Many households have their own recipes for Christmas pudding, some handed down through families for generations. Essentially the recipe brings together what traditionally were expensive or luxurious ingredients — notably the sweet spices that are so important in developing its distinctive rich aroma, and usually made with. It is very dark in appearance — very nearly black — as a result of the dark sugars and black treacle in most recipes, and its long cooking time. The mixture can be moistened with the juice of citrus fruits, brandy and other alcohol (some recipes call for dark beers such as mild, stout or porter). Despite the name “plum pudding“, the pudding contains no actual plums due to the pre-Victorian use of the word “plums” as a term for raisins.
Christmas puddings are often dried out on hooks for weeks prior to serving in order to enhance the flavour. This pudding has been prepared with a traditional cloth rather than a basin.
Prior to the 19th century, the English Christmas pudding was boiled in a pudding cloth, and often represented as round. The new Victorian era fashion involved putting the batter into a basin and then steaming it, followed by unwrapping the pudding, placing it on a platter, and decorating the top with a sprig of holly.
Initial cooking usually involves steaming for many hours. Most pre-twentieth century recipes assume that the pudding will then be served immediately, but in the second half of the twentieth century, it became more usual to reheat puddings on the day of serving, and recipes changed slightly to allow for maturing. To serve, the pudding is reheated by steaming once more, and dressed with warm brandy which is set alight. It can be eaten with hard sauce (usually brandy butter or rum butter), cream, lemon cream, ice cream, custard, or sweetened béchamel, and is sometimes sprinkled with caster sugar.
An example of a Great Depression era recipe for Christmas pudding can instead be made on Christmas Day rather than weeks before as with a traditional plum pudding, although it is still boiled or steamed. Given the scarce resources available to poorer households during the depression this recipe uses cold tea for flavouring instead of brandy and there are no eggs used in the mixture. This recipe is not as heavy as a traditional plum pudding.
Many families now buy their puddings ready-made from shops and they can be reheated in a microwave oven with a much shorter cooking time