Saturday, 26 November 2011

Low-fat Christmas pudding and mincemeat

Not really orchard fruit-related, but today I have been making Christmas Pudding and mincemeat. I thought I'd share the recipe, my own which I've developed over the years for various relatives who cannot tolerate excessive saturated fats for medical or health reasons. The feedback has always been very good, even from some who profess not to like christmas pudding, so I thought I'd share.

The most important thing in making any Christmas recipes is the quality of the dried fruit. Don't buy the packs of 'luxury' mixed fruit, regardless of origin. The fruit is often slightly rancid, I don't know why but it must be something to do with the nature of the mix. It always has an acidic, almost pear-drops taste and smell. The mixture is also much too fine. I like a variety of sizes to be able to taste a little of each individual fruit in a pudding, plus it gives it a more open and interesting texture, very different from the denseness of a shop-bought one. Look carefully at the fruit; if it has a whitish coating then it has been in store too long and may taste rancid. Always use freshly-bought fruit, don't be tempted to use up anything left over from last year.

I've never liked adding suet to puddings, it just makes them stodgy and indigestible and highly saturated fat isn't good for any of us. I used to used a little butter to add moistness and help binding, but for a number of years now I've been using dark chocolate as a fat-substitute. The flavour blends well with the spices, and gives a certain darkness of flavour without the burnt flavour. It may sound odd, but it does work well.

This is my usual choice of fruit. You can alter it to your own taste, but this is the mixture I use. When all mixed, I then use half the mixture for mincemeat (makes about 2 1/2 lb) and what is left for the puddings. For puddings alone, half the quantities.

Base Mixture
750g currants
375g pack of Lexia raisins
200g Californian Giant raisins
200g long white sultanas (most Asian/Lebanese shops will have these)
Half a tub of whole candied peel (2 lemon, 2 orange, 2 citron), chopped to about 1-2 cm
About a cupful of crystalised ginger (more or less as liked), chopped
Half a tub of un-coloured glacé cherries (chopped in half)
Rind of one orange, lightly peeled off with minimal pith and chopped
Juice of one orange

Soak this mixture in brandy (or other alcohol of choice) for a few days, stirring occasionally. If the fluid has completely disappeared, add a little more to aid mixing.

Add the following spices to mixture:
2 tablespoons cinnamon
Up to half of a whole nutmeg, grated
1-2 teaspoons of ground cloves (depending on freshness; too much clove flavour will taste rather medicinal)
Couple of shakes of ground ginger

Divid the mixture into two, and set pudding half aside.

Suet-free Mincemeat
Soaked fruit mixture
Juice of 2-3 lemons
2 hard, acid apples (granny smith will do if you don't grown anything suitable), chopped finely
2 large pieces (1/4 bar) of bitter chocolate 70-80% cocoa solids (Lidl's do a very good one), grated
3 tablespoons of Muscovado sugar (or a bit more to taste)

Mix all of the above together, adding a little brandy if it seems to dry. Sterilise several half-pound jars/lids, then fill with the mixture, packing it in quite hard all the way to avoid air bubbles. Fill right up to the top, then pour in a little brandy to fill up any gaps. Best used as soon as possible, though I usually end up using the last of it up months later and haven't died yet...

The chocolate can be omitted for people who cannot tolerate any fats at all, e.g. those with gallstone problems.

For the suet-free pudding

Soaked fruit mixture
3 large slices of good-quality, bread
4 pieces of chocolate (half a bar), grated
Tbsp Marmalade
100g ground almonds
3 tablespoons muscovado sugar
3 tablespoons self-raising flout
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
3 bantam eggs (or 2 hen's)

Put the bread in a cool oven (about 100 degrees) for about 30 minutes, then leave to dry out completely overnight. Crumble into crumbs (either with a mortar and pestle if it's turned to french toast, or in a blender)
Add spices, chocolate and sugar gradually and mix together well. The point of this is that if any of the batter ends up in a lump, it won't taste insipid.

Add to soaked fruit mixture, and mix well, adding marmalade if liked. Depending on how wet or dry it seems, add almonds (more if too wet, less if too dry). It should be very crumbly at this stage.

Whisk the 2 eggs, and stir gradually into the mixture. Again assess how wet or dry, and sift in flour to adjust texture. It shouldn't be either too stiff, too crumbly, or too soggy.

Spoon into greased enamel basins, either one big and one small or 3 small ones (I've just filled one 12 cm and one 16 cm from my mixture). Cover the tops with foil, and place in individual saucepans, or both in a pressure cooker if you have one. Boil for 2-3 hours depending on size, topping up boiling water every half-hour or so (or about 1 hour in a pressure cooker). I don't like the taste of over-caramelised puddings, with a burnt flavour, boiled for 5 or 6 hours, for me it spoils the essential fruitiness of the pudding. Avoid distractions, as it will be a disaster if you forget and let them boil dry. Never be tempted to cook a Christmas pudding in a microwave, the high-sugar content will mean it will overheat in the middle and may catch fire ( I know as my husband tried this once and it did. I've heard other people confess to the same).

On removing, you can top up the basins with brandy if required. I use enamel basins because we have lots, and I like them, but also because the aluminium ones tend to oxidise after a while, which puts me off using them. Glass and ceramic aren't so good as the heat exchange is poor, so they take longer to cook.

For a 100% fat-free pudding, you can omit the chocolate and nuts. For a gluten free Christmas pudding, perhaps use something like Chestnut Flour in place of the breadcrumbs/flour, something I might try myself next year just as an experiment.

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