Make me a Sandwich!...Bring us some figgy pudding!
Last Christmas, Rizzo gave me a book that inspired me to try cooking something new every month for the year. The result of that cookbook was this year’s monthly segment, Make Me A Sandwich! Of the course of the year made a variety of things from roasting a chicken using a Bundt pan for Valentine’s Day to a soufflé cake that consisted primarily of eggs and olive oil. I truly enjoyed making all of these new things even if they didn’t turn out so well. I feel like I learned a lot about how to cook in general. Just ask Rizzo about how I now just make stuff up on the fly or make suggestions to her about how to cook stuff when she is doing the cooking. I’m sure it is annoying.
To complete this self-made challenge there is only one month left to cook in and that is December. It wasn’t hard to pick what I was going to cook for this month: figgy pudding. Ho Ho Ho, who doesn’t know the famous lines from that most Christmas of all Christmas songs, I wish you a Merry Christmas? For my entire life, I would sing along, “Now bring us some figgy pudding” not knowing anything about figgy pudding. So, I resolved to make some figgy pudding for our family Christmas Eve dinner. My Dad’s comment when he found out that I was making some figgy pudding for dessert was “I’ve been on this earth for 68-years, I’m glad I can finally know what the hell figgy pudding is.” He would soon come to regret those words, but we will get to that.
To get started I first had to figure out what was figgy pudding. Luckily for me, there is no definitive definition of figgy pudding. According to Wikipedia (which is, of course, the last bastion of knowledge in our culture), figgy pudding is “a type of Christmas pudding which was originally made from figs. It may be baked, steamed in the oven, boiled, or fried”. That’s great and doesn’t help one bit. I also did some reading on Smithsonian.com about the history of figgy pudding but that didn’t really help much either.
So, I went another route and just started searching for recipes. I came across a plethora of recipes that had various ingredients (some with figs and some with no figs) with various cooking times (from an hour to several months). I certainly didn’t have time to age the figgy pudding in a cool, dry place for several months while it soaked in brandy so I just picked a recipe that was clearly labeled as figgy pudding from a site I have used before, allrecipes.com. I had no idea what the results would be so I just gathered the ingredients and got underway. Here is what you’ll need:
- 1 ¾ cups buttermilk
- 12 ounces of dried figs, coarsely chopped
- 1 ½ cups of white whole-wheat flour
- 1 cup white sugar (I suppose this recipe is racist)
- 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 ½ cups of dry bread crumbs (as if you just have wet bread crumbs laying around)
- ½ cup butter (that is one stick)
- 1 package of sliced almonds
- 3 tablespoons of orange marmalade (real lady marmalade works the best)
- 1 tablespoon grated orange zest (zest from one orange)
- ½ teaspoon orange-vanilla flavoring (you won’t find this at the store but we will get to that)
Now that you have all of your ingredients let’s get started. First thing first, you need to chop up all those figs. It is called figgy pudding, after all. Figs are sort of a pain in the ass to chop. I was hoping to use the glorious slap-chop but dried figs are too stick to work in the slap chop and they don’t get cut up very well. So, I had to pull out my knife and chop up these suckers by hand. The result was lots of chopped figs and lots of sticky fingers. Luckily, my young assistant, Cece, was there to help me out. We had to stir the figs into the buttermilk in a saucepan so Cece help to put the figs in the pan. We then heated the milk and figs over medium-low heat for 15 minutes to get the figs nice and soft.
Once the figs are done, put them aside to cool and then heat your oven to 350 degrees. Yes, you can actually do this at this point because the timing works out well.
While the oven is heating up, mix up the flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt in a giant bowl. These ingredients result in a lot of powder flying around so make sure you use a big bowl. You will probably think that a medium bowl will work but that is far from enough. Get the big bowl and mix everything up well. The directions say to “sift” but that is a fancy word for dry mixing. You just want all the dry ingredients to be well mixed so one section of the pudding doesn’t have all the baking powder. This will take some effort so I suggest hiring an assistant for this process. Children seem to work out well for this kind of manual labor.
Time to beat this batter. Beat your three eggs in a large bowl. The original recipe says you should use an electric hand mixer. That is nonsense because as we mentioned in a previous edition of Make Me A Sandwich!, all you have to do is get married and then you will be magically gifted a stand mixer. Why hold an electric mixer when you could let a machine do the mixing while you hold a glass of Scotch. What are we, animals?
So, you have beaten your eggs on high for about a minute. Now add the fig-and-buttermilk concoction, bread crumbs, butter, almonds, real-lady marmalade, orange zest and the orange-vanilla flavoring to the beaten eggs. “But Wes,” you say, “I couldn’t locate any orange-vanilla flavoring in the store. What do I do?” I was the exact same way but I had vanilla extract in my cupboard and I was able to find orange extract so instead of ½ teaspoon of orange-vanilla flavoring I used ¼ cup of vanilla and ¼ cup of orange extract.
Just mix this up until it is blended then gradually add the flour mixture to the bowl. Continue to beat the batter until you have added all the flour mixture. Don’t beat it too much, just enough so the flour is incorporated in with all the other stuff. Now you have your batter for your figgy pudding.
Pour the batter into a greased Bundt pan. I’m sure you could use other types of baking dishes but the picture with the recipe looked like a Bundt pan so that is what I used. Cover the pan with some greased foil and then pop it in the oven. The pudding needs to be baked until it is firm and it is pulling away from the sides of the pans. This should take about two hours. With that in mind, set your timer for 90 minutes (always set your timer less than the recipe so you can check on anything you cook to avoid overcooking), then pour yourself a big mug of eggnog because now all there is to do is wait.
DING! Seems that the timer has gone off and your figgy pudding is almost ready to eat. Take an extra moment to settle your nerves from the six mugs of eggnog that you just consumed. Don’t forget to put on some oven mitts before reaching in to grab that hot Bundt pan. Set the pan out to cool before removing the pudding from the pan. About 10 minutes. This probably isn’t enough time for another glass of eggnog so just take a shot of the rum and skip the middle man of eggs and cream.
To get the pudding out of the pan, remove the foil and place a plate on the pan. Flip the entire mess upside down and the figgy pudding should fall right out on the plate. Appearing before you will be what us American’s would call a type of fruit cake but what the English call figgy pudding. It is a very heavy and very fruity cake filled with figs, almonds, and orange flavor.
We cut it up after our Christmas Eve dinner and, well, let’s just say it was a good thing that my Mom had made a delicious pumpkin pie. Not knowing what it should taste like makes it hard to judge but the cake wasn’t very good at all. At the time, it tasted like it was more like a breakfast bread that would go well toasted with some butter. So, on Christmas morning I gave that a try only to find out that the figgy pudding is more resistant to temperature than the tiles used on the space shuttle. No matter how hot the butter it would not penetrate the figgy pudding. The butter simply pooled on top of the slice or slid right off the side.
The bottom line is that there is a good reason that no one knows what figgy pudding is anymore. Once we learned how to cook desserts that were actually good we, as a culture, learned that figgy pudding was worthless. Instead, let’s just sing about it like it is some sort of mystical dessert that could bring peace to the world and Santa Clause to our doorsteps. Figgy pudding, just like Santa Clause, is better left to the imagination. It is better that way.