I wrote this recipe to be made in the traditional way, wrapped in cloth and fully boiled, rather than in a pudding steamer, because I wanted to be true to tradition (and I was not spending 40 bucks on a pudding steamer I was going to use once a year). You can relax a bit in the dried fruit department and use any combination you’re fond of (Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were quite partial to prunes themselves), provided that the weight is the same. This pudding can be made weeks ahead of time, provided that it’s hung to age in a cool, well-ventilated place and checked daily to prevent mold growth on the satchel (though dunking it in booze every few days will pretty much take care of that). Personally I make it only a few days before Christmas, because I remember everything at the last possible minute (I’m a busy lady).
- The day before you make the pudding, put all the dried fruit and diced apple into an extra-large bowl. Steep the teabags in the boiling water for ten minutes, then wring them out well and discard. Pour the tea and alcohol into the bowl and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on the counter overnight.
- Also the day before: In a small bowl cut together the shortening with 2/3 cup of flour with a fork till you get small, pebbly bits. Place in the freezer overnight.
- The next day, begin by setting your wire rack into your large pot, or use an inverted small plate if you don’t have a rack small enough. Fill the pot ⅔ full with water and set over high heat, dropping to medium once it hits a rolling boil.
- Drain off any extra liquid that has not been absorbed by the fruit (save it in the fridge— it makes a nice cocktail ingredient). Make a well in the center of the fruit, add the eggs and half and half, whip them together till smooth, then stir into the fruit with a large spoon.
- Add the bread crumbs, 1/4 cup flour, baking powder, brown sugar, spices, and salt and mix very well. Remove the shortening/flour mixture from the freezer and toss that in, along with the walnuts. Mix well, then place in the freezer while you prepare your cloth.
- Boil your cheesecloth for a minute to sterilize, then remove with tongs and press well to wring out excess water. Unfurl one sheet, lay it out on a clean counter or wooden board, and generously sprinkle with some flour, gently rubbing it across the cloth to help create a seal. Lay the second piece of cheesecloth over it, rotated 45 degrees, and repeat the flouring process.
- Remove the pudding mixture from the freezer and, using your hands, scoop it out onto the center of the cloth, gently patting it into a round. Pick up the ends of the cheesecloth and bundle it into a tight satchel, tying it tightly closed with butcher’s twine. Gently lower it into the boiling water, adding more water to cover if not fully submerged.
- Place a lid on the pot, cracking it open slightly, and boil over medium heat for a minimum of six hours. Check every 20 minutes or so to top it off with some more water, ensuring the pudding stays covered.
- Once cooked, gently lift the pudding and place in a colander to drain for half an hour or so. Using a hook or length of twine, hang your pudding somewhere in the house that has plenty of ventilation so it can air-dry. Keep a bowl under it the first day to catch any errant drips.
- At this point, the pudding can be hung to age up to two months. Some people like giving it a nice dousing of booze every day or two, but that’s not at all necessary. Just make sure to check the satchel daily to keep it clean and mold-free if you’re choosing to age it. If you can’t wait to eat your pudding, you can get right to serving the day after it’s hung.
- To serve: Once again break out your large pot and wire rack setup, and either steam or boil the pudding for two hours to warm through.
- While the pudding reheats, make the hard sauce: In a 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the brown sugar and treacle (or corn syrup). Stir constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure you get into those corners, until the melted sugar looks smooth and begins to bubble like hot lava. Turn heat to low, stand at arm’s length, and slowly pour in the heavy cream. It will bubble and spit like mad until all the cream is stirred in, so be careful! Add the booze plus a pinch of salt, stir well until completely smooth, and set aside until ready to serve.
- Gently untie the pudding and place on a large serving platter. Add a sprig of fresh holly to the top if you’d like to be traditional. Pour the hard sauce into a fancy little gravy boat or something like that, and bring to the table with the pudding.
- At the table, pour a hefty ladleful of rum or brandy over the pudding, enough that some will pool onto the plate. Set it on fire, take a step back, and be really impressed with yourself.
Allison Robicelli is a D-list celebrity-chef chef, author, humorist, entrepreneur, general polymath, and all-around good time. You may remember her from such places as Food52, Eater, Food Network, VH1, and many other quirky corners of the food Internet. She is the author of the critically acclaimed cookbook/memoir Robicelli's: A Love Story, With Cupcakes, which has been called one of the funniest food-related books of all time. You should buy it.