I didn't grow up in Britain, but Christmas pudding is one of my absolute favorite Christmastime food traditions, bar none. What's not to love about cake that's stuffed with dried fruit, nuts, and topped with a boozy-toffee-esque sauce?
“Would you like more Christmas pudding?” “Why, yes, please!”
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Christmas pudding has a long history far beyond its iconic use in Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” and other Victorian literature. If you like to geek out about history like I do, definitely read this article about the history of Christmas pudding.
However, knowing about the history of Christmas pudding is more than just “interesting,” in our case. It's actually crucial to knowing why this recipe is so fantastically good. (Not that I'm biased at all…)
First of all, what IS Christmas Pudding?
Christmas pudding began back in the Middle Ages as a blend of spiced meat, fruit, and fat, as spices, sugar, and fat were effective ways to preserve meat.
As the dish progressed through the years, it morphed into new versions of itself as preservation methods and flavor preferences evolved – the addition of alcohol, for example, became the standard for preserving the dish sometime in mid-nineteenth century, which is also – I presume – about the time the tradition of dousing the cake with extra alcohol and lighting it on fire arose. 🙂
But even as the dish became more cake-like and more sweet than savory, one meat-based ingredient remained constant: SUET.
If you will remember from my article on Christmas foods in Victorian times, suet is the unique type of fat that surrounds the kidneys on ruminants, such as sheep and cattle. On pork, this fat is called “leaf lard” and is prized because it produces superior pastries and doesn't need to be rendered before use.
The particular reason suet has been a prized ingredient in Christmas puddings is that it is firm at room temperature AND has a much higher melting point than other fats. The result is that the cake-y portion of the dish has a chance to bake and set before the fat melts, which leaves behind little air pockets in the batter, producing a light, airy texture, even though it's a very moist, dense cake. When other fats are substituted, such as butter, coconut oil, or even hydrogenized vegetable oils, they tend to melt before the cake is set, which makes the final result heavy and greasy.
Thus, suet is actually a rather important ingredient for creating the correct TEXTURE of the pudding, not just the flavor.
The problem, however, is two-fold:
- Modern palates – mine included – aren't always crazy about the flavor suet contributes, particularly in batches when the suet tastes quite beefy.
- Suet isn't a common ingredient anymore, which means it can be difficult to find – and even when it is found, it's sometimes expensive.
And traditional Christmas puddings have another problem – well, it's not so much a “problem” as an inconvenience:
- Christmas puddings have to steam or boil for hours on end. This requires babysitting the pot to refill water (even when you use a slow cooker) – but most importantly, what if I want to make Christmas pudding so we can actually eat it today?
Thus, I set out to create a Christmas pudding that would replicate the flavor and texture of a traditional Christmas pudding WITHOUT using suet AND that could be cooked quickly.
Thus, I am *super* happy to share this Christmas Pudding recipe with you, as I believe it to be a perfect blend of traditional flavor and modern technique. 🙂
Enter: Christmas Pudding in the Instant Pot
First, finding a suet alternative. I knew I couldn't rely on any substitute fat for suet, as truly nothing replaces how suet works in a Christmas pudding. Thus, I looked to other methods to create a texture and mouth-feel that wasn't heavy, dense, or cloying. Surprisingly, fresh cranberries suited the bill beautifully. They provide a fresh, airy lift without taking over other flavors – they're present, but not overly so. They also lighten the texture quite well.
Second, how to cook a Christmas pudding quickly. After some experimentation, I realized that the Instant Pot (or other pressure cooker) cooks a Christmas pudding EXTREMELY well – even better than traditional boiling, in my estimation. That's partially because of the pressure that's used, but also because you can use it to cook in multiple methods. The method below starts by steaming the pudding without pressure, which I find is key to being able to release the pudding nicely from the mold, and then cooks the pudding through by steaming it under pressure.
So, in short:
If you want Christmas pudding but don't have suet…. this is a great recipe.
If you're wanting a quick, day-of recipe for Christmas pudding…. this is a great recipe.
If you're simply wanting a delicious, Christmas-y Christmas Pudding…. this is a great recipe.
It's Cranberry Christmas Pudding in the Instant Pot, your new favorite Christmas pudding recipe. 🙂
Happy noshing and a very merry Christmas to you!
These directions were made using a 6-quart Instant Pot. For smaller or larger pressure cookers, cook times may vary. The rum in this recipe can be added to taste or omitted completely. The 2 tablespoon measure will provide just a hint of rum, while adding a full 1/2 cup will provide a gorgeously boozy sauce that still isn't overwhelming, since the flavor mellows slightly while a portion of the alcohol evaporates. Similarly, the rum can be omitted completely for an alcohol-free Caramel Toffee sauce.
First prepare your mold and baking papers.
Prepare the dry mixture.
Prepare the wet mixture.
Cook the pudding.
Alternatively, you can make a foil trivet and sling, if necessary. Roll one long piece of foil into a snake and coil into a trivet and place it on the bottom of your Instant Pot. Next, place one piece of foil in the Instant Pot so that each side runs up the side of the Instant Pot, which will allow you to grab the foil ends and lift up the pudding mold at the end of cooking time. A double sling can be helpful with heavy foods, such as this.
If you live at sea level, you might be able to get away with 1 hour, but you want to avoid ending up with a gooey middle and the extra time won't hurt the pudding at all. If you DO end up with a gooey middle, simple return the pudding to cooking at high pressure for an additional 15-20 minutes.
Serve the Christmas pudding.
These directions were made using a 6-quart Instant Pot. For smaller or larger pressure cookers, cook times may vary.
The rum in this recipe can be added to taste or omitted completely. The 2 tablespoon measure will provide just a hint of rum, while adding a full 1/2 cup will provide a gorgeously boozy sauce that still isn't overwhelming, since the flavor mellows slightly while a portion of the alcohol evaporates.
Similarly, the rum can be omitted completely for an alcohol-free Caramel Toffee sauce.