Why hello there! Forgive me, I didn’t hear you come in. I was torturing this Christmas Caroler. Well, technically I’m extorting him. I don’t think the UN considers forcing a man to watch all 20 film adaptations of A Christmas Carol as torture. Heck, most of them range from tolerable to great. Consider it a movie marathon between friends, until one of those friends gives the other THE KEY, WILLIAMS. Sorry, gotta keep him focused on the task at hand. Why am I doing this? Well, turnabout is fair play, isn’t it
No, not really.
If you’re not a scholar of Christmas Past, like some, you may be unaware that extortion was the origin of the Christmas Carol racket. Well, the modern Christmas Carol racket. By which I mean racket as in ‘profit-producing operation’, not as in ‘loud din’. Look, we’ve gotten off base. Let’s briefly delve into the history of the Christmas Carol, here on this “totally about cooking” blog. (If that’s not your cup of eggnog, just jump to the recipe HERE)
Ghosts of Christmas Past
Super-fast summary: Original Christmas hymns were all in Latin, no one liked them because no one spoke Latin, so they died off. St Francis of Assisi re-wrote several of them in common tongues, presumably because a sparrow suggested it, for nativity plays at churches. People started doing the plays at wealthy houses instead of churches. People started going from house to house just singing the songs. THEN, and here’s where things switch up: People started going from house to house singing about the joy of giving and goodwill toward men, and threatening the people inside if they didn’t provide.
Old Christmas carols threaten to knock you out if you don’t give them food and drink. And by drink, they definitely meant alcohol. Christmas Carols were the active form of panhandling, with the looming threat of violence. A point that may shock you and challenge your understanding of Christmas, if you haven’t been listening to the words of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” at all:
“Now bring us some figgy pudding
Now bring us some figgy pudding
Now bring us some figgy pudding,
and a cup of good cheer.
We won’t go until we get some
We won’t go until we get some
Oh God, they brought whips.
That’s a direct demand, and a threat for failing. If you look at the song lyrics, it’s 2 verses of well-wishing, 3 of demands/threats, and then 1 more of wellwishing they just repeat a couple times while eating and drinking. The song is HALF extortion. But what could drive a man to threaten his brethren? Just what IS figgy pudding? Myself and my crack team decided to investigate.
Ghost of Christmas…Slightly Less Past'
This past holiday season, I spent a weekend in Leavenworth, a town modeled after a Bavarian village, that I assumed didn’t exist outside of December until the age of 12. This is mostly because, if you see the town at Christmas time, you’re seeing it as it was made to be seen.
Somewhere, an elf got an erection while making a wooden train. He’ll have trouble sorting out where the feeling came from, and briefly try to become loco-sexual.
That was a terrible pun, caption Jon. Anyway, I was in Leavenworth helping my friend Joe run his new shop in the town, with my other boon companion JJ, and at night we’d drink, game, drink some more, and make bold decisions. One such decision was that we’d make Figgy Pudding. I will warn you now: Every step of this process was influenced by alcohol. We made the plan while drinking. We had double margaritas before we went shopping for the ingredients. We were drinking copiously during the cooking itself. In short, this process was powered by all the alcohol three mid-twenties men can consume in a weekend.
Now, one of the biggest questions you’ll encounter around this time of year is “What is figgy pudding.” The answer is “A fig-cake with sauce.” Which then, if you’re an American leads to “Why is it called a pudding then?” The answer is, like all too many things: “Because America doesn’t use the word right.” See, “Pudding” originally referred to Sausages. Period. Then, it referred to things we made LIKE sausages (in that we mixed them up with a binding agent, put them in a casing, and cooked them.), with a focus on desserts boiled around Christmas. Then we used it for desserts, and then for “sweet dishes thickened with egg or starch” in America.
Man, talking about Christmas stuff takes a LOT of history discussion.
Ghost of Actual Food Production
The recipe for this is simple enough: Make a cake-like batter, cook it, cover it in sauce. Boom. Simple. I gave the recipe a once over, and we bought the supplies.
The first step is the figs. Buy dried figs and dates, and chop them up. Or buy dried, chopped, figs and dates, and do nothing with them. I’m not picky. Now, in a lucky twist for me, the bags they sell at Safeway are pretty much exactly the right amount. So just toss both bags into a saucepan with water, and boil. At which point you’ll learn you were only supposed to use 1/3 of the bag of figs. What the hell. Why are there three times more DATES than FIGS in FIGGY PUDDING? I need a drink.
“Oh good,” you say. “He’s drinking water.” Oh, my sweet summer child. That’s ginger liqueur and cucumber soda. Or, as JJ called it “pure nonsense.”
Once it boils, take it off the heat, and throw in some baking soda; let it sit for a bit. The idea is you’re rehydrating the fruit. Once it’s done, puree it in your friend’s blender. Hey, Joe, where’s the blender? The BLENDER. What? No, I grasped the sentence. “I don’t have one” is pretty easily grasped. “What?” was more of a general inquiry. As in “What do you do with your life without a blender?” No, I didn’t ask if you had one. I assumed you did. I wouldn’t ask if you had RUNNING WATER, BECAUSE THAT’S THE NORM. YES, I KNOW I’M YELLING.
