We’ve made it to the fifth installment of my Christmas Pudding Chronicles and the fourth week of aging a boozy English-style fruit-studded cake fit to flambé on Christmas day. For those just jumping in, you can read about what started this figgy pudding series here, how to make the cake, how to “cure” it, and a bit about the history of aging desserts (sometimes in animal stomachs) in these posts. This is the final week before the big show on Christmas day, which makes today a great one for another brandy soak and preparing a “hard sauce.”
Feed the pudding for goodness’ sake
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At this point it feels like I’m caring for a little cupboard companion. I’ve been storing it in the cabinet where I keep pots and pans, so we have a check-in every day. Every time I go to get a frying pan out of my cabinet, we lock eyes, quickly nod to each other, and I close the door. Today is “feeding” day so Li’l Pud gets to come out and receive sustenance in the form of brandy. Soaking the cake once a week with a tablespoon or two of brandy is traditional, but an optional part of the Christmas pudding tradition. I wanted the full experience so I opted in.
I’ve tried applying the brandy with a pastry brush, a spritzer, and this week with a turkey baster. I was tempted to stick the baster directly into my brandy bottle but something about it felt wrong, plus I wouldn’t be able to measure it since my baster doesn’t have that feature. Instead I measured out one and a half tablespoons into a bowl and basted from there. The turkey baster was satisfying for precision application, but unless an interesting option falls into the comments section here, I’ll go back to the pastry brush; it’s the simplest way to do the job quickly and easily.
After the brandy soak, I thought to myself, “Ok, let’s get you dressed up,” and re-covered my Christmas pudding. I know now that I could never be an animal farmer. I’ve already named a four week-old fruit cake and when the day comes to harvest, well, I just don’t know how I’m going to take it.
What the heck is “hard sauce”?
Hard sauce is a traditional accompaniment to figgy pudding, but it’s more accurately known as brandy butter. “Hard sauce” inspires more mystery since sauces are meant to flow, but it turns out it’s basically buttercream frosting with brandy. I suppose it will be hard if it’s in the fridge. Was I expecting something more dynamic? Yes. However, I got over the disappointment once I tasted it.
Only a few ingredients are necessary to make the hard sauce.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann
How to make brandy butter
Just like with American-style buttercream, you only need a few ingredients: butter, sugar, and flavoring. I decided to use Mary Berry’s recipe for brandy butter because she’s my other favorite English chef (along with Nigella, whose Christmas pudding recipe I used as a guide), and she might be the only Dame I’d trust to feed me.
I took a single liberty with her recipe. Mary Berry uses unsalted butter, but seeing as this is a condiment meant to be spread on cake, I think we’d be selling ourselves short without some salt. Salted butter is clutch for an excellent frosting, and if you don’t have it then add a quarter teaspoon of salt to this mixture.
All of the ingredients should come together as a fluffy frosting.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann
Use soft butter if you’re mixing this by hand; it should be the consistency of mayonnaise. Add the sugars and mix them in with a rubber spatula. Berry’s recipe indicates light muscovado sugar, but if you can’t get your hands on it, light or dark brown sugar will be just fine. Add the brandy and whisk it in until emulsified. If your emulsion breaks or looks grainy, it could be too cold. It could also be an indication there is too much brandy. If it’s too cold, try microwaving it for a few seconds, literally. Don’t press start and walk away. Whisk it again. If the brandy is the culprit, add a tablespoon more of powdered sugar, and whisk the heck out of it.
The end result is sweet and buttery with caramel notes from the brandy, and I’m very excited to smear this on a warm slice of fruit cake. Although you taste the liquor, it’s surprisingly tame for what seems like a large measurement at first. Save this brandy butter at room temperature if you’ll be flambéing within a week; it’ll be easier to spread on the cake that way. Otherwise, store it in a covered container in the fridge. Let it come up to room temperature the morning you plan on using it. Enjoy brandy butter with Christmas pudding, of course, but you can slather it on muffins, toast, biscuits or any other carb you’d like to make boozy and sweet.
Next week will be the final installment of this series. I’ll be re-steaming, flambéing, and tucking in to a slice of figgy pudding. Check back in next week to read about Li’l Pud’s big day.
Brandy Butter Recipe
(Adapted from Mary Berry’s recipe)
1 stick salted butter, soft
⅔ cup (3 ounces) powdered sugar
⅓ cup packed (3 ounces) brown sugar
3 tablespoons brandy
In a medium bowl, stir the butter and both sugars together with a rubber spatula until smooth and slightly fluffy. Stir in the brandy. Once the brandy is mostly incorporated, switch to a whisk to thoroughly emulsify the frosting.