steamed puddings

Festive, Memorable and Sometimes in Flames.

One of our holiday traditions began at least four generations ago and my grandchildren look forward to it.  We pour brandy over a Plum Pudding and set it alight.  We dim the lights and bring it to the table aglow with blue flames.  We scoop the flaming liquid over the pudding until it burns out.  The lights are raised, and we serve the pudding with hard sauce/brandy butter – also known or ‘nun’s butter’.

I made the plum pudding today from our family recipe.  I will share our recipe (along with some updated ideas on lard) and some other steamed winter favorites – Persimmon, Malva and Black Puddings.  Spoiler alert: these are NOT diet desserts.

flaming steaming puddings

Ginny’s Family Plum Pudding Recipe

(originally from England, popular in Australia)


1 Cup of flour

1 lb. chopped suet or lard (about 2 ½ cups), dredged with a little of the flour

(available at specialized butchers and sometimes in the refrigerator section of the grocery store near the butter, but they are old fashioned.  If suet and lard are too old-fashioned for you, see options below.)

1 lb. seeded raisins

½ lb. dried currants, washed

½ lb. chopped citron

½ lb. candied orange and lemon peel mixed

½ lb. candied cherries

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 TBS cinnamon

½ TBS mace

½ tsp. cloves

½ cup brown sugar

7 eggs

¼ Cup of cream

½ Cup of Brandy (or substitute sherry of vanilla)

3 Cups fine breadcrumbs (1 ½ loaves, Rye preferred)


  1. Combine the suet dredged in flour and the dried fruit.
  2. Sift remaining flour with salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, cloves and brown sugar
  3. Add 7 egg yolks, ¼ cup cream, ½ cup Brandy and 3 cups fine breadcrumbs (Rye preferred).
  4. Whip 7 egg whites until stiff
  5. Fold egg whites lightly into pudding mixture and pour into a greased two, two-quart molds.
  6. Cover tightly and steam six hours at simmering heat. Put a small colander or trivet into the bottom of the pan to lift the mold off the bottom.
  7. The pudding stays fresh for months in the fridge.
  8. Reheat for serving by steaming for an hour.
  9. Turn the mold upside down to release the pudding onto a platter.
  10. Warm a half a cup of fresh brandy, pour it over the pudding and set it alight. The platter may get hot, have a heatproof pad on the table and kitchen gloves.
  11. Serve with hard sauce (Brandy butter, nun’s butter…) and offer ice cream on the side.

steamed puddings baking can

Steamed Pudding Mold and Lid, 2-Quart. $28.41.

Hard Sauce Recipe (irreverently known as ‘nun’s butter’)


  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) of softened, unsalted butter (not room temperature)
  • 1 ½ cup Powdered Sugar
  • 2 TBS Brandy, Whiskey or Sherry (Optional, substitute vanilla extract to taste)


  1. Cut butter into chunks and beat in a mixer.
  2. Mix in Powdered Sugar in several additions.
  3. Add Brandy, Whiskey, Sherry or Vanilla and mix thoroughly.

Hard sauce lasts for days in the fridge in a covered container.  Make it ahead and remove it a few hours before serving so that it is soft enough to spoon onto your warm dessert. I make two sauces – on spiked and ‘virgin’ to make everyone happy.

Don’t ‘do’ lard?

You may not want to eat lard or suet in the 21st Century.  Modern cooks can substitute modern fats.  Here are some options:

Unsalted butter

Lard has more fat than butter, replace 1 cup of lard with 1¼ cup of butter.  Replace ½ cup of lard with ½ cup plus 2 TBS of butter.

Vegetable shortening (like Crisco)

You can substitute 1 cup shortening for 1 cup lard, but you may want to add 2 more TBS for shortening.

Coconut Oil

Substitute 1 cup of coconut oil for one cup of lard.

Malva Pudding came into our lives from South Africa and a friend brought a fabulous one to Thanksgiving.  It is sort of a spectacular, sticky toffee pudding.   She made it in the morning and reheated it at our house – delicious.  Malva Pudding Recipe from the New York Times

Malva Pudding Recipe

(South Africa)

Ingredients For the Pudding (8 to 10 servings)

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 TBS unsalted butter

1 TBS apricot jam

1 cup plus 3 TBS cake flour (describe)

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup milk

2 TBS white vinegar

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

½ cup heavy cream

For the Sauce

1 cup heavy cream

3 ounces unsalted butter

¾ cups sugar

¼ cup milk

Whipped cream to top it off


  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a shallow, 6-cup baking dish (or individual molds).
  2. Beat the sugar, eggs, butter, and jam together until pale and fluffy.
  3. Slowly beat in the flour, baking soda, milk, vinegar, and vanilla until completely blended.
  4. Pour into the baking dish, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pudding begins to pull away from the sides of the dish and a toothpick inserted in the center of the pudding is clean.
  5. Combine the sauce ingredients in a saucepan, and heat only long enough to melt the butter.
  6. Pour the sauce over the pudding as it comes out of the oven and allow it to be absorbed. Serve the pudding warm with softly whipped cream.

