The Forgotten Christmas Pudding
Nothing makes a better end to a Christmas dinner than a rich, dense Christmas pudding. Home chef Rhea Mitra Dalal is keeping the steam and spirit alive.
The days are getting cooler and it will be winter soon. We found a nice article on the forgotten Christmas pudding.
On Belvedere Road in Mazagaon, we look for a signboard for Katy’s Kitchen. We’re told they make the best Christmas pudding in town. Minutes later, we are escorted by a staffer to an old, one-storied building. Walking up its high stairs, a toasty, intoxicating fragrance of goodness simmering on a warm afternoon engulfs us. Home chef Rhea Mitra Dalal welcomes us into what looks like a one-room kholi, lined with old trunks, vintage chairs, white tables, large degs or aluminium pots and intricate railings of windows from a long, long forgotten Bombay.
Dalal’s love affair and entrepreneurial association with food started in 2000, when she married into a Parsi family that had an established catering business. In 1976, Dalal’s mother-in-law, famed cook and archaeologist Katy Dalal had started a catering service from her home in Fort and expanded it into one of the best in the business. “She was happy to have me join in, bring new ideas to the table and be a helping hand. When she passed away 10 years ago, I changed the name from Dalal Enterprises to Katy’s Kitchen in her honour. Most of our staff is trained by her,” says Dalal.
Katy had travelled the world with her shippy husband, being adventurous with food and experimenting with local delicacies. One such find was the Christmas pudding they tried in England. The taste had stayed with Katy for long after and she recreated the recipe, referring to a couple of books. Eventually, she started making it for family and friends, and later, clients. “She was very confident of her recipe and the result had been consistently good; so, we took the plunge. Even today, making Christmas pudding is my most precious activity in the year. I feel I am carrying her recipe forward, hence the name Katy’s Christmas pudding. She may not have invented it, but she did things her way.”
The preparations start a year in advance, when Dalal soaks raisins, fruits and spices in brandy and rum for the next December’s batch. “I find it amusing how it has become a trend for five-star hotels to organise the annual cake-mixing ceremony one month before Christmas. The fruits need to be soaked for long for the flavours to develop. One year, when we couldn’t make puddings, and the fruits kept soaking until we made a batch the following year; the clients had loved it the most. So last year onwards, we started to make an extra batch that would be used two years later,” says Dalal.
Pudding V/S Cake
Puddings don’t have the bulk of the flour, nor are there leavening and rising agents. Its density comes from being packed with rich ingredients like almond flour, apples and vegetables. Also, since it is steamed, not baked, the balance is different, as is the texture. The pudding won’t rise more than half a centimetre.
Katy’s Christmas pudding is priced at Rs 1,700 (large), R900 (medium), and available on order Call/WhatsApp 9820904694
Photo credit – Aaron Santos
When the fruit is drained, the Dalals retain the beautifully flavoured mother liquid that keeps maturing over the years. The soaked fruit is well-drained and added to the final mix of flour, almond flour, sugar, jaggery, butter, eggs, apples and vegetables to achieve a multi-layered taste. It is packed densely in a mould, sealed and steamed for around six hours to be thoroughly cooked through. “The pudding is thick and because it is in a sealed container, steam doesn’t get in easily. It has to heat uniformly and cook through the middle,” says Dalal.
The first batch of Katy’s Christmas puddings are steamed by December 1 so that they can be couriered to the outstation clients. “What’s Christmas without a Christmas pudding after all,” smiles Dalal. “These can be had immediately or when well-sealed and refrigerated, even after a year,” she adds.
Katy Dalal, my mom in law, started a catering business from home many years ago. As she tried out new dishes and cuisines her popularity grew as did her skills and knowledge in the kitchen. One of her biggest successes has been the Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter.
I started helping her with the making after K and I were married and I always found it to be one the most fun things to do with her. I like to believe it also made her happy to see me pitching in.
Piles of raisins, black currants, dried prunes and a host of other, then unfamiliar, ingredients would be cleaned and then put in a huge plastic barrel. Then endless bottles of rum and brandy would be poured in, and K would also fling in the leftovers from random opened bottles of wine and other suitable liquor that was handy. In a week the alcohol would have to be topped up as the shriveled fruit would be plump with the booze and would have risen way above the alcohol in the barrel. The barrel would be sealed up and forgotten till a week before Christmas.
Large quantities of juicy red winter carrots have to be grated. Along with this a mountain of apples are grated.
Fresh bread crumbs, white flour, demerara sugar, molasses, candied ginger, ground almonds, butter, freshly powdered nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom, and eggs are all mixed in a huge vat. The soaking fruit is drained and then added to the mix.
The tins are buttered and lined with butter paper. Then the pudding mix is filled in, topped with a circlet of butter paper and then sealed either with a lid or with aluminium foil. The larger pudding moulds come with a lid, the smaller ones don’t.
Steam the puddings for 4 hours and they are ready to be dispatched. We recommend that the puddings be steamed once again for an hour before serving.
The brandy butter is a delicious accompaniment to this pudding. Blend regular salted butter with powdered sugar and a generous dash of brandy. Chill the butter till it is nice and hard.
Ma in Law would serve the pudding with a dash of drama. She would light half a cup of brandy and pour it over the pudding. We would put off the lights of course!
I have taken over the mantle of Christmas Pudding maker now. And I look forward to Christmas every year when we do a special Christmas menu and these traditional Christmas Puddings.
Photo credit – Ketan Pandit