This Sunday, 22 November, is known as 'Stir-up Sunday' - a day which marks the last Sunday before Advent, and is the traditional time to make your Christmas pudding or cake.
Like many Christmas traditions in the UK, Stir-up Sunday comes from the Victorian age.
While the humble Christmas pudding has roots in Medieval times, it was Prince Albert who made it fashionable again in the 19th century. To this day, many families and keen cooks make their own every November.
How did Stir-up Sunday get its name?
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Making your Christmas pudding or cake on Stir-up Sunday gives it time to mature (usually by being ‘fed’ brandy) in the run up to the big day. The tradition takes its name from the general prayer read in churches, which includes the line, “Stir up, we beseech thee O Lord, the wills of they faithful people."
Traditions and superstitions
As with many age-old rituals, there are certain traditions and superstitions surrounding Stir-up Sunday. Many believe that the whole family should be present in the kitchen while the eggs, fruit and flour are mixed in order for everyone to get a shot.
The youngest should start the mixing, and carry on up the ages, with the oldest giving a final stir. It is said that the mixture should be stirred east to west, to mark the journey made by the three wise men.
To continue the Christian festive theme, many traditions say that there should be 13 ingredients used, to represent Jesus and his 12 disciples.
Charms, tokens or coin are hidden in the mixture before it it cooked, and if you’re lucky to find a charm or coin when eating, you can make a wish.
Recipes to try
The tradition of Stir-up Sunday is to make a Christmas pudding, but you can also make a Christmas cake, as both these festive treats need time to mature.
Neil Forbes Christmas pudding
Chef Neil Forbes shares his recipe for how to make Christmas pudding.
125g sultanas125g currants125g raisins20g glacé cherries, chopped20g mixed peel½ bramley apple, grated20g carrot, grated2 tsp finely grated orange zest40g prunes, stoned and chopped50g plain flour20g ground almonds60g bread crumbs1 tbsp milk50g soft dark brown sugar75g proper beef suet1 tbsp golden syrup1 eggPinch each of salt, mixed spice and cinnamonGlug each of brandy, sherry and rum4 tbsp stout
Place the sultanas, currants and raisins in a large bowl. Add the alcohol and leave to soak overnight.
Line a two pint pudding basin with muslin, leaving enough spare to tie at the top.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl of soaked fruit and mix well.
Fill the lined pudding basin with the mix and tie up the muslin with a piece of string.
Gently steam the pudding for two hours in a lidded pot (water covering half the pudding basin).
Don’t allow to boil dry.
Before serving, check that the centre of the pudding is piping hot.
Serve with brandy sauce or pouring cream.
Mary Berry’s Christmas pudding
BBC Good Food has shared Mary Berry’s classic Christmas pudding recipe.
For the pudding
450g/1lb dried mixed fruit (use a mixture of sultanas, raisins, and snipped apricots)1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped1 orange, finely grated rind and juice3 tbsp brandy, sherry, or rum, plus extra for flaming75g/3oz butter, softened, plus extra for greasing100g/3½oz light muscovado sugar2 free-range eggs100g/4oz self-raising flour1 tsp mixed spice40g/1½oz fresh white breadcrumbs40g/1½oz whole shelled almonds, roughly chopped
For the brandy butter
100g/3½oz unsalted butter, softened225g/8oz icing sugar, sieved3 tbsp brandy, rum or cognac
Measure the sultanas, raisins, apricots and apple into a bowl with the orange juice. Add the measured brandy (rum or sherry), stir and leave to marinate for about one hour.
Put the measured butter, sugar and grated orange rind into a large bowl and cream together with a wooden spoon or a hand-held whisk until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs, adding a little of the measured flour if the mixture starts to curdle.
Sift together the flour and mixed spice, then fold into the creamed mixture with the breadcrumbs and the nuts. Add the soaked dried fruits with their soaking liquid and stir well.
Generously butter a 1.4 litre/2½ pint pudding basin. Cut a small disc of foil or baking parchment and press into the base of the basin.
Spoon into the prepared pudding basin and press the mixture down with the back of a spoon. Cover the pudding with a layer of baking parchment paper and foil, both pleated across the middle to allow for expansion. Tie securely with string and trim off excess paper and foil with scissors.
To steam, put the pudding in the top of a steamer filled with simmering water, cover with a lid and steam for eight hours, topping up the water as necessary.
To boil the pudding, put a metal jam jar lid, or metal pan lid, into the base of a large pan to act as a trivet. Place a long, doubled strip of foil in the pan, between the trivet and the pudding basin, ensuring the ends of the strip reach up and hang over the edges of the pan. This will help you to lift the heavy pudding basin out of the pan of hot water when it has finished cooking.
