Friday, December 10, 2010

Now bring us some figgy pudding.

We have all been singing about it since we were 8 but many of us have no idea what we are singing about. Well I know I certainly didn't until two years ago when I decided to find out exactly what figgy pudding was.

The first thing to know is that figgy pudding is not a pudding, but rather a cake. Pudding is an old English term that simply refers to a dessert which is traditionally eaten after dinner with coffee. The earliest know recipes for it date back to the 15th century. My favorite part of the history is that it was banned in the mid-1600's (so it is very possible that Shakespeare enjoyed some, or perhaps hated it) by the Puritans when they banned Christmas. It is quite possible the  pudding was banned because it was so alcoholic....a bit more interested now than you were a couple moments ago aren't you?

When I started looking into this a couple of years ago I also decided to find a traditional recipe and try my hand at it. The recipe that I ended up using is wonderful and quite true to its origins save a couple of changes. Most notably the substitution of butter for suet. Don't know what suet is? Neither did I. Turns out it is a solid white fat from the loin and kidney regions of meat animals...sounds yummy no?

I am pleased to be able to share this recipe with all of you this holiday season. It may seem a little time intensive because I have been very detailed about the prep and cooking procedures but you should be extremely pleased with the results, serves 8 to 10:

12 plump dried figs, snipped into small pieces or chopped

1 apple, peeled and cored and finely chopped

Grated peel of 1 lemon and 1 orange

1 cup water

1/2 cup dark rum

1/3 cup cognac or brandy

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs (can be just whites, stiffly beaten)

1 packed cup brown sugar

2 cups fresh white bread crumbs

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/3 cup brandy, cognac or rum to flame the pudding (optional)

Softly whipped, lightly sweetened heavy cream for serving (optional)

Getting ready: You'll need a tube pan with a capacity of 8 to 10 cups and a stock pot that can hold the pan. (If you've got a lobster pot, use that; it'll be nice and roomy.) Put a double thickness of paper toweling in the bottom of the pot, it will keep the pudding from jiggling too much while it's steaming. Spray the tube pan with cooking spray, then butter it generously, making sure to give the center tube a good coating.

Put the figs and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and, keeping an eye on the pan, cook until the water is almost evaporated. Add the cognac or brandy and rum and bring the liquids back to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, make sure it's in an open space, have a pot cover at hand and, standing back, set the liquid aflame. Let the flames burn for 2 minutes, then extinguish them by sealing the pan with the pot cover. For a milder taste, burn the rum and brandy until the flames die out on their own. Set the pan aside uncovered.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt and grated lemon and orange peels and keep at hand.

Working in a mixing bowl with a whisk, beat the eggs and brown sugar together until well blended. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the bread crumbs, followed by the melted butter and the fig mixture (liquids included). Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and gently mix them in — you'll have a thick batter.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and seal the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Set the pan into the stock pot and fill the pot with enough hot water to come one-half to two-thirds of the way up the sides of the baking pan. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot tightly with foil and the lid.

Lower the heat so that the water simmers gently, and steam the pudding for 2 hours. (Check to make sure that the water level isn't getting too low; fill with more water, if necessary.) Carefully remove the foil sealing the pot — open the foil away from you to protect your arms and face — and then take off the foil covering the pan. To test that the pudding is done, stick a skewer or thin knife into the center of the pudding — the skewer or knife should come out dry.

To remove the pudding from the pan (a tricky operation), I find it easiest to carefully empty the water into the sink, and then carefully ease the baking pan out on its side. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the pudding cool for 5 minutes. Detach the pudding from the sides of the pan using a kitchen knife, if necessary, then gently invert it onto the rack. Allow the pudding to cool for 30 minutes.

If you'd like to flame the pudding — nothing's

Serve the pudding with whipped cream, ice cream or custard sauce. I haven't tried the custard yet myself but have a good recipe for it I got from a chef friend if anyone is interested.

Alternatively, you can cool the pudding completely, wrap it very well in several layers of plastic wrap and refrigerate it for up to two weeks. When you are ready to serve, butter the pan the pudding was cooked in, slip the pudding back into the pan, seal the pan with foil, and re-steam for 45 minutes.

And that's all there is to it (I know, I know). I hope you'll enjoy it, and I hope that when the carolers come to the door singing, "We want some figgy pudding," you'll get as much of a giggle as I do out of being able to give them just what they asked for.

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