Last Christmas, after 21 years of living in the U.S., I finally got my act together to make a plum pudding. Plum pudding, of course, is the official Christmas dessert of the U.K., and by extension, Australia, where I grew up. There was a reason why it took me so long: Making a proper pudding here was no easy feat. In the first place, to make a proper plum pud (as it's affectionately called) you must begin weeks, or preferably months, in advance. In the second place, it requires ingredients that are difficult to find in the U.S., and one ingredient in particular: beef suet. But after my successful attempt last year at making the thing, I'm here to tell you: The time is right for America to embrace plum pudding.
There's no doubt it's a hard sell. Plum pudding is basically an aged, steamed, very very dense fruitcake made with beef fat. It has no plums, nor any other delicious fruit to speak of. It has a bunch of raisins, and candied citrus peel, and spices, and burnt milk and bread crumbs. It's also known as figgy pudding, but not because it has figs. Why? Who knows? What do you think it should be called: beef fat and booze cake?
The method is basically to soak most of the ingredients in a bunch of booze for days on end, steam everything together for hours and hours and hours, then age the results for up to a year before you steam it again. Then you douse it in brandy and light it on fire. It comes to the table like a Christmas torch. What's not to love?
But the truth is, this thing is delicious. I hate fruitcake as much as the next hater-of-disgusting-things, but somehow soaking all the fruit in so much booze, and aging it, and yes — mixing it with beef fat — takes away that nasty fruitcake tang. And the texture, unlike dry fruitcake, is moist and dense. Served hot and fragrant and with the boozy edge of brandy dancing around the edges, it tastes more like Christmas than anything other dish.
America is eating in a more adventurous fashion than ever before. We are offal-obsessed, we line up for cult desserts, we worship bacon like a deity. If the time for plum pudding is not now, then when? What's so great about pig fat and so gross about beef fat? If we can have candied bacon desserts, why not plum pudding? (Of course, you don't actually taste the beef in the pudding, it just helps with the texture; it's the idea of it that turns people off, but for no good reason I can see.)
Have I convinced you?? If so, you can find a very good plum pudding recipe here, on Epicurious. For the beef suet, do not use the kind you get at the pet store to make bird feed. Many British food goods stores carry suet. I got high quality beef fat from McCall's Meat & Fish Co., froze it and shaved it very fine, which worked fantastically.
Last year, I fed my lucky American guests a glorious flaming plum pudding, and they gobbled it up. They claim now to have hated it, that they were just tipsy at the time, but that's a filthy lie. This year, I'll be eating a pudding I made last Christmas and have been aging all year. Wish me (and my guests) luck.
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