Our kitchen is not well ventilated. Despite the noisy extractor fan and wide-open windows, a tiny patch of paint on the ceiling is now about to yield and flake. Not surprising really, as the past week has seen the steaming of no less than four plum puddings. Charged with the task of creating a traditional but gluten-free Christmas dessert, I sought inspiration (and solace) from a large bottle of Armagnac. With its notes of prunes and vanilla it was already suggesting ingredients.
Pudding number one was boiled in a beautiful Victorian-style ceramic jelly mould. I anticipated it would bring something different to the table. What it brought was a damp, shapeless mound, unable to conform to its castellated casing.
Pudding two fared better – with tangy forced rhubarb and fresh orange zest, a plastic pudding basin ensured good heat conduction and a shapely finish, but the taste was a little astringent – and a handful of crushed cardamom pods contributed nothing at all.
For pudding three I reduced the quantities of orange and rhubarb, added mellow date syrup and swapped the cardamom for Chinese Five Spice. Boiled again in the plastic bowl, it is the pud you see before you – firm, but still light in texture, subtly-spiced and frankly delicious. I’m proud to see this in the festive recipe collection of Great British Chefs. You may think it's a faff to boil or steam something for so long, but believe me when I say it’s worth it.
So what of pudding number four? The twin of its predecessor, it sits patiently waiting for its final steaming - destined to take a train to Brighton for this year's Christmas feast. Such a shame it can't be a steam train.