Dr Sister Outlaw’s justly famous Christmas pudding

I’m not joking. My Christmas pudding is about the best thing there is in the entire world. If you are in any doubt, ask Ampersand Duck, who paid tribute to it in 2007 after devouring one with Zoe and their other halves. For some years I’ve made special ones that I’ve set aside to give to Ducky and her Best Beloved, as they love them almost as much as I do and so, after much begging from Duck and some not so subtle hints from Zoe, I’m finally going to share the recipe. The world needs more pudding love.

I’d just like to say at this point that I hope nobody confuses my love of Christmas pudding with love for the festive season or even Christmas dinner. For me, the only good thing about Christmas is the pudding and it has to be perfect. This one is. It’s based on Stephanie Alexander’s mum’s recipe, AKA Emily Bell’s Christmas Pudding. However, over time I’ve worked in some important enhancements. Mine is more alcoholic and has nuts and treats in it. Best of all, I’ve learned how to do it vegetarian, which is helpful if you want to show Christmas love to people who object to consuming beef fat with their fruit.

Make it now so the flavour develops over the coming weeks. It takes some planning, so I’ve laid it out in stages – both vego and suet versions are included. The given quantities make two puddings, each of which furnishes about eight slices. You can do the math, because there are families in which eight slices will go a long way, but mine is not one of them. Just halve or double, depending on your pudding needs.

Necessary accoutrements

1 very large basin (and room for it in the fridge), two full-sized pudding basins or four little ones (see pic below) a stock pot or pressure cooker pot, a trivet or a round cake rack, foil, baking paper, string, a food processor with a grater attachment. Pudding basins don’t cost any more than $15 each and are worth it because they are pretty for give away puddings or can be reused at home. You can also use calico, which is cheaper, and I’ll tell you how, but the puddings don’t keep so well.

If you are not vegetarian or vegan, go to a proper butcher: ask them to put aside some beef suet (you cannot use suet mix, it won’t work as it’s got stuff added and the proportions don’t hold). You need to order proper suet. Ask for about a kilo – it’s really cheap and you’ll need more than you think.

Allow at least a weekend to do this: the mixture soaks for two full days and it takes six hours to cook each pudding. So choose a weekend when you’re happy to stay home and guard the fridge and the stove.

Now you are ready.


  • Shortening: at least 500g suet OR 360 grams of vegetable shortening, cooking margarine or unsalted butter
  • Dry ingredients: 180g plain flour, 180g fresh white breadcrumbs (not dried ones), 180g dark brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
  • Fruit: 900 grams in combinations that please you. The original recipe calls for 360g seedless raisins, 360g currants and 180g sultanas. I prefer to reduce the raisins in favour of extra currants and other additions. You could add some dried apricots, apples or figs, just make sure you keep the weight up to 900g. I warn thee, fruit from the co-op will have far too many seeds and sticks in it, so it’s best avoided.
  • Liquids: 4 big eggs, 600 ml milk (or soy milk), 150ml brandy, at least 1/4 cup of vodka (the original recipe is far too dainty in the alcohol stakes and calls for extra milk to make the mixture wet. I added extra vodka, with pleasing results). Note, you need more than 150 mls of brandy as it’s necessary for serving.
  • Special magic additions: 125g candied peel and/or crystallised ginger, 180g (very) roughly chopped hazelnuts or almonds, around 125g of glace cherries if that’s what you are into. Again, whatever you choose to substitute, make sure it weighs about 430g. Also, grated zest of a lemon (or two if you don’t add peel) and a half a nutmeg grated (about two teaspoons of ground nutmeg). You can add allspice and cinnamon if you love them as I do.


Dead easy, except for managing the shortening. If you are a vegetarian shortening is no big deal. Just stick it in the freezer then grate it (don’t bother rubbing it into the flour).

If you are doing it the traditional way, with beef suet, it gets messy, but it’s worth it for flavour, holding quality and keeping ability. Suet is the fat that forms between layers of skin and muscle and comes with a membranous layer. Peel that off, and take the lumps you’ve got left (without any bits that are pink or gristly) and put them through your food processor’s grater blades or sit there for hours hand grating (and grating your hand). I know I’m not exactly selling the process, but do persevere! Keep the suet loose. It’s naturally soft, so if you pack it into the grater it sticks together. Starting with the suet very cold or frozen helps. Do try to avoid spraying it around the kitchen as it’s smeary and hard to clean up. Once you’ve got a nice fluffy lump of the stuff weigh it. You can stop grating when you get to 360 grams.

