Eliza Acton, one of the first authors to provide a recipe for a specifically “Christmas” pudding, actually included 3 different recipes for Christmas puddings in her encyclopedic work, Modern Cookery in all its Branches. This one, titled “The Author’s Christmas Pudding,” is evidently her own recipe; she calls it a “remarkably light small rich pudding.”
This particular Christmas pudding has experienced something of a revival recently. The YouTube channels Tasting History, English Heritage, and the Charles Dickens Museum have all made versions of this recipe, and it is featured in the excellent book How to Cook the Victorian Way, published earlier this year. As I was searching for a good pudding recipe to make this Christmas, I thought I should try my hand at it as well. I wonder what Eliza Acton would think to see so many people making her Christmas pudding, 175 years later?
- 3 oz flour
- 3 oz breadcrumbs
- 6 oz suet
- 6 oz raisins
- 6 oz currants
- 4 oz minced apples
- 5 oz sugar (brown or white; I used brown)
- 2 oz candied orange peel
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp mace
- small pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup of brandy
- 3 eggs
For the German pudding sauce:
- 1/2 cup sherry or Madeira
- 2 oz sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
- Whisk the eggs and brandy together, then add to the other ingredients.
- You can make this in either a pudding cloth or in a mold. If using a mold, use a 1 1/4 litre/2 pint mold and butter it thoroughly.
- Pack the pudding mix into the mold, pushing it down with your fingers to make sure it gets into all the corners.
- Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the mold and place it on top. Cover it with either a pudding cloth or with foil, making a pleat across the middle to give the pudding room to rise. Tie it tightly around the rim of the mold with string.
- Place a small plate upside-down on the bottom of a large pot of boiling water. Gently lower the pudding in so that it rests on the plate. The water should come up to an inch below the top of the mold.
- Return the water to a full boil, then reduce it to a rolling boil. Boil for 4 hours, topping up the water level as necessary. When finished, turn out of the mold on to a plate.
Traditionally, Christmas puddings are often served by pouring brandy over the pudding and then setting it ablaze. While this looks impressively dramatic, it’s not strictly necessary – there’s already brandy in the pudding, so it’s not needed for flavor. I went ahead and served mine this way anyway, just for the fun of getting to set things on fire (unfortunately, it only burns for a few seconds, and I didn’t manage to get any good pictures – you’ll just have to trust me that it looked really, really cool).
Whether or not you opt for fire, the pudding should then be served with a sauce. Eliza Acton provides several different sauce options; I went with her “delicious German pudding sauce” recipe. For this sauce, you will need to dissolve 2 oz of sugar in 1/2 cup of sherry or Madeira, then gently heat it along with three beaten egg yolks in a double boiler. Keep whisking the mixture until it thickens and becomes foamy, then pour it over the pudding. Eliza Acton writes that this sauce will “much improve the appearance” of a pudding; I can confirm that this is true.
This pudding (and especially the sauce) was a firm favorite with my household. It contains many of the same ingredients as mincemeat pies or fruitcake (such as brandy, apples, orange peel, and spices), and the flavors were somewhat similar. The texture, however, is completely different. Boiled puddings end up with a nice, spongy texture – although it is somewhat dense, it is still much moister and lighter than fruitcake. With the rich custard sauce, it was absolutely perfect. I can see why so many people love Eliza Acton’s Christmas pudding – I think it will become a Christmas tradition for my family too.
Acton, E. (1845). Modern cookery, in all its branches. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. https://archive.org/details/moderncookeryin00actogoog/mode/2up
Gray, A., & Hann, A. (2020). How to cook the Victorian way with Mrs. Crocombe. London: English Heritage.