A whole new generation is taking up the deeply satisfying activity of home baking at the moment and a good gift for any aspiring baker would be this weighty tome, Step-by-Step Baking (Dorling Kindersley, hardback, €25).
A comprehensive reference, with lots of luscious photographs, it offers ‘350 baking recipes for every occasion’ and a wealth of how-to information too. Their version of the classic Christmas pudding (named plum pudding because it contains prunes) uses butter instead of the traditional beef suet.
Soaking time: overnight
Special equipment: 1kg (2'/4lb) pudding bowl
85g (3oz) raisins
60g (2oz) currants
l00g (3½ oz ) sultanas
45g (1½ oz) mixed peel, chopped
115g (4oz) mixed dried fruit, such as figs, dates, and cherries
150ml (5fl oz) beer
1 tbsp whisky or brandy
finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
85g (3oz) ready-to-eat prunes, chopped
150ml (5fl oz) cold black tea
1 dessert apple, peeled, cored, and grated
115g (4oz) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
175g (6oz) dark soft brown sugar
1 tbsp black treacle
2 eggs, beaten
60g (2oz) self-raising flour
1 tsp mixed spice
115g (4oz) fresh white breadcrumbs
60g (2oz) chopped almonds
brandy butter, cream, or custard, to serve (optional)
1. Place the first 9 ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Put the prunes in a small bowl and pour in the tea. Cover the bowls and leave to soak overnight.
2 Drain the prunes and discard any remaining tea. Add the prunes and the apple to the rest of the fruit, followed by the butter, sugar, treacle, and eggs, stirring well.
3. Sift in the flour along with the mixed spice, then stir in the breadcrumbs and almonds. Mix until all the ingredients are well combined.
4. Grease the pudding bowl and pour in the mixture. Cover the top of the bowl with 2 layers of baking parchment and 1 layer of foil. Tie the layers to the bowl with string,then put the bowl into a pan of simmering water that comes at least halfway up the side of the bowl. Steam for 8-10 hours.
5. Check regularly to make sure that the water level does not drop too low. Serve with brandy butter, cream, or custard.
PREPARE AHEAD If well sealed, the pudding will keep for up to 1 year in a cool place.
BAKER'S TIP When steaming a pudding for an extended time, it is very important that the water level in the pan should not drop too low. There are a couple of easy ways to avoid this. Either set a timer every hour, to remind you to checkthe water level, or put a marble in the pan so it rattles when the water level drops. .