Take the shortening and everything else and chuck it in the bowl and stir until you have a big sloppy mess. It will be quite wet. Stick it in the fridge and ignore it for one day. Then get it out, stir it and taste a little bit. If you think it needs more spice, add it. Likewise brandy and vodka. Then refrigerate it for one more day.

To cook

Prepare your basins. Invert the basin onto baking paper. Draw a line around the bowl, and then cut out a nice little circle. Butter the dishes. Divide the pudding mixture evenly between the bowls and level off the surface. Butter the nice little baking paper circle and lay it butter side down on the pudding. Then get tinfoil and put two layers over the top of the bowl so it covers the sides at least 1/3 of the way down. Get a rubber band to hold it in place and tie it with heaps of string (the rubber band won’t stand up to the cooking, but it will help you get the string tight).

If you’ve decided not to use a basin, get two big pieces of calico, about 1 metre square, and boil them. While they are steaming hot lay them down on a scrupulously clean bench and chuck a big handful of flour in the middle. Smooth the flour out to make a circle. That will form a gluey coating that will protect the pud from the elements. Put half the pudding mix in the middle and pull the corners together. Use rubber bands to pull the top of the pudding into the characteristic pudding shape – you want as little room as possible between the top of the pudding and the rubber band and you want the floured bits to go all the way over the pudding. It’s tricky, so redo it if you need to. Tie long lengths of string around the top.

To cook them, get your biggest, tallest pot(s). If you are using a basin, put a trivet or cake rack in the bottom and sit the bowl down on that. Pour water in so it comes 2/3 the way up the sides of the bowl. If you are using a cloth tie the string on the handle of a wooden spoon and balance the spoon on the top of the pot so the pudding is suspended in the water. Whichever method you use, cover them, bring them to a boil and keep them going, topping up the water as needed. (If they are full size basins cook for six hours, half size three, teeny weeny two, etc.) Bits of suet or butter will leach out into the cooking water, just ignore. DO NOT GO OUT, we don’t want the firemen coming and destroying the puddings.

After cooking and cooling the foil on top of the basins will have gone all grey and horrid so replace it (an opportunity to smell the puds). If you’ve used a cloth, fan the fabric out so the top dries over a couple of days and keep the pudding hanging somewhere. Basin puddings keep for at least a year in the cupboard or the fridge (hah!). Cloth puddings can develop mould because this mix is wetter than you’d usually use so watch them, keep them in the fridge and eat them within a few months.

To eat

On Christmas Day boil it for another hour, using the same arrangements. To serve invert the bowl (or peel off the cloth), and you will have something that looks rather like this:

But before you eat it, you must flame it with brandy. To do that, get a big old tablespoon and fill it with brandy (remember, I told you that more than 150ml is required). Hold the spoon over the pudding and use a lighter to warm the bottom of the spoon until you see heat rising from the brandy, then flick the flame over the edge of the spoon so you get a blue flame. Pour the whole shebang over the pudding. Kids and adults are invariably delighted to see this:

After you’ve done that three or four times, as Zoe and Owen did for this picture in 2007, you are ready to eat. You can use cream or make proper vanilla bean custard or ice cream or brandy sauce, or serve it with hard sauce (which is overkill for such a rich pudding). One of my best moments was eating it with diet carton custard. Whatever you accompany it with, enjoy.

And here’s to you Ducky – a project for when you are feeling a bit better.


45 thoughts on “Dr Sister Outlaw’s justly famous Christmas pudding

  1. Because it’s what I had at the time and it just seemed to work. It adds a punch without adding flavourings – people don’t know what you’ve added! I reckon you could use sherry or port or anything really except whiskey, blue curacao and black sambucca, but vodka is my secret kick along.

  2. “It adds a punch without adding flavourings – people don’t know what you’ve added!”

    Ah, yes, I thought it might have something to do with neutral flavour. I have to say that black sambuca pudding sounds pretty interesting, however.

  3. I think I might even give this one a whirl. Hubby can look after the kids while I do mysterious things at the stove. Tough bit will be getting the kids to leave the pudding alone until Xmas though.

