Nana's corner

Nana and Teresa’s Christmas Pudding

Christmas

At Christmas, my mother was a traditionalist. With idiosyncratic perfection, she would prepare the turkey, perfectly stuffed with her own recipe of bread stuffing. She would sew up the stuffed cavity with needle and twine. Such time taken to get it just right. and each year, she would whinge and moan about how dry and tasteless this poultry was and how “Did I ever tell you…?” Goose with potato stuffing was the traditional fare for an Irish Christmas before this mass bred import arrived.

Next would come the ham. She would lift the skin off and with such precision, cut the remaining skin into identical squares. She would then stud each and every one of those squares with a clove pressed into the skin. She would cover the entire ham with rings of tinned pineapple secured neatly with cocktail sticks. Glazed cherries placed in the centre of each ring, the ham all liberally covered in brown sugar, she would bake it in the oven until that sugar turned to a caramel covering the ham. And complete, she would place the 18lb ham onto one of the large meat plates handed down through the years. Every year, I would marvel at the result as it looked like the cover of one of those Cordon Bleu magazines she loved collecting.

The vegetables? All traditional. Fresh Brussel Sprouts would be prepared, cleaned, outer leaves discarded and a cross cut into the stem. The Marrowfat Peas would be placed in muslin, soaked in water with a tablet left to dissolve gradually. Carrots cleaned, cut into batons and placed in sugared cold water to keep overnight. The potatoes would be peeled, turned and also left in salted cold water until required.

And the butter? She would take out two wooden panels which belonged to her own mother. Cubing the butter, she would roll each between the wooden panels until it was a perfectly shaped ball with diamond pattern adorning it. Or she would take a more modern gadget. Digging it into the block of cold butter and pulling back, she would create curls of butter. Whatever tool she picked, one thing was for sure – butter would not adorn her Christmas table in a pack, block or tub.

Then there was Cranberry Sauce. Being out of season, she would choose a frozen block of Oceanspray cranberries and work her magic until it was transformed into a bitter tasting accompaniment for the turkey and ham.

The sweet accompaniments of the festival? Every year, she would prepare a Christmas cake. It had a lighter cake mix than the traditional one and she didn’t ice it. Why? She couldn’t be bothered as none of us ate the madeira like cake so icing it seemed silly. She would, however, put a recycled Yuletide frill around it each year to take away the beige-ness of the cake.

And every few years, she would make Christmas Puddings. Rich in fruit and suet (and alcohol), she would place them in plastic bowls, add buttered paper, cover the top and secure each with string. She would boil these puddings until cooked and, when cool, she would seal with a plastic lid, clipped onto the top. There they would lie in the cupboard until required. And I mean that. The amount of alcohol would preserve them indefinitely. Finally released from the plastic bowl, Mum would douse it with brandy, light it and we would all marvel at the burning mass before one by one we would refuse a piece because quite simply, we all hated it. Mum would sit there, solemnly, eating the pudding with the Brandy Butter she had prepared for the occasion.

As the years passed, I grew to love Christmas Pudding – the darker and richer the better. I always wished I could make Mum’s version but I couldn’t find a recipe. In the little notebook of recipes, there it lay. Covered in specks of food from having prepared the puddings with the pages open. Dated 12 December 1955, I give to you ‘Teresa’s Plum Pudding.’

Ingredients
1lb, sultanas
1lb, raisins
¼ lb, mixed peel
½ lb cherries
¼ lb almonds, chopped
½ lb suet, chopped finely
½ lb brown sugar
¼ lb flour
4 large eggs
1 carrot, finely grated
1 apple
¾ lb breadcrumbs
Pinch of salt
1 ½ teaspoons of mixed spice
1 generous glass of whiskey

Method
1. Mix all the dry ingredients together
2. Beat the eggs
3. Add in the whiskey
4. Combine the wet and the dry ingredients
5. Place the mixture into well-greased pudding bowls
6. Cover tightly with butter paper and then with cloth tied with twine*
7. Boil for 3 ½ to 5 ½ hours

This amount makes
4 small puddings – cook for 3 ½ hours
3 medium puddings – cook for 4 ½ hours
1 large pudding – cook for 5 ½ hours

On the day of using
Boil for another 1 hours

Serve with
Brandy Butter
Thick whipped cream
Pouring cream
Custard

*In years to come, this would be replaced by parchment paper

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Baking and stuff, Texas Chocolate Slab Cake

What to bring? What to bring? The question asked every Christmas!

