Start off the Christmas season by prepping your pudding. iStock

Thanksgiving is complete, the decorations are starting to appear and the shops are ringing out with Christmas music. That must mean it's time to start on our Christmas pudding so it's ready in time for the big day. Ready-made and cooked puddings are now available in the shops but they can never compete with the flavor and the pleasure of making your own!

Christmas pudding is also known as 'plum pudding', because of the abundance of prunes in it. The rich and heavy pudding is boiled or steamed, made of a heavy mixture of fresh or dried fruit, nuts and sometimes suet, a raw beef or mutton fat. Vegetarian suet may also be used for a lighter taste. These puddings are very dark, almost black, and are saturated with brandy, dark beer or other alcohols. They used to be boiled in a "pudding cloth," but today they are usually made in pudding bowls.

Many people stirred little surprise gifts into the Christmas pudding. Silver coins (for wealth), tiny wishbones (for good luck), a silver thimble (for thrift), a ring (for marriage), or an anchor (for safe harbor) into the mixture, and whoever got the lucky serving, would keep the charm, very much like a barmbrack at Halloween time.

Ingredients:

1 cup (125g) ready-to-eat prunes, chopped

2 cups (225g) raisins

2 cups (225g) currants

2 cups (225g) sultanas

1 lemon, grated rind and juice of

½ cup (50g) chopped almonds

1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and grated

1 medium carrot, peeled and grated

1 cup (225g) demerara sugar

1 cup (225g) suet (I use vegetable suet rather than beef)

1 cup (125g) fresh white breadcrumbs

1 cup (125g) plain flour

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground coriander

½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg

3 eggs

5 fl oz (150ml) Guinness

1 tbsp black treacle

1 fl oz (35ml) Irish Whiskey

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Method:

In a large bowl, simply mix all the dry ingredients together.

Whisk the eggs, Guinness, whiskey and black treacle together and stir into the mixture.

Cover and leave to stand overnight in a cool place.

Butter three x 600ml (20 fl oz) pudding bowls and put a circle of grease proof paper in the base.

Pack the mixture into the bowls and smooth the top. Leave about 2.5cm (1") space to the top of the bowl.

Cut a double layer of grease proof paper into a 30cm (12") circle. Cover each pudding with the paper and tie with string around the edge. Tie another piece of string across the top of the pudding so that it can be easily lifted in and out of the pan.

Put the bowls into a heavy-based saucepan (placing an upturned plate in the bottom of the pot first, to raise the pudding bowls off the bottom of the pot). Pour boiling water around the edge until it comes two-thirds of the way up the sides of the bowls. Cover with a lid and simmer for 3 hours. Top up the pot with boiling water to the starting level every hour.

Lift out the puddings after 3 hours and let them cool. Put on a new grease proof or parchment cover and then cover tightly with foil.

Store in a cool dark place until Christmas. The puddings will keep for up to six months.

To serve cut into portion sizes and heat in a microwave, on full power, for 2 minutes until piping hot. Warm two tablespoons of brandy in a small saucepan. Set alight and carefully pour over the pudding. Serve with brandy custard cream or brandy butter.

Brandy custard cream

This is a simple and very tasty Christmas cream that I prefer to serve with my Christmas Pudding:

Whip 8 fl oz (250ml) cream until it holds a figure eight shape and stirs it into 8 fl oz (250ml) of cold prepared custard (you can make this yourself or buy it pre-made).

Add in 1 fl oz (35ml - one shot) of brandy and a pinch of grated nutmeg and mix well.

This can also be served over warmed mince pies for a delightful change to the usual!

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For more from Zack see www.IrishFoodGuide.ie.