  4. I’m keen too, and not just because it’s an excuse to buy new pudding basins 😉

    Tell me DSO, can you use those metal pudding basins with the clip on lid thingies?

  5. Sorry, that comment about camouflage was for Mindy. Zoe, I think you can, but there is a bit of a risk if your pudding steamer bowl is aluminium because it does sit in the bowl for an awful long time and aluminium is not inert, so there are bound to be effects on both the pudding and the bowl. You might end up with Alzheimers or something?

    Glad you are both keen to take up the pudding challenge!

  6. Oh, and re getting the kids to leave them alone until Christmas… My Grandmother Una used to hang them up in the laundry wrapped in muslin or calicoe or sail canvas or whatever it was. They looked like shrunken heads with odd lumps and spots that looked like rotting fungus. We needed no convincing to leave them well alone.

    We did have to eat them carefully and hand back the silver thripenny pieces.

  7. St33v, pudding bowl haircuts are a feature in one of the households in Duck’s extended family, but oddly that is the only branch of the family that are pudding averse, and yes, uncooked puds are not appealing.

    I don’t add coins to mine – does anyone these days?

  8. The Delightful Nanna(tm) bought some sixpences years and years ago to do the puds, worked for a while but they’ve gone walkabout (not surprising in this house).

    I can’t remember when she stopped hanging puddings on the clothesline… we still have a giggle about it. My brother used to send it sailing round the yard.

    We’ve got fruit soaking in a gi-normous bowl at the moment. Our pud is Delightful Nanna’s(™) recipe, but with more fruit and grog. A recurring theme, I suspect.

  9. Don’t you put coins in them? In U.K. in my childhood my mum and granny used to put Victorian silver thru’peeny bits in the pudding wrapped in greased proof paper. This then changed to 6d pieces and after we went onto decimal coinage it changed to little 5p pieces. All the same size coins.
    At the school I worked in they used to do this too when the children had Christmas Dinner.

  10. I have a feeling there’s something wrong about nickel coins in puddings, but that’s just a hunch. We could go for gold I guess

  11. Australian currency isn’t safe for cooking. You have to get coins that are actually silver or gold. Not just gold or silver coloured.

    Aluminium wont give you Alzheimers, but it would would make the pudding taste a bit funny if you left it in the fridge from now til Christmas. Aluminium is fine for cooking a quick steam pud for eating the same day though.

    We (my mother and I) generally use brandy in the pud, and one year I used cointreau, which was particularly good. My parents have been doing a brandy flaming of the pudding double act my whole life. Every year my aunt tries to get a photo. Most years the photo doesn’t really work. We have set fire to the table cloth though, so make sure you’ve got good ventilation (and natural fibres). The pudding is my favourite part of the whole shebang, fortunately it will be served at all four of the Christmas celebrations I’m attending this year.

  12. Pirate coins it is then, fellow pudding lover.

    Cointreau is an inspired choice. Grand Marnier would would work as well I guess.

  13. I would like to interject here that in this world there be puddin’ eaters and puddin’ makers, and I fall squarely into the former category. Best Beloved, however, straddles both, and I am about to wave this post in front of his nose in the reasonable hope of some substantial puddin’ eatin’ this holiday season.

  14. Hello, in relation to what you call “Special magic additions: 125g candied peel and/or crystallised ginger, 180g (very) roughly chopped hazelnuts or almonds, around 125g of glace cherries . . whatever you choose to substitute, make sure it weighs about 580g” – I note the original recipe only calls for a total quantity of 125g peel so your recipe adds another 455gr bits and pieces. Does this just make for a denser pudding or have you upped another area of the recipe to compensate? Also – do you know whether this recipe would work in one 2litre pudding bowel instead of two 1litres (again taken from the original recipe)? If so are there any changes to the cooking times etc. Thanks so much. J

  15. Hmm, my maths doesn’t really work there. Try 480g of magic additions. However, you don’t need to worry about the extra weight because (a) the extra plonk adds sufficient moisture and (b) the fruit and nuts don’t really influence the fat/flour/moisture interactions, so it binds together regardless. If anything it’s looser, but not noticeably so – we’re dealing with substantial quantities of ingredients here.

    I’m sure it would work with a 2 litre pudding bowl. I’d probably up the cooking time to be sure that all the fat and flour melt together properly, but only by about 2 hours at the most. I don’t lower the cooking time when working with smaller bowls and it doesn’t seem to matter.

