A Good Home, Cake Recipes, Christmas, Christmas Baking, Christmas Dinner, Christmas Pudding, Recipes

Nigella’s Christmas Pudding – Better Than My Sister’s?

In some homes, this is the time to steam the Christmas Pudding or bake the Christmas Cake. Not mine.

If you’ve read A Good Home, you know that I baked a fancy cake – once.  It caught fire and burned and I took that as a sign from above.  As for steaming a pudding — I’ve never tried.  Still, I know enough bakers to realize that it’s risky to declare your own Christmas Creation the best of them all.  

Clearly, no-one told Nigella Lawson that. The well-known food diva claims hers is “the Queen of Christmas Puddings”. It’s a wonder this claim hasn’t started a war.

Jamaican Christmas Cake - Photo by The Gleaner
Christmas Cake – Photo from The Gleaner

In Britain, the US, Canada, Jamaica, and  many other countries, there are  bakers who know their Christmas Cakes or Puddings are the best. But one doesn’t say it, you understand. One smiles smugly, knowing others will say it for you.

And the recipe?  Usually a closely guarded family secret.  But whether it’s a Pudding or a Cake, the first part of the process seems identical. Long before now – from a week to a year in advance – the bakers soak the dried fruit (prunes, currants, raisins, apricots, etc.) in alcohol.  Usually wine, rum or/and brandy.  Lots.

Photo of Nigella Lawson by Charles Birchmore, BBC
Photo of Nigella Lawson by Charles Birchmore, BBC

A few years ago,  Nigella soaked her fruit in a liqueur called Pedro Ximenez, or – as she describes it – “the magic liqueur… the sweet, dark, sticky sherry that has a hint of licorice, fig and treacle about it.

“I know there is no turning back,” she says.  “This is sensational… this here is the Queen of Christmas puddings. It has to be tried, and clamours to be savoured.”

Nigella's Christmas Pudding
Nigella’s Christmas Pudding

Now, as far as I’m concerned, the prize for the ultimate Christmas Cake or Pudding goes to either my sister or mother-in-law.  

Both their creations are outrageously delicious. Both are a spiritual experience.  And I mean that in the most alcoholic way.

You get your first whiff when the creations are lifted out of their containers for everyone to see.  The aroma fills the nostrils – indeed, fills the room.

Cake Tin - Google Images
 Google Images

And there it is: dark brown, pungent with fruit, spice, rum, brandy or port wine.  Not to be eaten before Christmas Day — though that takes tremendous willpower.

The thing is dangerously good.  If the alcohol doesn’t do you in, the weight-gain will. But the way I see it, the only thing more dangerous than eating too much of it on The Big Day is to tell the whole world that yours is ‘the ultimate’.

Jamaican Christmas Cake - Google Images
Jamaican Christmas Cake – Google Images

I asked my sister if she’d heard about Nigella’s claim. She ignored the question and spent  five minutes telling me how imperfect her own creations are this year (which means they’ll be absolutely delicious).

“But you’ll never believe it – the gluten-free ones turned out really well this year.”  (Which means they’ll be absolutely glorious.)

Then, finally, she circled back to Nigella’s pudding.

“Ahmm… what did she put in it?” She asked, trying to sound indifferent.

“Pedro Ximenez liqueur”, I replied.

“Oh”.  She was still cool, but I  sensed her interest. “And… how do you spell that second word?”

I spelled it.

“Does she add it after it’s done or before?”

“She soaks the fruit in it,” I said.

“Ahhhh… Hmmm… Maybe I’ll try it next year.”

My sister’s recipe, of course, is secret. But here’s Nigella’s:  http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/ultimate-christmas-pudding

My best wishes for perfect Christmas Cakes and Puddings!  

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20 thoughts on “Nigella’s Christmas Pudding – Better Than My Sister’s?”