Steamed Persimmon Pudding is a California dessert and a Bay area friend, Robin M.,  first brought one to us in 1981.  We were hooked.  This recipe is from the Junior League of S.F. Cookbook, San Francisco, A la carte (1979).

Persimmon Pudding Recipe

(San Francisco)


Steamed Pudding

2 eggs

1 ¼ cups sugar

1 ¼ cups sieved persimmon pulp (about 3 large, ripe persimmons)

¼ cup melted butter

1 ½ cups sifted, all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

½ tsp cinnamon

¾ cup milk

1 cup seedless raisins

½ cup chopped pecans (optional)

¼ cup brandy


1 cup sweet (unsalted) butter

2 cups sifted powdered sugar

2 eggs, separated

1 jigger rum or brandy


For the Persimmon Pudding

      1. Beat eggs until light, then beat in sugar until smooth and lemon colored.
      2. Combine persimmon pulp and melted butter and stir into egg mixture
      3. Sift dry ingredients and stir in alternatively with milk, beating well after each addition.
      4. Add raisins, pecans and brandy.
      5. Transfer to a well buttered mold and cover tightly with foil.
      6. To Steam: Set the mold on a rack in a large deep pan and add water to come halfway up the sides of the mold.
      7. Bring water to a gentle boil and steam for 2 ½ hours.
      8. Remove pudding from water and let cool for 15 minutes.
      9. Unmold onto foil and cool completely if wrapping and freezing.

(Bring to room temperature before re-heating. Serve warm with sauce.)

For the sauce

      1. Cream butter and sugar until soft and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks one at a time.
      2. Add rum or brandy and mix well.
      3. Beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry.
      4. Fold into sugar mixture.
      5. Serve at room temperature.

 Craig Lee for The New York Times

When the British brought Plum Pudding to the Caribbean, it was adapted to the islands and is a warm weather Christmas Dinner tradition.  It is good in thin slices well into the new year.

Black Cake Recipe



1-pound prunes

1-pound dark raisins

½ pound golden raisins

1-pound currents

1½ pounds dried cherries or 1-pound dried cherries plus ½ pound glace cherries

¼ pound mixed candies citrus peel

2 cups dark rum; more for brushing cake

1½ cup cherry brandy or Manischewitz Concord grape wine; more for grinding fruit

¼ pound blanched almonds

1 cup white or light brown sugar for burning, or ¼ cup dark brown molasses or cane syrup; more molasses for coloring batter

4 sticks (1 pound) butter; more for buttering pans

1 pound (about 2 ½ cups) light or dark brown sugar

10 eggs

Zest of 2 limes

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ teaspoon Angostura bitters

4 cups (1 pound) all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon


  1. At least 2 days before baking, combine prunes, raisins, currants, cherries, candied peel, rum and brandy in a glass jar or sturdy container. Cover tightly; shake or stir occasionally.
  2. When ready to bake, put soaked fruit and almonds in a blender or food processor, work in batches that the machine can handle.  Grind to a rough paste, leaving some chunks of fruit intact.  Add a little brandy or wine if needed to loosen mixture in the machine.
  3. If burning sugar, place a deep, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Add 1 cup white or light brown sugar, and melt, stirring with a wooden spoon.  Stir, letting sugar darken (It will smoke.) When the sugar is almost black, stir in ¼ cup boiling water. (It will splatter.) Turn off heat.
  4. Heat oven to 250 degrees. Butter three 9-inch or four 8-inch cake pans; line bottoms with a double layer of parchment or wax paper.
  5. In a mixer, cream butter and 1-pound light or dark brown sugar until smooth and fluffy. Mix in eggs one at a time, then lime zest, vanilla and bitters.  Transfer mixture to a very large bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and cinnamon.  Fold dry ingredients into butter mixture.  Stir in fruit paste and ¼ cup burnt sugar or molasses.  Butter should be a medium-dark brown; if too light, add a tablespoon or two of burnt sugar or molasses.
  6. Divide among prepared pans; cakes will not rise much, so fill pans almost to the top. Bake 1 hour, and reduce heat to 225 degrees, bake 2 to 3 hours longer until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove to a rack.
  7. While cakes are hot, brush tops with rum and let soak in. Repeat while cakes cool; they will absorb about 4 tablespoons total. When cakes are completely cool, they can be turned out and served. To keep longer, wrap cakes tightly in wax or parchment paper, then in foil. Store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 month.