  16. Tnak you – very helpful. You have obviously been at this game for quite a while so, in your opinion (and I am up to my eye balls in them), which makes for a tastier pudding – the suet or the butter??? And I suppose another way to ask the same question is – if i use butter, to keep everyone alive until next Christmas, would i be compromising the outcome? J

  17. I cooked a butter version for my vegetarian in-laws and it was completely delicious and it’s a close call but I always choose the suet for my own puddings. It holds together slightly better and it’s a less flavoursome form of fat so the fruit and nuts and flavourings stand clear. Really I think it’s down to the preferences of your fellow pudding eaters.

    If you use butter, I think that you are committed to refrigeration for the duration of the storage time but otherwise I don’t see any problems. I’d probably check it regularly when you change the foil and cook immediately if there are any signs of mould (scrape the mould off first). We can but experiment!

  18. I mixed up a half batch tonight, and I’m hoping that it will fit in my two brand new smaller than I envisaged pudding bowls. I think they are about the size of the small pudding bowl in the picture. I read on a cooking site that you change the cooking time by 2/3 to 3/4 so I think I’ll try about 5 hours and see how I go. Have to make sure the gas bottle is full. I don’t have any grog in there yet, but I think I might have to for flavour.

  19. I think prunes would be very rich, but that’s not a bad thing – probably a magic addition, rather than the main fruit batch?

  20. It didn’t fit, I had to buy another small pudding bowl. So, if you haven’t made it yet (what are you waiting for!) a 1/2 mix will fill 3 x 500ml pudding bowls. The resulting pudding will fit on a bread and butter plate and is the perfect size for 2 people. I put 150mls of Brandy in, but no other alcohol. The pudding is lovely and crumbly and incredibly moist. We couldn’t wait and started one last night, just to make sure it went okay. It sure did. Nom nom nom.

  21. They were a bit of a surprise actually. I got the cheapy No Frills dried fruit and it sucked up all the liquid in the mix and I ended up with lovely glace fruit, plump sultanas and re-hydrated cranberries (these I bought separately). A lovely accident.

  22. Ever the tardy one, I have just placed my most gigantic bowl full of pudding-y goodness in the fridge. I went with bourbon for my bonus alcohol, because there was a tiny bit here after my sister in law made a Nigella bread pudding last weekend. I used glace ginger, pineapple, mixed peel, little black mission figs ( I don’t know why they’re called that either), a very few unsulphured apricots and prunes and currants/sultanas/raisins. And lemon zest, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sheesh.

    Also, at the last minute, I added a couple of small handfuls of macadamias. And then I thought – omg, will this throw all the proportions out? Any ideas DSO? I could replicate the handfuls and see how much extra it would be, but what should I add (if anything?)

  23. Let me know how it goes – as one of the few people who are in a position to judge the brandy/vodka combo versus the brandy/bourbon combo!

    Don’t fret, I don’t think you can stuff up the nut and fruit additions – the important thing is the binders, ie. fat and flour, and the liquid and if those proportions are right you’ll be right.

    What you should have is a mixture about the same consistency as good creamy porridge – it won’t quite stand up in the bowl and will level itself off when you take away the spoon and make a satisfying slopping sound when you stir it. If you need to, send me a picture and I’ll check!!

  24. Nah, I reckon you are right – the liquid will have been absorbed by the flour and bread so it will have stiffened up. Bung it in the pots and see what happens.

  25. Thanks for the hand-holding, darl!

    Now, must a basin be full? I have a three litre and a one litre, and I think about three litres of mix (made a full batch and Mindy’s half came to 3 x 500)

    Can I make a one litre and a two-litre in a three-litre basin one y’reckon?

  26. yes! go for it … the puddings don’t actually swell that much, but I have a feeling that if you nudge the top you will get water in them.

    Must confess I have no idea what dimensions my pudding bowls are – they are just standard. But when I fill them there is about an inch and a half clear at the top.

  27. Excellent! I love the idea of the honker for the 30 or so people I’ll be eating Christmas lunch with, and a little one to eat one cold night in the middle of the year.

    Come down for a visit and we’ll have a little party-cum-pud-tasting night!

  28. Thanks for the recipe – sounds stunning. I came via ampersand duck. Love that you’re an out-law – some of my favourite people are my out-laws.

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