Lower the pudding onto the trivet and pour in enough boiling water to come half way up the side of the bowl. Cover with a lid, bring the water back to the boil, then simmer for about seven hours, until the pudding is a glorious deep brown colour, topping up the water as necessary.
For the brandy butter, place the butter into a mixing bowl and cream with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy – or for speed use an electric hand-held mixer. Beat in the sieved icing sugar until smooth, then add brandy, rum or cognac, to taste. Spoon into a serving dish, cover and set aside in the fridge.
When cooked through, remove the pudding from the pan and cool completely. Discard the paper and foil and replace with fresh. Store in a cool, dry place.
To serve, on Christmas Day, steam or boil the pudding for about two hours to reheat. Turn the pudding onto a serving plate. To flame, warm the brandy or rum in a small pan, pour it over the hot pudding and set light to it. Serve with brandy butter.
Nigel Slater’s Christmas pudding
BBC Good Food has also shared Nigel Slater’s ‘best Christmas pudding’ recipe.
350g/12¼oz sultanas350g/12¼oz raisins or currants150g/5¼oz dried figs, chopped125g/4½oz candied peel100g/3½oz dried apricots75g/2½oz dark glacé cherries, halved150ml/5fl oz brandy100g/3½oz ginger in syrup, chopped, plus 2 tbsp of the syrup2 apples or quinces, grated2 oranges, juice and zest6 eggs, beaten250g/8¾oz shredded suet350g/12¼oz soft muscovado sugar250g/8¾oz fresh breadcrumbs175g/6¼oz self-raising flour1 tsp mixed spice2 old sixpences or coins (optional)
For this recipe you will need two 1.5 litre(2½ pint) plastic pudding basins with lids.
Soak the sultanas, raisins, currants, figs, peel, apricots and cherries in the brandy overnight, giving it a good stir now and again.
The following day, in a large bowl mix the ginger, syrup, apples or quinces, orange juice and zest with the eggs, suet, sugar, crumbs and flour.
Stir in the soaked fruit and spice.
Grease the two pudding basins and divide the mix between them. Add coins now if using.
Cut two circles of greaseproof paper to cover the top of the pudding and fold a pleat down the centre to allow pudding to expand.
Put lids on the basins and steam puddings for 3½ hours.
Let puddings cool before removing greaseproof paper and covering tightly with cling film and lid. The puddings can now be stored in a cool, dry place until Christmas.
To reheat, steam pudding for a further 3½ hours, turn out and flame with brandy.
Liggy’s Christmas Cake
Liggy Morgan of the award-winning, Edinburgh-born cake boutique, Liggy’s Cakes shares her Stir-up Sunday Christmas cake recipe
Makes an 8 inch square or a 9 inch round fruitcake.
• 100ml brandy (plus extra for feeding)• 200g currants• 200g raisins• 50g mixed peel• 200g sultanas• 100g glace cherries – I like the garish red ones but you can use the natural ones if you prefer!• 200g dark brown sugar• 5 large free range eggs• 200g salted butter• 220g plain white flour (I prefer to use spelt flour)• 4 level tsp mixed spice• 1 tsp of cinnamon• zest of 1 orange• zest of 1 lemon• 50g ground almonds
Put all the dried fruit and peel into a large bowl, mix in the brandy then cover and leave overnight for all the brandy to be absorbed. If you can afford to leave it a couple of nights then so much the better.
Preheat the oven to 140C and grease and line your cake tin with greaseproof paper.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy then add the eggs one by one.
Add all the dry ingredients, sifted, plus the ground almonds to the bowl and mix briefly until all the flour, spice and almonds have been incorporated.
Finally add the soaked fruit along with the lemon and orange zest and give it a stir – remembering to make your wish at this stage.
Spoon the cake mixture into your tin and level with the back of a spoon.
Next cut a disc (if you are making a round cake) or a square piece of greaseproof paper the same size as your cake tin and place this over the top of the mixture to form a lid – this will stop the cake browning too much as it cooks.
Bake for two hours but check it after the first hour and remove the lid of paper for the last 30 minutes of cooking.
Allow to cool in the tin before taking a skewer and making little holes over the surface of the cake allowing you to pour more brandy over the top of the cake – the holes will mean the brandy is able to sink into the middle of the cake.
Once cool, wrap in two layers of greaseproof paper and one layer of tin foil and continue to feed the cake every week or so before you cover it in marzipan and decorate, which can be done a week or so before Christmas – or, if you are like me, about 10pm on Christmas Eve!
A version of this article first appeared on The Scotsman