Anyway, we decided to not puree the fruit. It gives it more of a classic feel, you know? The Victorian English wouldn’t have pureed their fruit. Neither will we. So let’s make the rest of the batter. First we have to cream butter and sugar with our hand mixer. Joe, where’s the hand mixer? Hand mixer. Yes, you do know what that is. It’s the ‘brrr, brrr” thing. You hold it, it mixes things. What? HOW DO YOU NOT…That’s fine. I’ll cream it with a WOODEN SPOON, YOU SAVAGE.
My writing reads “frothing rage”, but my face says “shock and terror.”
You may have noticed people in the background of that shot. I didn’t say we stopped drinking and gaming to make this recipe. Oh no, I was taking my turns in the games whenever something could sit unattended. At this point, I walked over, crushing butter into sugar with a wooden spoon like some sort of Neolithic Chocolatier, and took a couple turns until the butter looked sufficiently creamed. Toss in two eggs, Self-rising flour, and some grated chocolate, and the batter’s ready for the fruit.
What’s that? You didn’t pre-grate your chocolate? Neither did we! At this juncture, claiming my hands ached, I was able to force JJ to grate the chocolate, a task he took to with great enthusiasm.
The photographer couldn’t stop laughing to stabilize this picture. I blame the slowly rising pitch of my evil laughter.
And he insisted we include this picture, to show the “ruin” we had made of his hands.
I was going to say “a ruin you can lick up”, but I decided there was something…off about that description.
To avoid that kind of mess, be smarter than us (or at least more sober), and buy baking chocolate. It’s thicker, so you can grate it a touch faster, and it’s more solid, meaning it will melt less. We just used a chocolate bar. Then mix the fruit, the dry goods, and the chocolate together, scoop into buttered ramekins, and toss them all in a 375 degree oven. You now have 20 or so minutes of respite. Have some fun!
With a rousing game of EPIC SPELL WARS OF THE BATTLE WIZARDS: RUMBLE AT CASTLE TENTAKILL. You don’t HAVE to say the full name each time, should you hate fun.
At about the 20 minute mark, you make the sauce. It’s a simple caramel sauce. Heavy cream and brown sugar go in a pan, heated until the whole thick is sticky, brown, and, well, CARAMEL. Then you toss some butter in there. Heck, you can be like me, and toss the butter in at the start, and you’ll still have a passable sauce, it’ll just take a little longer.
Ghost of Christmas Fire Safety
Now, at this stage, I made a bold decision. See, I recently watched the black and white “Scrooge” with Seymour Hicks (who first played the role on-stage, so a nice casting option for the movie), and in that movie, the Cratchitt Christmas pudding was on fire. Which I know you can do with hot brandy and a match. So, well, I did.
Yes, fear my mild blue haze! Turns out it’s kind of hard to properly light fire, since it’s making its own.
It’s mildly scary, but super cool to pour fire out of a pan. Try some time, assuming you’re an adult. If you’re a child, complain until your parent does it.
Anywho, now that the cakes are on fire, douse them with caramel sauce, and serve.
And you know what? Despite all the screw-ups, the first review was “This is really good. Like, I had super low expectations, but this is awesome.” Score one for the screw-ups! Kitchen Catastrophes: If you set the bar low enough, we’re spectacular.
I originally got this recipe from Food Network, with my own tweaks added in parentheses.
First, the cakes
1 ½ cups chopped, dried, pitted dates.
½ c -1 ½ c Chopped Dried Figs. (It tastes perfectly fine with triple the fig. So, dealer’s choice.)
2 c water.
1 tsp baking soda
7 tbsps butter
1 cup superfine sugar. (this can be a little hard to find in America, so you can use just granulated. Or, if you want to get real fancy, just take a cup of granulated and throw it in a blender for 20 seconds. Instant superfine.)
2 ½ c self-rising Flour
2 ½ ozs grated dark chocolate
Put the dates, figs, and water in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, add baking powder, and let sit for 5 minutes. You can then puree them, or not. Your call.
Cream sugar and butter together with a hand mixer, or a wooden spoon, should your host be awful. Add the eggs, mix well. Then fold in the flour. THEN add the date/fig mixture, and the chocolate.
Use the additional butter to grease some ramekins. The original recipe says 4 1-cup ramekins, but I ended up using 4 1 cup Pyrex dishes, and a casserole dish, because the pyrex only held half the batter.
Bake at 375 for 25 minutes.
After about 15 minutes, you should start the sauce.
2 c brown sugar
2 c heavy cream
14 tbsps butter* (* 7 if you’re using the “butter at the start” method)
Now, for the authentic recipe, you’re supposed to…cook the sugar, cream and butter together, then ADD THE BUTTER? That uses the butter twice! No wonder I screwed it up! HAHA. THAT ONE’S NOT ON ME.
Anywho, cream and sugar at least go in a saucepan over low heat until the sugar melts. Once it does, raise the heat and boil it for 5 minutes. Then take it off the heat, and add the butter. OR, do what I did, and toss the cream, sugar, and butter in at the start and just cook it until the sugar melts, then boil for 7 minutes. It’s a perfectly edible sauce.
Cut some crosses in your cakes, and, if you want to do the flaming brandy trick, do it now: Add 3 tbsps of brandy to a pan over high heat for 30 seconds, then toss in a match. The brandy will ignite. Pour over the cakes, wait a minute or two, and then blow them out. Pour sauce over cakes, ensuring it gets in crosses, and serve.
You could also toss vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream, or fresh figs on top, but I was fine with just these.
NEXT TIME: CHILL, MAC. WE GOT THIS.