would take a turn stirring the batter and making a secret wish. After cooking the pudding would be stored in a cool, dry place until Christmas, when it was steamed again to warm it.
Modern recipes do not always include a storage period and opinions vary about whether it is necessary for developing the best flavor. Small silver trinkets were cooked in the batter to be found by a lucky diner. A coin for wealth, a thimble for good luck, or a ring for a coming marriage were some of the commonly used trinkets cooked inside a pudding.
Christmas plum pudding is frequently served covered with flaming brandy. Brandy is heated in a ladle until a flame starts and then is poured onto the pudding. The flaming dessert is carried into the dark dining room for an exciting and effective presentation. A flavored sauce, cream or butter is served on the side.