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Stir-up Sunday: Christmas cake and puddings

stir up sunday

If you don’t have Stir-up Sunday in your diary, pencil it in as a matter of urgency. Grab your apron and a bottle of brandy, and check out our ultimate guide to the Victorian tradition. Ever since Prince Albert bought Christmas pudding into fashion, Stir-up Sunday has been a lovely excuse to spend time with family members, and get into the festive spirit. We’ve done our research, and compiled a selection of all our best Stir-Up Sunday recipes. Time to stop being coy about it - Christmas is coming.

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What is Stir-up Sunday?

Stir-up Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent and comes from the Book of Common Prayer and this opening from the collect of the day: "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people." It's a religious day, but has become synonymous with making puddings and cakes for Christmas.

On this day, families will traditionally gather in their kitchens to start preparing their Christmas puddings ready for the big day on 25th December. Everyone gets a chance to 'stir up' the Christmas pudding and make a wish while they do so. 



When is Stir-up Sunday?

Stir-up Sunday 2019 is on the 24th November, exactly a month before Christmas Eve. There's nothing quite like marking the end of November with some festive fun, so read on further for recipes that are perfect for celebrating the day...
 

Family traditions

"My late mother made a superb Christmas pudding, and the first thing my husband said when we learnt that she was terminally ill was 'Do you have a copy of the Christmas pudding recipe?' She thought it was very funny and made sure we had one!"

Christmas is all about family traditions and puddings are no exception. The tradition of making puddings on the last Sunday of Advent dates back to Victorian times, and over 100 years later families are still marking the day on their calendars to get busy in the kitchen.

girl baking

A recipe handed down through generations is a lovely thing and most families have a slightly different take on the original recipe which makes theirs taste the best. Grab a grandchild (yours, preferably) and task them with an age-appropriate job to get them involved and make it a fun activity. Mixing and stirring covers most bases, and they will be filled with delight on Christmas day, knowing that they helped to produce the dessert. 

Aside from the tradition of everyone stirring up the Christmas pudding together, there are a few other customs that you may want to try with your family: 
 

  1. Add a silver coin - It was believed that this addition granted good luck to the person who found it. If you are including coins, do warn the pudding-eaters and supervise children. Nothing like an emergency trip to the dentist over Christmas! It may be worth having a coin-free pudding for the children. 
  2. Or add something else symbolic - It's not just coins that were traditionally added to a pudding. A ring, thimble and even a wishbone were sometimes added for good luck charms or to give predictions for the year ahead. 
  3. Only use 13 ingredients - Owing to its religious origins, some use this specific number of ingredients to represent Jesus and his disciples. 
  4. Work the nativity into your method - The tradition is that the pudding is stirred in the direction from east to west to represent the Wise Men. 

 

Booze

You could, of course, leave the booze out altogether, but most people think a little (or a lot of) alcohol enriches the flavour. Just don't forget to actually add it to the recipe... 

"My husband makes the Christmas puds. He doesn't cook anything else but these are delicious. Basically they are fruit and nuts held together with masses of Guinness, brandy and barley wine."

booze

Which alcohol to use? 

Where to start... Brandy is the more traditional option but you can be adventurous with other spirits too. Why not try a rum-infused pudding, or add a dash of Scottish whisky for a warming dessert? Other options are also stout and sherry. If you fancy it, you can experiment and let your creative juices flow.
 

How much? 

If you only want a tiny taste of tipple you can 'feed' the cake as per this gransnetter's instructions:

"What I do is store the un-iced cake in a tin lined with baking parchment and, using a fine knitting needle, 'feed' the cake with brandy two or three times before I get around to marzipanning it and icing. It works for me and it's not too boozy."

 

Alternatives to alcohol in a Christmas pudding

However, if you are abstaining, or just don't fancy alcohol, orange juice or tea are tasty alternatives to soak with. 

 

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Shortcuts

baking

Is there anything that can't be done in a microwave? Apparently not. Why spend hours on something when you could do it in minutes? The Christmas period is a particularly busy time, so time-saving tips are always welcome.

If you're trying to go for the hostess with the mostess vibe though, do try and muffle the sound of the 'ping'. Just serve with a generous dollop of brandy butter.

 

Gransnetters say:

"My christmas puddings have progressed over the years from boiling (hours) to the pressure cooker (30 minutes) to the microwave (five to seven minutes)." 

"I make mine in the microwave. It's really tasty and not mushy. On Christmas Day the 'kids' mix the ingredients together while I am cooking the dinner. Then we pop it in the microwave while we are eating. No hassle, no fuss, no problem."


