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Christmas Cake and Christmas Pudding

Traditionally, Christmas puddings were always made on Stir-up Sunday (the last Sunday before Advent). All the family took a turn to stir the pudding and make a secret wish whilst they stirred. The pudding was always stirred from East to West to represent the journey that the three wise men who visited baby Jesus made. This year (2012) Stir-up Sunday falls on 25th November. But it’s not only Christmas pudding that can be made ahead, Christmas cake is also best made a few weeks in advance, which will allow time for the flavours to mature.

Both Christmas pudding and Christmas cake are both surprisingly easy to prepare, and even though the ingredients lists look long the methods are really straightforward. Once cooked, you can feel great knowing that at least  one thing is organised for Christmas day. As for the rest of the food and pressie shopping, they will no doubt be last minute madness purchases.


Makes 1 x 25cm round or square cake


300g currants

200g raisins

200g sultanas

200g dried apricots, quartered

200g dried prunes, quartered

100g glace cherries, halved

100g diced glace ginger

Juice and finely grated rind of 1 orange

350g plain flour

1/2tsp ground allspice

1/2tsp ground cinnamon

1/2tsp grated nutmeg

75g ground almonds

275g unsalted butter, at room temperature

275g soft dark-brown sugar

1tbsp black treacle

75ml brandy

5 large eggs

Extra brandy for maturing


Place all the dried fruits in a large bowl and stir in the 75ml of brandy, orange juice and zest. Cover and leave in a cool place overnight.

The next day, line the base and sides of a greased 25cm round or square cake tin with a double layer of baking parchment so it comes about 5cm above the tin. Put a double layer around the outside of the tin and, rather than struggling with a piece of string, hold it in place with a couple of staples or paper clips. Doing this prevents the cake from overcooking around the outside during the long cooking time.

Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 2. Sift together the flour, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg.

In a large bowl or electric mixer, whisk together the butter, sugar and treacle until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding 1tbsp of the flour with each egg. Mix in the almonds and soaked fruits, then mix in the remaining flour.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin, making sure there are no air pockets, and spread evenly across the top. Place the tin in the oven, sitting on several pieces of brown paper or newspaper – this will also help prevent the outside of the cake from overcooking.

After 2 1/2 hours, insert a skewer into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is cooked; if not, carry on cooking, testing every 10 minutes. During the cooking time, if the top seems to getting too dark, cover with a piece of baking parchment or foil.

When cooked, leave the cake in the tin to cool for about 1 hour and then turn out on to a wire rack. When the cake is completely cold, make several deep holes with a skewer and pour over a couple of tablespoons of brandy. This will absorb into the cake, giving a richer, moister finish as it matures.

Wrap the cake in a double layer of greaseproof paper or foil and store in a tin. Repeat moistening with brandy at regular intervals before Christmas.

TIP: If you like a nutty Christmas cake, add 200g chopped walnuts, pecans or brazil nuts (or a mixture of all three) to the cake with the ground almonds.


This recipe I use is one that my Grandma used to do. I have added some chopped pecans to her recipe because I quite like the chunky texture, but it is just as delicious without them.

Makes 3 x 900g or 2 x 1.5kg puds


50g self-raising flour

175g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

1/2tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1tsp mixed spice

50g ground almonds

250g shredded suet

225g dark muscavado sugar

100g white breadcrumbs – from a dry loaf

1.5kg mixed currants, raisins and sultanas

1tbsp black treacle

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Finely grated zest 1 orange

1 medium carrot, peeled and finely grated

1 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated

200g pecan nuts, roughly chopped

2tbsp brandy or rum

150ml dark ale or stout

4 large eggs, beaten

Flour and butter for preparing the pudding basins


Sift together the flours and spices into a large bowl. Stir in the almonds, suet, sugar and breadcrumbs – mixing well. Add all of the remaining ingredients, stirring well after each addition. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge or a really cool place for 24 hours or up to 1 week if possible, stirring a few times.

Grease and lightly flour either 3 x 900ml or 2 x 1.2ltr basins and pack in the pudding mixture. Top the surface of the puddings with a circle of greaseproof paper, and then cover with baking parchment or foil. Fold around the edges of the basin and tie with string, or tightly scrunch the foil under the lip of the basin.

Place in a steamer, over boiling water for about 6 hours, topping up with water every so often so it doesn’t boil dry.

Leave to cool and remove the parchment/foil and greaseproof paper, and replace with a new lot. The pudding can now be stored in a cool, dry place.

On the big day the pudding can be steamed for about 11/2 hours, or covered loosely and heated in a microwave for about 6 minutes on high power. For more accurate timings, check your manufacturer’s instructions.

You can check whether it is ready by inserting a skewer into the centre and leaving it for a couple of seconds. If feels piping hot then the pudding is ready to eat after standing for 1 minute.

For a ‘flaming pudding’, half fill a metal ladle with brandy (or as much as you want) and carefully heat over a gas flame or lit candle. When the brandy is hot enough, it will light. Pour the flaming brandy over the pudding. Turn off the lights and make a grand entrance to the dinner table.

TIP: A word of advice – if you intend to decorate your pudding with a piece of holly, watch it doesn’t catch light – I’m talking from experience!

Photography Gareth Morgans

Speedy Moroccan Chicken Couscous


For a speedy mid-week dinner this is a real treat. It’s healthy yet filling and perfect for those times when you are really limited on time.

Serves 2

2 tsp Harissa paste

6 dried ready-to-eat apricots, halved

150ml very hot chicken stock

150g couscous

2 x roast chicken breasts fillets (from the supermarket)

4 spring onions, finely sliced (including the green part)

Handful pitted green olives (optional)

2 tbsp olive oil

Juice of ½ lemon

Small handful of chopped coriander

2 tbsp flaked toasted almonds

50g pomegranate seeds (optional)

Small pot of natural yoghurt

Small bunch of mint

Stir the harissa paste and apricots into the hot stock and pour over the couscous in a bowl. Stir and cover with cling film. Leave for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile remove the skin from the chicken and tear the meat into strips.

Once the couscous has been left for 5 minutes, fluff up with a fork and stir in the chicken, spring onions, olives (if using) olive oil, lemon juice and coriander. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon into bowls or plates. Scatter over the almonds and pomegranate seeds, if using.

Mix together the yoghurt and mint and serve separately to spoon over.

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