  1. Cynthia – they actually refer to these things as Pud? If so, obviously not familiar with the um, Southern euphemism.

    For the holidays, we make Bacardi Rum Cakes, recently I began making Mango Rum Cakes, this holiday season, I am trying Mango Pineapple Rum Cakes. An update could follow. Possibly ruining Nigellia’s concept. Your sister’s not included.

    Would love to see the Jamaican recipe version. I made Nigella’s Guinness Stout Cake, kind of weird, but I am told the Stout in the UK is different.

  2. Hmmm, Nigella’s not my cup of tea as a broadcaster, though I’m sure she’s a good cook. I’m no cook, but I learnt at my mother’s knee to bake the Christmas cakes and puddings every year and we certainly soaked the fruit in various exotic liquors. One thing confused me here, although they have some ingredients in common, in the UK at least, the pudding and the cake are very different beasts. The pudding is suet-based, steamed and served hot (with brandy butter) and should be very moist and rich. The cake is flour-based and baked and is almost solid fruit, very rich and alcoholic, with marzipan and royal icing on top (could sink a battleship). Slices of this would see me through the the dark days back at boarding school in January.

    1. You’re asking ME, the non-baker? Hah! Yes, they are different, Hilary, so obviously I didn’t make that distinction clear enough.

      In our Caribbean family, we made both Christmas Cake and Christmas Pudding but some relatives also made a kind of “pudding cake” which seems to be a cross between the two. (The cake itself has become much more popular in recent decades.)

      All involve the soaking of the fruits in liquor, often for months, and baking or steaming before Christmas. If it’s kept for a long time, it’s repeatedly ‘freshened up’ with wine or rum.

      In Canada now or the US, if you ask for Jamaican Christmas Cake, you’ll get the kind you had in boarding school, but without the marzipan and icing on top, which is more for Caribbean style wedding cakes.

  3. Ah yes. The competition within both sides of my family as to who has the best Christmas cake is ongoing. My sister-in-law makes a wonderful cake which she shares with the whole family; her daughter would like to carry on the tradition. My grandmother was the cake/pudding maker on my side, but if she shared her whole recipe for either I’ve yet to find it. I do remember her putting her fruits to soak a year or so before the grand production, and when my mother made her own version we children helped rub the sugar into the butter. Such sweet richness…

    1. Yes! Sounds like my family. Except in my generation, we all look to one sister’s cakes, as she has carried on the tradition. As children we were also allowed to help rub the sugar and butter — and to use our fingers to ‘lick out’ what was left in the bowl when the cakes/puddings were put to bake or steam. Did you get that privilege too?

  4. Delightful, Cynthia! I could almost taste those puddings, and you have a wonderful way of conveying the nuances of people-behavior that is never cynical, always kind and subtle.

    The home traditions of the season make things more warm and bright, and I’m so glad we have them! Except the one where unwanted attic guests arrive – five and a half years in this house and I just got a squirrel in the attic (at least it sounds like a squirrel……) who sometimes sounds to be having a little party up there. Unfortunately my cat is very opposed to being carried up the attic ladder, so can’t be counted on to make this squirrel less comfortable up there!

    Squirrels in the attic sounds like a metaphor for silly thoughts:0).

    Do you know anyone who has taken the Canadian Rail trip cross country to Vancouver? I’m thinking of taking it from Quebec City – seeing the country from a warm train with some good books sounds pleasant.

    1. Squirrels in the attic! Yikes. Gotta get them out soon – can do damage.
      Yes, I have friends who have taken the trip and loved it. Autumn and summer are best, but I’ve also heard good things about taking that train in all seasons. Comfortable with excellent food and service and a chance to see the country by rail. It’s one of my dreams.

  5. Before my mother died I baked two Christmas cakes every year, one for her and one for me. I can’t claim they were the best ever but we both enjoyed them. My recipe, passed down from my mother, involved feeding the cake once a week with brandy or rum which made it rather booze. Since she died I haven’t been able to face making another.

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