Homemade Christmas pudding recipes

So you've gathered your family, you've bought the brandy and, if you're wanting to save time, you've got the microwave at the ready. All you need now is a selection of tasty recipes to choose from. Here are three homemade puddings, as recommended by gransnetters.
 

Fruity Christmas pudding recipe

stir up sunday christmas cake

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 5 hours
Serves: 6

Ingredients

For the pudding:

  • 25g plain flour
  • 50g white breadcrumbs
  • 55g suet
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 80g mixed dried fruit
  • 20g blanched whole almonds
  • 20g chopped walnut
  • 1 tsp orange rind
  • 1 egg
  • 100ml dark rum
  • 1 pinch of mixed spice


For the syrup:

  • 200g sugar
  • 100ml water
  • 1 tbsp rum
  • 1 slice lemon
  • 1 slice orange
  • A selection of glacé cherries, walnuts, pecan nuts and almonds
     

Method

  1. Mix all the dry pudding ingredients together.
  2. Add in the egg and rum. Mix well.
  3. Transfer into a 250ml pudding bowl. Cover with greaseproof paper. Steam the pudding for 4 to 5 hours. Leave to cool slightly.
  4. For the decoration, melt the sugar in water in a pan. Boil the sugar solution until it is syrupy. Add in the rum, fruit and nuts.
  5. Continue to heat gently until the syrup is thick and sticky.
  6. To serve, turn the pudding out onto a plate. Spoon the fruit, nuts and sugar syrup on top of the pudding.
  7. Serve with rum butter or rum sauce.
     

Sticky brandy pudding recipe

stir up sunday christmas pudding recipe 

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 5 hours
Serves: 6

Ingredients

For the pudding:

  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 3/4 cup of boiling water
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups plain flour (sifted)
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
     

For the syrup:

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup of Brandy
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence


For decoration:

  • Glacé Cherries and dates
     

Method

  1. Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over the dates and add boiling water. Leave to go cold.
  2. Beat the butter, sugar and egg well together and mix in the cold date mixture.
  3. Add the other dry ingredients and sift them into the mixture together. Mix well and bake in 2 x 20cm (8") pie plates for approximately 20 minutes at 190°C (375°F/ Gas Mark 5). Leave until cold.
  4. Make the syrup by boiling the water and sugar for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the other syrup ingredients. Pour over the cold puddings.
  6. Decorate with glacé cherries and dates.


Microwave Christmas pudding recipe

homemade christmas pudding

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 5 to 8 minutes
Serves: 18

Ingredients

  • 125g plain flour
  • 3 tbsp mixed spice
  • 50g chopped nuts
  • 150g fresh breadcrumbs
  • 225g soft brown sugar
  • 225g shredded suet (ordinary or vegetarian both work well)
  • 600g mixed dried fruit
  • 50g glacé cherries
  • 1 medium eating apple (peeled and grated)
  • 1 medium carrot (peeled and grated)
  • Grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 3 tablespoons black treacle
  • 2 tbsp of milk, stout or whiskey


Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients well in large bowl.
  2. Lightly grease 3 microwaveable pudding basins.
  3. Divide the mixture between the bowls and cover with microwave-safe plastic wrap.
  4. Cook each on the microwave's high setting for 5 minutes and leave to stand for a further 5 minutes.
     

Or you could just buy it...

The vexed question of the Christmas pudding: make your own or buy one? Is the taste of homemade really worth the effort? Handywoman Joanna Gosling is keen to skip the fuss.

She says: "I'm sure it's one of those lovely, festive, therapeutic things to do, but I really never have time. Instead, get a shop-bought one - I can't believe homemade actually tastes any better - and push a coin (left overnight in bicarbonate of soda and water to clean) into it by skewering the pudding with a knife, just before serving. An old Christmas tradition, with zero effort." 

If you're keen to skip the labour, Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Aldi all have fantastic options available this year. Whether you opt for a traditional iced Christmas cake, yule log or serve a delicious plum pudding, your guests or hosts will be delighted with your offering. 

 

Alternative Christmas recipes

stir up meaning

Christmas pudding isn't for everyone. Whether you're serving up a selection of desserts, are looking for some alternative sweet treats, here's our pick of Christmas recipes to keep you going through the festive season
 

  1. Christmas cake - the original and still the best.
  2. Gingerbread - for men, houses and reindeer.
  3. Chocolate truffles - for a little something special after lunch.
  4. Chocolate mince pies - if you've got a sweet tooth.
  5. Christmas biscotti - make lovely presents wrapped up nicely with a ribbon.
  6. Mincemeat - if you fancy making it yourself.

 

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