“Oh, bring us some figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer!”
And there it is, the rallying cry of the Christmas carolers of yore.
Perhaps modern Americans are unfamiliar with figgy puddy. Or Christmas carolers, for that matter. Being as that I succumb to folksy, bygone traditions during the holidays with relative ease, figgy pudding has been on my to-do Christmas bucket list for a few years now. Between the lines of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and the Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, figgy, or Christmas, pudding, has held a particularly exciting mystique.
“In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered — flushed by smiling proudly — with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.” –Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Figgy Pudding History
Beyond Dickens’s rapturous account of Mrs. Cratchit’s confectionery success, the figgy (also known as the plum or Christmas) pudding has a long history. A product of culinary evolution, this special concoction was once composed of meat, root vegetable and dried fruit, stuffed into a sheep stomach and boiled for hours, if not days. In other words, a pottage. Less a proper “dessert”, it was a meal of subsistence, consumed in the cold and dark days of an English winter. As time went on and trade increased with other European countries and beyond, the pudding departed from its more savory roots and became something more recognizable as dessert. Dense, moist and fruity became the pudding, oft doused with rum or brandy and lit afire for a spectacular presentation.
Perhaps it is wise for me to note that figgy puddy is not a “pudding” by modern North American standards. Rather, the figgy “pudding” is an ultra moist cake, resplendent in dried fruit glory. And, perhaps a little bit ‘o booze, if one is so inclined. During the leaner days of pre-industrial, industrial, and Victorian times, eggs would have been difficult to come by in late autumn and winter months. Thus “puddings” were bound by flour and dried fruit pastes, and were decidedly more “cake-like”. This dough was wrapped in a heavy cloth and steamed or boiled until firm. Knowing this, I can sympathize with Mrs. Cratchit’s worry and subsequent enthusiasm at success of her desert and am tickled at Mr. Cratchit’s praise, declaring it the “greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage.” Praise from one’s partner after a long fraught kitchen battle is welcome, indeed.
My figgy pudding is neither wrapped in cloth nor boiled over a kitchen fire, but, rather, cooked in a Bundt style pan, mini or full size. In fact, my figgy pudding may not be very traditional at all. During my research for this post, I failed to find a thread of continuity among the recipes, save the addition of dried fruit. Actually, figs might just as well be raisins, prunes or dates. They may be puréed to a paste or left whole to stud the pudding. Some accounts say picking the fruits from a flaming pudding was a novel children’s game around the holiday table.
Oh, those wily Victorians and their scorched finger tips!
Whatever the traditional recipe may have been or is, I am sure that we can all agree that, with some imagination, this dessert is a figgy pudding in all the ways that matter. Perhaps what matters most during the holiday season is not the precision and execution of said tradition, but rather the sentiment it embraces.
On that note, here is some figgy pudding, a cup of good cheer (maybe in the form of this Douglas fir infused eggnog), the Merriest of Christmases, and a Happy New Year!
Figgy Pudding Recipe
- 7oz (about 1 cup) chopped dried figs
- 7oz (about 1 cup) chopped pitted dates
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup butter (for toffee sauce)
- 1 cup dark brown sugar (for toffee sauce)
- 2/3 cup dark rum (for flambe)
- In a small saucepan bring water and dried fruits to a boil. Boil for five minutes, remove from heat, and add baking soda. This will froth up. Set aside to cool for 20 minutes. After this cooling time, puree in a food processor until a smooth paste.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, cream butter and brown sugar. Add eggs and dark rum, beating to combine. Add cooled fruit mixture and beat until evenly incorporated. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon and baking powder. Gently fold the flour mixture into the fruit batter so that no flour streaks remain. Avoid over mixing.
- Grease one large Bundt style pan, or 8-10 mini Bundts or ramekins with butter. Fill with batter about 2/3 full. Place the figgy pudding cooking vessel in a large baking dish and fill dish with hot water, about 1/2 way up the sides of the pudding dish. Bake for 20-25 minutes for individual servings, or 25-30+ minutes for a larger dish. The figgy pudding is done when a skewer inserted in the thickest part of the pan reveals a moist crumb. DO NOT OVER BAKE. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
- Before serving, bring 1/2 cup of butter and 1 cup of dark brown sugar to a boil over medium high heat. Boil 2-3 minutes, thickening slightly. Remove from heat. Carefully un-mold figgy pudding onto serving platter or dish. Pour “toffee” sauce over the tops of the un-molded puddings.
- To flambe, drizzle dark rum over the top of the figgy puddings,carefully ignite with a lighter or matches and receive obligatory applause.