It's yuletide tradition and best homemade. Try Ettie Neil-Gallacher's best Christmas pudding and brandy butter recipes to really impress this Christmas. There's only one rule: no microwaves

The best Christmas pudding and brandy butter is a hard combination to beat. Don’t be alarmed by the lack of precision and for goodness sake, leave the supermarket brandy butter on the shelf. Both are best homemade, and remarkably simple, says Ettie Neil-Gallacher.

If you can’t convert the Christmas pud nay-sayers, help is at hand with The Field’s 5 best alternatives to Christmas pudding. From boozy brownies to a WI fruitcake and biscotti for the smalls, no-one will go hungry for something sweet this Christmas. Just don’t attempt to flambé these offerings.

THE BEST CHRISTMAS PUDDING

In our house, it has become Stir-up-resentment-and-ill-feeling Sunday. As I make a batch of puddings to be conveyed to friends and family, my husband never fails to point out that it would be cheaper to courier a van-load of Fortnum & Mason’s puddings. But his lack of festive feeling is no match for my surfeit.

What is perhaps a little discombobulating for the virgin Christmas pudding-maker, however, is the lack of precision inherent in any recipe. But rather than being disconcerted, one should embrace the possibilities that this entails. I minimise the quotidian mixed fruit in favour of more flavoursome figs, dates, prunes and even apricots, while omitting the culinary perversion that is candied peel altogether.

You have options when it comes to the alcohol, too: brandy, whisky, rum and stout are all traditional. There is even some degree of choice when it comes to the receptacle. I use a plastic pudding basin with a fitted lid, largely because I’m left-handed and incredibly clumsy. The prospect of wrestling with a ceramic one, muslin and string leaves me reaching for any leftover sherry. It’s also easier to make up a batch of them to give as presents.

There is only one hard and fast rule: for the love of all that is holy this Christmas, please don’t cook your pudding in a microwave. Nothing is guaranteed to zap the festive spirit faster than the speed and soulless whir and ping of your pudding enjoying some electromagnetic radiation.

  • 50g natural-coloured glacé cherries*
  • 75g dried figs
  • 75g dates
  • 50g prunes
  • 50g dried apricots
  • 75g sultanas
  • 75g currants and raisins**
  • 200ml good-quality rum, plus a little extra ***
  • 1 quince (or a large cooking apple) grated (around 100g-130g)
  • 150g suet
  • 110g-125g white breadcrumbs (take a few slices of an ordinary white loaf that’s a couple of days old, cut the crusts off and blitz in a food mixer)
  • 100g chopped almonds
  • 150g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 level tsp mixed spice
  • 2 eggs (roughly beaten)
  • 75g plain flour
  • 1 orange zest (I usually squeeze the juice out of it, too)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 125ml brandy (or vodka as per Fanny Craddock and Nigella Lawson) for flambéing
  • 1.4 litre (2 pint) pudding basin

* If you can only find the vile, lurid variety, leave them out altogether and make up the difference with whatever other dried fruit takes your fancy – dried blueberries are a good substitute.
** I often leave currants out altogether, as they’re so very mean, and bolster with other more interesting fruits but I’ve included them here for tradition’s sake. Feel free to scrimp on them.
*** I like to ensure the fruit is covered but if you use as little as 150ml and stir it a few times, you can take it that your fruit will be steeped.

Rinse and pat dry the glacé cherries to rid them of their syrupy gloop.

Chop the cherries, figs, dates, prunes and apricots roughly into sultana-sized pieces. I do this with scissors for ease.

Soak all the dried fruit overnight (or even longer – I’ve left it almost a week in the past). I prefer rum to brandy and whisky; Pedro Ximenez is delicious but makes for a very rich pudding indeed.

Come Sunday, combine all the other ingredients and then add the steeped fruit with all the liquid and mix well.

Grease the basin well, including the lid, and pack it densely with your pudding mix.

Cover with a disc of greaseproof paper at least a centimetre greater in circumference than your basin, with a pleat folded into the middle, before firmly pressing the lid into place.

Nigella recommends wrapping the whole pudding tightly in foil to prevent any water leaking into the basin and this seems a good way to avoid such a disaster befalling your magnum opus.

Steam (or boil in a saucepan a third full) for at least three hours, then rewrap and store somewhere cool.

Feed the pudding at regular intervals using a skewer sunk deep in the pudding. I usually add an extra couple of tablespoons each time.

On Christmas Day, steam or boil again for the same length of time, before serving.

To flambé, heat brandy in a pan before pouring it over pudding and lighting it.

THE BEST BRANDY BUTTER

A Christmas pudding without accompaniment would be as uneventful an affair as Stir-up Sunday without a blazing row. The only sauce that fits the festive bill is brandy butter – brandy sauce is too insipid; variations of Christmas custard (ye gods!) too great a culinary sacrilege. To my mind, a sauce that melts onto and into the steamed pudding is the key to seasonal satisfaction.

I weep when I see people buying brandy butter in supermarkets because doing it oneself is simplicity and deliciousness itself – and takes no more than five minutes. Moreover, it makes a great present over the festive season – a welcome respite from yet another box of Ferrero Rocher and wine that will only be potable when mulled.

I had been happily creaming unsalted butter, icing sugar and brandy for some time before I discovered Nigella’s confection, which I think is largely unsurpassable. Her culinary genius manifests itself twice over here, through the use of unrefined golden icing sugar (available in supermarkets, both real and virtual) and the addition of ground almonds. My only stipulation here is that three tablespoons of brandy would be puritanical.

  • 150g softened, unsalted butter
  • 225g unrefined golden icing sugar
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 3 tbsp or more good-quality brandy (I use Cognac)

Cream the butter using a food mixer or processor; a hand beater and even old-fashioned elbow grease will do. Make your life easier by waiting until the butter is soft.

Beat in the sifted icing sugar until pale and creamy.

Mix in the ground almonds and then add the brandy. Do this to taste but fewer than three tablespoons will be almost indiscernible.