December 2, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Proof of pudding

By |2018-03-21T18:38:50+01:00December 9th, 2009|"Suzanne's Taste"|
Plum pudding Christmas card, 1907.

plum pudding has no plums and is only considered a pudding in England. But a homemade one can run raisins around the many soggy things contained in cans or jars that pass for delicacies at Scrooge’s Christmas dinner.

A plum pudding is the one dish that I must serve during holidays, or I have a riot on my hands. Dried prunes (it is a plum, after all) are actually the plums in the pudding, along with other dried fruits, but if you have the foresight to freeze fresh plums in summer, you can turn an impostor into an authentic, dazzling dessert.

A year before those frantic devastating December days, or even a week before Christmas, I throw together half a dozen puddings steamed in small glass cereal bowls, about 250-300 grams net when steamed. Doused in good Cognac and wrapped properly, they’ll mellow in the fridge or freezer for up to a year. You’ll have six (well, five) instant gifts for your most ardent foodie friends, and I promise you, they’ll put you on the A-list.

After being mixed, the pudding fruits and nuts will send out tantalizing holiday smells as they soak in their heady bath of booze.

In a large bowl mix the following fruits and nuts, all chopped small, 1-2 cm (easy in a food processor) along with the other ingredients:

  • 500 grams dried apricots.

  • 200 grams dried apples, pears, or your favorite dried fruit.

  • 500 grams dried pitted prunes.

  • 200 grams pitted dates.

  • 3-4 pieces of candied ginger (I grate mine, it’s easier).

  • 500 grams toasted almonds or walnuts.

  • 250 grams brown or white sugar.

  • dash of vanilla.

Then add:

  • 300 grams black or white raisins.

  • The rind of a lemon and orange, plus their juice.

  • 3 slices of good bread, made into fine crumbs.

  • 1 large raw apple, peeled and diced fine.

  • 1 soupspoon of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.

  • 1 small coffee spoon of ground cloves.

  • a pinch of salt.

Pour a wine glass of Cognac over all the fruits, mix well, and let them steep for a few days. Get your bowls ready by buttering them very well. Have ready a large pasta pot or two to hold the bowls.

To the fruit mix add:

  • 300 grams beef suet (no meat attached), chopped fine or 300 grams soft butter (for non-meat eaters).

  • 4 eggs, well beaten.


Fill the buttered bowls with the pudding mix, cover completely with aluminum foil, and place the bowls in the pans. Fill the pan with hot water halfway up the bowl.

Bring the water to a simmer, cover the pan and steam for about 45 minutes, adding water if necessary. Remove from the water and cool the puddings. Douse each one again with a good shot glass of Cognac, wrap in muslin or cheesecloth, and store in freezer bags in the fridge or freezer until next December.

To serve, bring them to room temperature and heat in a 185-degree oven (minus the wrappings!) for 20 minutes.

In a bowl, mix together 500 grams powdered sugar, 100 grams soft butter and just enough Cognac to make a thick smooth paste. This is the “hard” sauce that melts over the slices of hot pudding, sending everyone at the table into holiday heaven. Bring the pudding whole to the table, pour warmed Cognac over it, and light with a match.

You’re sure to see Tiny Tim on someone’s shoulder. Auguri to all, and always feel free to send me your questions at

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.