Frances Bissell’s Christmas Pud

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    8 to 10

Appears in

My recipe for Christmas pudding is nothing if not versatile. As long as you keep roughly to the balance of ingredients, you can add and substitute to taste. It will not do any harm to have 1.25kg (3lbs) fruit instead of 1kg (2lbs) fruit and 250g (½lb) of nuts. If nuts are off the menu, make up the quantity with dried fruit, preferably one of the more exotic ones such as cherries or cranberries. If you prefer not to use alcohol, use concentrated apple juice, which will help to keep the pudding moist but will increase the sugar content.

The main feature of the pudding is that it contains less sugar, less fat and more fibre than most commercial varieties. I am able to do this because I do not have to conform to certain rules about shelf life that manufacturers have to adhere to. That said, though, many have commented that the pud does keep from one year to the next, although it was never designed to.

Suet is not essential in the pudding. I sometimes replace it with fruit and nut oils, although grapeseed oil would also be an excellent substitute, as is vegetarian suet. And for a lighter texture, I use brown breadcrumbs instead of flour. But if gluten allergy is a problem, use rolled oats instead of breadcrumbs. Indeed, a mixture of oats and breadcrumbs works well anyway.

If you do not have the fortified wine, use 150-200mls (5-7oz) spirits or liqueur.

For those who have never tackled a Christmas pudding before, do have a go. Don’t be daunted by the long list of ingredients. These can all be bought in one trip. The recipe is very easy, just a matter of mixing, then steaming in a pudding basin, and the end results will impress your family and friends mightily.

To accompany the pudding, I have given a recipe based on the classic brandy butter recipe but using a mandarin orange liqueur. And, of course, you can vary the recipe to make other flavoured butters, using almond liqueur, rum, Calvados or English cider brandy, cherry brandy, eau de vie depoire, and my favourite, if you can find it, eau de vie de coing, quince eau de vie. It is worth looking for on a pre Christmas French shopping trip. Creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream are suitable alternatives to these rich butters.

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  • 250 g (½ lb) fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
  • 250 g (½ lb) roughly chopped muscatel raisins
  • 250 g (½ lb) roughly chopped sultanas
  • 250 g (½ lb) roughly chopped dried apricots
  • 250 g (½ lb) chopped stoned prunes
  • 250 g (½ lb) chopped walnuts, almonds or extra dried fruit
  • 1 large Bramley apple, peeled and grated, or 2 peeled, grated carrots
  • 1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and mace
  • ½ teaspoon each ground cardamom, cloves and allspice
  • 2 tablespoons candied orange peel or coarse-cut marmalade
  • juice and grated zest of 1 orange
  • 4 free-range medium eggs
  • 75 mls (3 oz) brandy or orange liqueur
  • 150 mls (5 oz) fortified muscat wine, port, marsala or Oloroso sherry

Mandarin Butter

  • 250 g (½ lb) unsalted butter
  • 175 g (6 oz) icing sugar, sifted
  • pinch of ground mace
  • 3 tablespoons Mandarine Napoleon liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons cognac


Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and mix thoroughly, either with a large wooden spoon or your hands. Put the marmalade, orange juice and zest, eggs, brandy and wine in another large bowl or in a blender or food processor, and beat until well blended and frothy. Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients. Mix again until the mixture is moist. Cover and let it stand for a couple of hours at least, and, if possible, overnight to let the spice flavours develop.

Oil or butter the pudding basin or basins (the mixture approximately fills a 2 litre (4 pint) basin, and spoon in the mixture. As the pudding contains no raw flour, it will not expand very much during cooking, and you can fill the basin to within a centimetre or two of the rim. Take a large square of greaseproof paper, oil or butter it, and tie it over the top of the pudding basin with string.

Place the basin in a saucepan, standing it on a long triple strip of foil to help you lift the hot basin out of the saucepan once the pudding is cooked. Pour in boiling water to reach halfway up the pudding basin, cover the saucepan, and bring it back to the boil. Lower the heat, keep the water at a steady simmer, and steam the pudding for 5 hours. Make sure the water is kept topped up. When the pudding is cooked, remove it from the pan and allow it to cool completely before wrapping it, basin and all, in fresh greaseproof paper and foil.

When you want to serve it, steam for a further 2 hours. You can, of course, for both stages of the cooking, use a pressure cooker, which will greatly reduce cooking times, as will a microwave. Manufacturers’ instructions should always be followed.

To make smaller puddings, pack into 250 g (½ lb) pudding basins, cover and prepare in the same way, but steam for about an hour only. To reheat, a small pudding of this size will take 20 to 30 minutes of conventional steaming, from room temperature. A homemade Christmas pudding makes a lovely present, especially when accompanied by a flavoured butter to serve with it.

Have all the ingredients at room temperature. Blend until smooth, pack into pots or jars, seal, label, and refrigerate until required. If you start with the butter at room temperature and use a food processor, the butter can be made very quickly. You can use the same proportions to make larger quantities for giving as presents.