Tropical Christmas pudding (non-alcoholic)

Happy holidays! I love the idea of British Christmas pudding – moist, cake-like, warm spices and oozing with fruity bits and flavours. Why is it called pudding when it’s..cake-y? Anyway, I made it more relevant to the Southeast Asia context by using tropical fruits, no alcohol (halal), reduced sweetness, regional spices. AND, a handful of a quirky addition for more textural interest – black glutinous rice (pulut hitam). Pulut hitam is an Indonesian sweet rice porridge already used to make chiffon cakes and cream cakes here, so I wanted to explore its potential in other baked sweets. Turned out the spices covered the nutty rice flavour, but the rice grains give an interesting chewy bites in between moist fruit and spice!

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Traditionally Christmas pudding is steamed for hours and matured at room temperature (brushed with brandy regularly) for months. Ain’t got time for that! Plus it might not last a few days at our humidity and temperature. This is a simplified baked version that significantly reduces time and effort. Recipe adapted from The Vegan Society.

For the fruit mix:

200g dried mixed fruits
100g chopped dried mango
100g chopped dried pineapple
3 teabags of black tea (assam or darjeeling works best)

Brew the tea for 10mins with about 800ml of hot water in a large bowl. Add in dried fruits and soak for 30mins – 1 hour, until they swell up to a plump mass. Sieve out the fruits and drain. DON’T pour the soaking liquid – it should taste like a delicious fruity tea now!

Other tropical fruit mix ideas can include tamarind, coconut (desiccated should give best flavour), banana, jackfruit, lychee, and if you’re feeling adventurous, durian (Honestly, try it! Might give the alcohol taste without using actual alcohol). Basically any flavourful fruit that is not too wet should work well. You can steep the fruits a day in advance too.

For the base:

200g vegan butter
2 tbsp gula melaka (coconut sugar syrup)
100g wholemeal flour
100g oatmeal flour (simply pulse oatmeal in food processor)
3 tbsp baking powder
100g soft brown sugar
1 grated granny smith apple
3 tsp five-spice powder
1 tsp ginger powder (or 1 tbsp grated ginger)
1 tsp cinnamon powder
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp salt
Juice and zest of half lemon
3 tbsp fruit mix soaking liquid
1 cup cooked black glutinous rice (Optional. Can tapao from food court, but remember those are sweetened already!)

Preheat oven to 180C. Cream butter and syrup in a large bowl. Add all base ingredients and fruit mix, mix until just combined. Grease a large metal basin (around 1.5 litres) and line the base with parchment paper. Pour in the mixture, leave 2.5 cm till the top free to give room for rising. Cover basin with parchment paper and aluminum foil, tie tightly with a non-plastic string. Bake for 2 hours or so until a skewer comes out clean from the center. (I cut the string after an hour and lifted the papers to check then sealed it back without string – didn’t seem to affect the baking). Let cool in bowl for 5 mins before removing gently onto cooling rack.

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Can be kept in fridge for up to a week. Brushing with soaking liquid everyday will help develop richer flavours. To reheat after taking out of fridge, brush with soaking liquid and steam for 8-10mins. Serve with a drizzle of coconut milk or cream and enjoy with tea or coffee.

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