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We’re building up to the Christmas season here. At this time of year, we all come together to eat dinner with one another. I am blessed to have an amazing family who the Teen and I delight in spending the day with.

The food will be spectacular as everyone brings their contribution. There will be the usual amount of desserts – about 10! My cousin’s husband particularly enjoys chocolate cake. Last year, I made my Chocolate Fudge cake which kept him happy for a few days. He likes to microwave it, douse it in custard and devour! The Teen thinks that is too much effort and eats her’s unadorned.

This year, I am making a Texas Chocolate Slab Cake. Years ago, I saw my pal, Brid, make this. I never got to sample it as the cat decided that the warm cake was a perfect place to sleep as the tray lay cooling on top of the refrigerator. I left with the recipe but no idea of the taste as I declined a piece of fur covered chocolate cake.

Eventually, I tried this recipe and it wowed on a number of levels. It is a big cake – and I mean BIG! I cut it into about 15 good sized portions. It is a deceptively rich cake so it has a hint of decadence. It is a surprisingly moist cake, tasting even better the next day. And, with the different processes, I actually had time to complete the washing-up while, for example, the butter and milk mixture was melting! What a welcome occasion, to finish a cake and not have to face into a sink full of pots and bowls – Bliss!

 

Texas Chocolate Slab Cake

Ingredients

Sponge
4 fluid ounces buttermilk
2 large eggs
1lb castor sugar
1lb plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter or margarine
2 tablespoons oil (vegetable or sunflower)
8 fluid ounces water
6 tablespoons cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Icing
4 ounces unsalted butter
6 tablespoons milk
4 tablespoons cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate)
1lb icing sugar, sifted
8 ounces toasted pecan nuts, chopped (optional)

Method
1. Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees (non-fan assisted)
2. Grease a deep tin or line with baking parchment/greaseproof paper (about 9” x 12”)
3. Into a large bowl, place sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and mix together until fully combined.
4. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients
5. Whisk the eggs and buttermilk together and leave aside*
6. In a saucepan, gently melt the butter, oil and water. Bring up to boiling point but do not let boil
7. Remove from the heat. Using a small whisk, mix in the cocoa powder until completely combined
8. Add in the vanilla essence
9. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly
10. Add in the milk and egg mix and stir well.
11. Pour this into the pan
12. Bake at the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes
13. When the cake is nearly ready, make the frosting as it cannot be allowed to set. (Test the cake to make sure it is nearly baked before making the icing)
14. In a saucepan, melt the butter and milk. Bring up to boiling point but do not let boil
15. Remove from heat and using a small whisk, mix in the cocoa powder until completely combined
16. Whisk in icing sugar gently to make sure there are no lumps. As it thickens, use a wooden spoon. If it thickens too quickly, return to the heat and stir continuously (gently) until it becomes less thick. If necessary, add a little milk to thin it out
17. Mix icing until it is shiny
18. Remove sponge from oven. It is cooked when pierced with a skewer and it comes away clean
19. Pierce the sponge all over
20. Quickly spread the icing all over the hot sponge, using a spatula to ensure it is evenly distributed
21. If including pecan nuts, sprinkle over the cake at this point
22. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin before slicing (but it is rather decadent when still a little warm!)**
23. It is perfect to make the day before.

* A small hand-held whisk should be used. An electric whisk should not be used, especially for the hot liquids.

** If being this naughty, suggest some unsweetened whipped cream or a quenelle of vanilla ice cream.

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