Missing out on a warm slice of boiled dried fruits, candied peel, butter and spices dressed in rich sweet sauce would mean it may as well be any other day of the year – just not Christmas. Phillippa Grogan, owner of Phillipa’s in Armadale, Brighton and now in the city, talks us through what we need to think about when considering buying Christmas pudding, or better still, making one (it’s not too late).

HM: When tasting a Christmas pudding what do you need to look for in terms of flavour and texture?

PG: I find many puddings are too intensely flavoured with fruit, which, because it is cooked over a long period of time results in a pudding that seems to lose its character and just ends up tasting dark, sticky and sweet.

Personally, I like a pudding that is more balanced in flavour, not so intensely full of fruit that it is overly sweet, dark and strong.

The pudding should finish with a clean rather than cloying finish and this will depend upon the fat used. I find that puddings made with good fresh suet have the cleanest finish. Butter puddings can be a little more oily and margarine puddings, I find, have an unpleasant aftertaste.

The pudding should be pleasantly aromatic and have a complexity of flavour but will very much depend upon the quality of the ingredients. It should be tasted warm not cold as the heat brings out the aromatic flavours and is also needed to soften the texture which otherwise will remain too firm

If it's the first time you're buying a Christmas pudding, where do you start to look? Is it okay to ask to taste or at least get an idea of ingredients from the retailer?

It is okay to ask to taste for flavour, but it will be more intense when tasted warm and the texture will be softer. Usually you pay for what you get. The less expensive the pudding the greater the likelihood the ingredients are of an inferior quality. Check the label to ensure that the ingredients used are exactly the same as those you would find in your own pantry – i.e. without preservatives added as an ingredient. Good ingredients are key to any good baking.

For example, freshly ground, top-grade cinnamon bares no resemblance to the usual cinnamon available on supermarket shelves. Candied orange, made in-house doesn’t have the added flavour of the preservatives used, making it purely aromatic. Good quality vine fruits will be plump and stalk-free and be pleasant to eat on their own

It's still early December; is it too late to make a pudding for Christmas day? What do we need to consider if we're going to tackle it?

No, it can still be made now, but I suggest making three – giving one away and wrapping one in cling film and sealing in a zip lock bag to store at the back of the fridge for next year as it will improve over time.

What are your favourite condiments with a Christmas pudding?

I love a generous serve of mum’s caramel brandy sauce, which is has a moussey texture when two egg whites are folded through after warming. This sauce is something that always makes me look forward to Christmas.

Because puddings are intensely flavoured by the dried fruits and spices, I like to balance it with plenty of whipped cream (which can be spiked with brandy). The best condiment to serve with leftover cold or warmed pudding is a nice slab of proper strong cheddar.

Is there a particular way you like to serve your pudding? Any colours, garnishes, crockery or cutlery that you prefer to use?

We tend to serve our puddings following in the tradition of my father, which always creates great excitement. We heat some brandy, about a quarter to half a cup in a saucepan, set it alight with a match, pour it over the pudding and ceremoniously carry it to the table. I like to serve it on a large red plate with some holly from our garden

Phillipa’s Christmas Pudding Recipe
Our recipe makes three lighter-style puddings. That is, not too intensely cooked-dried fruit flavoured. This was the recipe that my Mum used. I think it originally may have been based on one of Stephanie Alexander’s recipes.

Ingredients
100ml Brandy
180g Fresh bread crumbs (use good plain bread such as campagnard, not sourdough)
360g Unsalted butter or fresh suet from the butcher
350g Dried currants
4 Eggs
180g Flour
30ml Lemon juice
2 tbsp Lemon zest
600ml Milk
130g Candied orange peel (preferably homemade or made without chemicals)
350g Dried raisins
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 tsp Cinnamon (top grade)
1/2 tsp Whole nutmeg freshly grated
180g Brown Sugar
200g Dried Sultanas

Method

Check over the vine fruit for stalks and remove them. Dice the candied peel into small pieces the size of currants. Find a container large enough to hold the entire batch (about 3 litres). Mix together the vine fruits and candied orange with the flour using your hands until well mixed. Add all the remaining ingredients and stir well. Leave overnight in the fridge (if making during summer). Stir well again before spooning the mixture into three 1-litre ceramic pudding bowls. Cover with a sheet of baking paper, then foil, tied tightly with string secured under the rim. Put the puddings in a large saucepan of water that comes three-quarters up the side of the bowl and boil for 6 hours with the lid on. Top up regularly with boiled water from a kettle. Leave to cool in pan. When cold, refrigerate until needed. To re-heat the pudding, return it to a pan of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 1–1.5 hours to heat through.

Where to buy your pud this Christmas:

Phillipa’s, Armadale, Brighton, City
1kg $39.95

Il Fornaio, St Kilda
Sold in 250g, 1kg, 2kg and 2.5kg sizes at $35 per kg.

Sissi & Co., Malvern
Extra Large $80 (enough for 16 people) Large $58 (8–10 people) Medium $48 (6–8 people) Small $38 (4–6 people)

Sugardough, Brunswick East
500g $25 (4–6 people) 1kg $38 (8–10 people)

Frank, Food & Me, online at frankfoodandme.com or St Kilda, Collingwood or Abbotsford Convent Farmers Markets.
100g $6.50 (1 serve)
400g $16 (3–4 serves)
800g $28 (7–8 serves)
1.5kg $42 (12–15 serves)

Stephen’s Christmas Puddings, made in Myrtleford and available at Essential Ingredient, Prahran 250g $14.05
500g $25.65
1kg $47
1.5kg $64.50