Christmas

The Royal Family's Christmas Pudding Recipe Is Here

December  3, 2020
Photo by James Ransom

Like almost everyone else I know with access to a Netflix password, I just finished the fourth season of The Crown. And while there’s much to be said about Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher and the stag tragically shot at Balmoral, I’m here to talk about the food.

The show itself doesn’t hone too much on the royal palate—the camera pays closer attention to decorum rather than dinner—yet sometimes we’re let into the wood-paneled dining rooms, where the relatives cavort over Scotch eggs and salmon, asparagus and armagnac. The table is often the site where the difference between the royal family and their less royal counterparts becomes apparent.

Of course, while The Crown is rooted in history, it is also fictional, and can only take us so far behind the curtains of Buckingham Palace. For a real peek into the royal goings-on, we have Instagram.

The royal family’s account touts 8.4 million followers. On the platform, they share anything from archival portraits (talk about a #tbt!) to lesser known facts, like this post about the 400 clocks in Windsor Castle. For the most part, the feed is a collection of press shots of various family members doing various royal activities, but one post last week caught my eye: The Royal kitchens released their official Christmas pudding recipe along with a video.

Pudding can mean various things in British lexicon. Among upper classes, it refers to dessert. Although, generally in British parlance, a pudding is any sweet or savory dish that is steamed (think: black pudding or sticky toffee pudding). What Americans would call pudding is known in England as custard.

Come Christmastime, this holiday pudding is stuffed to the gills with dried fruits. It’s often called plum pudding, after the pre-Victorian word for raisin, even though it features no plums—or, more casually, pud, which I think is cute.

Early pud recipes can be traced all the way back to 1728. The royal rendition features three dried grapes (raisins, currants, and sultanas) and three alcohols (beer, dark rum, and brandy). First you mix the dry ingredients, then stir in the wet ones. Toss into a pudding dish and steam. The royal kitchen even recommends making the pudding in advance, then re-steaming it on the day you plan to eat.

Indeed, enjoying Christmas pudding seems to be something of a royal family tradition. Just last year, four generations—Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince George—gathered to stir ingredients and pose in front of cameras, in formal attire no less.

Have you ever made Christmas pudding before? And, if you have, what’s in your family’s go-to recipe? Share your own traditions in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • David Hunter
    David Hunter
  • Randi
    Randi
  • Lori L
    Lori L
  • Nancy H.
    Nancy H.
  • Stevie the Fish
    Stevie the Fish
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.

12 Comments

David H. December 6, 2020
Is British Christmas Pudding different than what we call “fruit cake” on this side of the pond? I hate fruit cake and this steamed pudding doesn’t look too appetizing to me neither. I would rather make cinnamon buns or an apple pie.
 
Lori L. December 6, 2020
David, Christmas Pudding has a similar flavour from the dried fruits and alcohol, but has a moist cake binding the fruit. American fruitcake, in my experience, is hard and solid. But if you don't like the fruitcake components, you wouldn't like this. The British alternatives for steamed puddings (really traditional for Christmas) are steamed cranberry pudding or even steamed carrot pudding. Wouldn't be Christmas for us without it. We usually add a chocolate cake, typically a buche de noel, for the kids.
 
Stevie T. December 6, 2020
Well, fruit cake and Christmas pudding are very different, but think of them as cousins, as there's considerable cross-over in the ingredients. I would think that the chances are that if you dislike one, you'll dislike the other. My advice would be to buy a small one rather than going through the palaver of making one in advance. I used to buy mine from Marks and Spencer, but they don't have a brick-and-mortar location in North America anymore, and I was able to buy mine from a church that made them as part of their Christmas fundraising. Anyway, I do encourage you to try it just once - you might quite like it!

BTW, what some posters have called brandy butter you will see in some cookbooks as "hard sauce" - either because of the amount of booze or the consistency of the sauce, I don't know - and to my mind is absolutely necessary.
 
