26 December 2010

Clever us

For once my buying on impulse paid off. We feasted yesterday on this WONDERFUL dessert, the best Christmas pudding either of us has ever eaten — and, believe me, Michael especially has done a lot of sampling in his time. All we had to do was whip up a little hard sauce, with Armagnac added this year to the butter and confectioner's sugar, and then dig into the moist but not stodgy pudding to that candied orange center. Superb! And Michael didn't suffer an allergic reaction to the walnuts I noticed were listed as an ingredient right before serving up.

I haven't used my copper pudding mold in years and, as long as Waitrose keeps up an annual supply of this holiday delicacy, I never will again. To keep my Heston idolatry in perspective, however, it must be noted that, according to the Guardian, "the Christmas pud that won this year's Which? taste test comes from Lidl. And it costs £2.99."

Telegraph, 28 November 2010:

Heston Blumenthal Christmas pudding on sale on eBay

A sell-out Christmas pudding by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal is being sold on eBay where it has attracted bids of at least £77

Heston Blumenthal's orange Christmas pudding
Heston Blumenthal's orange Christmas pudding is up for sale on eBay

Demand for the £13.99 Waitrose Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding is so high the supermarket has almost run out and the must-have dish is now being re-sold on the internet.

One eBay user is offering to sell a single Blumenthal pudding with a delivery fee of £6 to anywhere in the United Kingdom. With eight days of the auction left to run, 11 bids had been submitted last night, ranging up to £77.

The seller, in Bempton, East Yorkshire, states on the auction's description page: "Christmas dinner is usually a time for tradition. But when tucking in to the turkey, stuffing and pud this year, you may need to prepare yourself for an unusual surprise.

"As the name suggests, it looks like the puddings we are all used to, but cut it open to reveal a whole candied orange inside."

Unlike Blumenthal's more exotic restaurant creations, such as eggs and bacon ice cream, the pudding is easy to prepare in the microwave.


Guardian, 28 November 2010:

The new black market for Christmas puds

A rare Heston Blumenthal Christmas pudding for Waitrose is open for bids on eBay, but it's not the only supermarket Christmas fare that's whetting gastronomes' appetites

Jon Henley

Every year there's something, isn't there? A decade ago it was Delia, boldly introducing the nation, Walter Raleigh-like, to the notion of fresh cranberries in a sauce we could make ourselves rather than buy in a jar. Sales of the acidic dark-red fruit promptly trebled, triggering shortages up and down the land.

Five years later, it was Nigella. She praised goose fat as essential for perfect roast potatoes. A fortnight afterwards, Tesco and Waitrose said sales had doubled, while Sainsbury's and Asda reported mere 70% spikes.

Logically, as we slide ever further down the celebrity-endorsed slope, this time around it's not an ingredient but a product. "Waitrose Heston Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding V/Rare", states the description on eBay. "The must-have pudding for 2011. Sold out in 99.9% of stores. In original sealed box. Time left: 9 days." As G2 went to press, the bidding stood at £77.

Admittedly, this prince among puddings serves 10-12 people. And it is, if we believe its creator, "very special ... As it cooks, the essential oils from the orange peel infuse the nuts and fruit from the inside out." But £77, you'll agree, is a lot to pay for something that retailed at £13.99 (already a pretty penny to pay for a pud).

"We've sold tens of thousands," says the supermarket, adding that while there were "around 2,000" in stores at the start of the weekend, "they're being snapped up very quickly. We always thought it would do well; it's a modern twist on an old favourite, from one of our food ambassadors. But even we have been slightly surprised."

(Delia, Waitrose's other "food ambassador", is doing all right too. Her £10 DIY Christmas cake kit – "perfect for first-time bakers who don't want a cupboard full of half-used jars, and enjoy baking but don't have the time" – is currently flying off the shelf every seven seconds. It can only be days before it shows up on eBay too – maybe for £26, which is what the ingredients would cost individually.)

The moral of all this, of course, is that we really, really care about our Christmas din-dins. Also, some of us are gullible enough to swallow anything. If you're in the former category but not the latter, a tip: the Christmas pud that won this year's Which? taste test comes from Lidl. And it costs £2.99.


And now a recipe, also from the Telegraph, a less than successful attempt to recreate the Fat Duck chef's magic (video on link well worth watching, but Rose Prince's candied orange isn't a patch on Heston's; no wonder her daughter rejected it): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/christmas/8155014/How-to-make-Hestons-must-have-Christmas-pudding.html

Distraught shoppers, unable to buy Heston’s plum pudding with its notorious hidden orange, take heart. Waitrose may have sold all 25,000 of their quirky Christmas dessert, made famous by their TV ad, but the good news is that you can still have one. The bad news is that you have to make it yourself. But remain calm – it’s only a plum pudding with a candied orange inside.

Reaching for bowl and scales, I decided to give it a try. I used a favourite pudding recipe then hunted down instructions for whole candied oranges. Candying fruit is the alchemy of southern European confisseries; my take was to boil the orange in a spiced syrup for 1 hours, cool on a rack then boil for another 30 minutes. By the end I had a satisfyingly soft, sticky orb. I squished it into the middle of the raw pudding mix in the basin then steamed the whole thing for 7 hours.

The moment came to see if it had worked – the pudding came out firm and sticky. I cut a wedge and there was the orange, peeping out from its hiding place. Success – but the taste? I’d like to say this was the best reinvention of the pudding since we stopped adding minced beef or mutton, but it tasted like good old Christmas pudding, with this slightly annoying orange hanging around in the middle.

“I like it, but do you have to put the orange in?” said my daughter. Quite so. Dedicated followers of fashion will love the impact of this pudding. Me? I’d like to go back to a time when Heston meant services and a nice greasy breakfast and the only thing hidden inside a Christmas pudding would be pocket money…

Hidden orange pudding

Serves 10 – have ready a buttered 1 litre/2 pint pudding basin, baking paper, foil and string

Preparation time – 2 days

For the candied orange:

1 orange
1 litre of water
1 kg white sugar
½ cinnamon stick
1 tbsp marmalade

For the pudding:

550 mixed dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, currants and mixed peel)
1 grated carrot
1 grated Bramley apple
100ml ale
3 eggs
1 tbsp black treacle
115g dark brown sugar
115g plain flour (sifted)
1 ½ tsp mixed spice
115 g ground almonds
115g suet

To candy the orange, pierce it several times with a skewer then boil it in the water for 30 minutes to soften. Remove from the water, add the sugar, cinnamon and marmalade and bring to the boil. Add back the orange and cook over a medium heat for about 45 minutes. Cover with a lid for part of the time so the orange cooks evenly. Remove it from the syrup. Dry it overnight on a rack then give it a second 30 minute boiling the following day. Remove and allow it to dry again; the orange is now ready to use.

To make the pudding, put the fruit, carrot and apple in a large mixing bowl and leave to steep for 20 minutes. Add the eggs, black treacle and sugar and mix well. Add the flour,spice, ground almonds and suet and mix well again. Make sure there are no clods of dry flour.

Butter the pudding basin, and half fill with pudding mixture. Place the candied orange in the centre of the bowl and add the remaining pudding mixture so it is buried inside. Cover with a disc of baking paper, then take a large sheet of each baking paper and foil. Fold in half then make a pleat. Place the sheet over the bowl and secure with string.

Place in a pan to steam with 4 cm depth of simmering water. Cover and steam for 7 hours. You can then store the pudding for several weeks – before steaming again for 3 hours for the Christmas meal. Serve with buttercream flavoured with Grand Marnier, or clotted cream.

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