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.
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.
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.”
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.
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’.
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?”