David H. December 6, 2020
Booze is always necessary! 😉
 
Randi December 6, 2020
I made one every Christmas for years. The kids loved the dramatic flambé but unfortunately didn’t really like to eat it. I served it with brandy butter. Yum!
 
Lori L. December 3, 2020
Nancy, My Canadian grandmother also served a caramel sauce, almost identical to yours, with her plum pudding. I married an Englishman, whose family insist on brandy butter (for Americans that's equal parts butter, icing sugar and a generous amount of brandy whipped, then chilled and put on a portion of pudding with a knife, like you would add butter to a roll.) I make a traditional pudding almost identical to the royal recipe, but without beer and I add some lemon and orange zest. For Americans, the nearest equivalent to British mixed spice is pumpkin spice, but I generally use cinnamon and allspice. And you MUST make this ahead--that's why it refers to making it on stir up Sunday, before advent. Like fruitcake, it ripens. Just refrigerate after steaming. On the day of serving, just microwave about 5 minutes. And if you don't have a traditional stoneware pudding bowl or a mold, just use a corning mixing bowl. So happy, Nancy, to hear that someone else shares our tradition of caramel sauce with plum pudding!
 
Nancy H. December 4, 2020
Lori, I'm Canadian and my mother's pudding and sauce recipe was actually published as part of a compilation cookbook here in the mid-seventies - not necessarily a likely connection, but it's fun to ponder such random possibilities all the same! Adding citrus zest (instead of mixed peel?) sounds like a great addition by the way - definitely thinking that it might be pud instead of the torte this year even though the size of our table will be greatly reduced. We are more fortunate than many this year and I'm working on being grateful in advance for better times ahead - stay well and safe!
 
Nancy H. December 3, 2020
My mother was English (she LOVED the Queen :)) and always made a pud for Christmas. It had many of the same ingredients as this one, but she also added 1 cup each of grated carrot and potato (she said this "lightened" it up), as well as dates and 2 kinds of nut pieces (pecans and filberts, usually). No breadcrumbs, slightly less suet and a lot less alcohol..... however, the crowning glory was the Caramel Rum Sauce which was the only thing that persuaded my Dad to eat it (small amount of pudding/large pool of sauce). Her recipe combined 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup water, 1 cup heavy cream, 2 oz of rum (or 4) and a dash of lemon juice. Stir this together over med. heat until well blended, then simmer for an hour or so - keeps for ages in the fridge. It's not a thick sauce, but the whole point for me is the big puddle :)) I've tweaked it over the years and add 1/2 tsp. of salt and quite a bit more lemon - taste for the sweet spot to bring it into balance.

All of the ingredients that the Royal family pudding leaves out are the ones that I would leave out of my Mum's (except for the veg) so will give this one a try as I'm not personally fond of glace cherries or steamed nuts. For what it's worth, I've been making something called Cranberry Torte from a vegetarian cookbook by Celia Brooks Brown for years as an accompaniment to our rum sauce. I just found it here in a slightly different presentation for anyone who might be interested - essentially just fresh cranberries glued together with a bit of batter which works very well with gluten-free flour. VERY popular at the Christmas table in my house!

https://boroughmarket.org.uk/recipes/cranberry-crisp-with-toffee-bourbon-sauce
 
AntoniaJames December 3, 2020
Nancy, your mum's pud and (gasp!) that caramel rum sauce sound divine! I can see using that sauce for all kinds of treats. Thank you so much for all of these great tips. ;o)
 
Nancy H. December 4, 2020
Thank you Antonia - just realized that I should have said 1/4 tsp. of salt instead. I don't really measure these things, but that's a safer start!
 
mela December 6, 2020
Nancy, am interested in your cranberry crisp but can't seem to get the link to work. Could you repost?
 
Nancy H. December 7, 2020
Hi Mela, If you highlight the above address and copy, then paste it into your browser, it should bring you to a place where you can click on the link itself. Failing that, just search Borough Market, then the recipe itself from their homepage. Good luck!