If you've never celebrated Yulefest in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, now is the time to do it. Winter magic is a reality at this time of the year. The crisp clear mountain air is intoxicating, the views breathtaking, and for city slickers like me the lure of a log fire is irresistible.
Started by a group of homesick Irish in 1980 at the Mountain Heritage Hotel & Spa in Katoomba, the festival is now celebrated all over the mountains. At The Rooster restaurant, seared scallops with leeks and oyster butter, followed by roasted partridge and chocolate souffle are on the menu.
If you can't get away, why not celebrate Christmas in July at home? You'll find my recipe for Roast Turkey Breast here and finish with this sago plum pudding, a lighter version than its more traditional counterpart - and if you use gluten-free breadcrumbs, it's also gluten-free.
- Prep Time : 30 minutes
- Cook Time : 3h 30 min
- Yield : 8 -10
- sago (or tapioca) - 1 cup (170g)
- full cream milk - 3 cups (or use soy)
- mixed dried fruit - 2 1/2 cups (sultanas, currants, candied orange and lemon peel, candied ginger)
- brandy or Grand Marnier - 1/2 cup
- vanilla essence - 1 teaspoon
- dark brown sugar - 1 cup
- fresh breadcrumbs - 2 cups (or use gluten-free)
- free range or organic eggs - 3, beaten with a fork
- mixed spice - 1 teaspoon
- cinnamon - 1/2 teaspoon
- ground nutmeg - 1/4 teaspoon
- salt - a pinch
- orange - 1, zest only
- lemon - 1, zest only
- slivered almonds - 1/2 cup, toasted
- bi-carbonate of soda - 1 teaspoon, dissolved in boiling water
- brandy - extra 1/2 - 3/4 cup, for flaming over pudding when serving
Place sago in a medium bowl. Bring milk to the boil and pour over sago. Cover and refrigerate overnight to soak.
In a separate bowl, soak the mixed dried fruit in the brandy (or Grand Marnier) and vanilla overnight, covered.
Next day, combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl.
Place a circle of baking paper in the base of a 2L (8 cup) pudding basin well- greased with butter. Spoon in pudding, packing down firmly. Cover with a circle of pleated baking paper and a sheet of pleated foil. Tie foil firmly with string.
Place on a wire rack or upturned saucer in a large pan. Pour in boiling water to come halfway up the basin, checking every 30-40 minutes to make sure the water level stays at the half way mark on the basin. If water evaporates, add more boiling water to the pan. Cover and steam for 3 1/2 - 4 hours.
Heat the extra brandy in a small saucepan, flame with a match, stand back - and pour over the hot pudding.
Serve with vanilla custard and cream.
Note: you can add other dried fruits such as cranberries, figs and dates to the mixed fruit, but make sure to include some lemon and orange peel.
Tip: The pudding can be stored for a month in the fridge, wrapped in muslin (or a tea towel or pudding cloth), then in alfoil. Plastic wrap tends to not let the pudding "breathe". You can also feed it with a little extra alcohol before the day.
Best to re-steam it on the day, not microwave it as that tends to dry it out.
For the Custard: scrape seeds from one vanilla bean into 1 Litre milk. Scald milk in a saucepan over medium heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk 10 egg yolks with 150g caster (superfine) sugar until light and thick. Pour warmed milk slowly over yolks, whisking continuously. Wash the saucepan and return egg and milk mixture to it. Place over low-medium heat and cook until custard thickens, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. For a boozy custard, add a good splash (or three) of brandy or Grand Marnier and stir in. You will know it is ready when it coats the back of the spoon. Remove immediately from heat and pour through a sieve into a clean bowl. Serve warm or cold in a jug.