Traditional Gluten-Free Christmas Pudding
Get a start on your holiday baking and stir up a new tradition with a homemade Christmas pudding. Stir-Up Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent (November 26 this year) when Christmas pudding, mincemeat, and Christmas cake are typically prepared. Besides offering some family bonding time, the day heralds the start of the season, while providing a chance to get ahead and cross a few things off your Christmas to-do list.
This baking tradition dates back to Victorian times, when families would gather five weeks before Christmas to stir the pudding. Each family member would take a turn stirring, making wishes for the new year as they stirred. Puddings are stirred from east to west, in honor of the Wise Men who came from the east to visit the baby Jesus.
A luxurious steamed pudding made with dried fruits, alcohol and spices, Christmas pudding has been eaten in Great Britain since medieval times. Sometimes a foil-wrapped penny was baked into the pudding to bring good luck to whoever found it, but this has fallen out of fashion, perhaps due to safety reasons.
Christmas pudding is made over two days. On day one, you soak all the fruits and nuts with alcohol so that they get plump and moist. On day two, you stir in the eggs, butter, sugar, breadcrumbs, flour and spices. The pudding is then steamed for 3 1/2 hours, then cooled, wrapped and stored somewhere cool and dark. According to tradition, this would be under the bed, or in your kitchen larder, where it would be watched over in anticipation until Christmas Day. On Christmas, the pudding is re-steamed for 2 1/2 hours, then doused with brandy, ceremoniously lit aflame, and delightfully served with a hard sauce laced with brandy.
This Traditional Gluten-Free Christmas Pudding is loaded with brandy-soaked plump fruit and nuts. The breadcrumbs and flour are gluten-free, but you can make this using equal amounts of wheat varieties if that’s not a concern. Although butter will not give you quite the same results as suet, it’s your safest bet if you’re gluten-free. Rather than buying unsweetened cranberries, I used some of the lightly sweetened ones I had on hand from making cranberry sauce, and I omitted the almonds, so it would be nut-free as well. You can use molasses as a substitute for black treacle and dark brown sugar for the muscovado sugar.
The dried fruit, fat, sugar and alcohol in the recipe preserves the pudding so it can be made weeks, or even months, in advance, and the resting period is necessary to allow the flavors to mature. It is not necessary to feed your pudding with additional brandy or rum during its slumber. There is enough fruit, alcohol, and sugar to keep your pudding nice and moist for at least a year. I know some of the allure is that the pudding is shelf-stable and can be stored on your countertop, but being unsure about it staying cool, I was worried about doing this. I put mine in the fridge.
This was my first pudding and it was surprisingly easy. Put on your best Christmas playlist, simmer some mulled wine and get stirring this Stir-Up Sunday.
Traditional Gluten-Free Christmas Pudding
- 3/4 cup (115 g) sultanas (golden raisins)
- 3/4 cup (115 g) raisins
- 1/2 cup (70 g) dried figs, diced
- 1/2 cup (50 g) dried unsweetened cranberries
- 2.5 Tablespoons (25 g) whole almonds, roughly chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and grated
- 1 apple, peeled and grated
- 1 orange, zest and juice
- 3 1/2 Tablespoons brandy
- 2 Tablespoons Pedro Ximinez – or add more brandy
- 1/3 cup (80 g) butter (or shredded suet if not gluten-free)
- 1/2 cups (120 g) dark muscovado sugar
- 1 Tablespoon black treacle
- 2 medium eggs
- 1/2 cup (70 g) gluten-free flour
- 3/4 cup (80 g) gluten-free breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground mixed spice*
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Toss all of the ingredients from Day One together in a large mixing bowl. Pour brandy over and stir together. Cover the bowl and leave on the counter to soak overnight.
Beat the butter, sugar, and treacle in a large bowl using an electric mixer. Beat in the eggs, on at a time, then stir in the flour, breadcrumbs, baking powder, salt and spices. Fold in the brandy soaked fruits from Day One, stirring everything together thoroughly.
Butter a 1.1 liter (approximately 1 quart) pudding basin and line the base with a small circle of parchment paper. Spoon pudding mixture into the prepared basin, pressing it down firmly with the back of a spoon.
Working on your countertop, make a lid for the basin by using a large piece (about 18 inches) of aluminum foil with a same size piece of parchment paper placed on top. Pick up both and fold a vertical pleat down the center to allow space for the steam to rise. Place lid parchment side down over the top of the pudding basin, with the pleat down the center, securing tightly with baker’s twine underneath the lip of the pudding basin. Trim any excess parchment and foil so that they don’t soak up water during the steam.
Place a steaming rack (or a folded tea towel) into a large lidded pot that is deep enough to cover the pudding. Place pudding on top of rack, then fill pot with boiling water to reach halfway up the side of the basin. Use care that the water doesn’t touch the parchment/foil, otherwise your pudding will become soggy. Cover pot with lid and bring to a simmer. Steam for 3 1/2 hours, checking water level occasionally and topping off if necessary.
Remove pudding from cooking pot and leave to cool completely. Repeating process to remake lid with fresh parchment and foil, securing with twine and trimming. Store in a cool dark place until Christmas Day.
On Christmas Day, steam pudding again to reheat before serving. Use a large pot and boiling water as before, but steam for 2 1/2 hours this time. Remove pudding basin from cooking pot and remove parchment/foil lid. Turn Christmas pudding out of its basin and place on a festive plate. Warm 2 to 3 Tablespoons of brandy in a small saucepan. Pour hot brandy over the warm pudding and carefully ignite with a lighter, then bring it to the table aflame. Serve pudding with brandy butter, custard, cream or ice-cream.
*British Mixed Spice
- 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 2 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
-adapted from recipe by Georgina Hartley