“Bring out the figgy pudding” rings the Christmas song. But what is it and how is it made? 

Originating in England in the 1600s, this fruit pudding was the forerunner of the Christmas plum pudding — neither of which generally contained figs or plums. The pudding was a mixture of dried fruits steeped in brandy or sherry, with bread, spices and suet and which was either baked, boiled or steamed.

Originally animal casing was used to wrap the pudding while it boiled in the laundry ‘copper’. Later the cloth wrap was introduced. Because the puddings were time consuming to prepare, they were made well in advance so the cook could recover and the pudding mellow. 

Suet (kidney fat) has largely been replaced by butter or solid vegetable fat (I use half the amount of butter to suet) which has also eliminated the sometimes ‘old-fashioned’ cooking odour.

But whether baking, boiling or microwaving your Christmas sweet treats, please follow these rules. All ingredients should be at room temperature. Measurements should be level and preferably metric. Spoon the flour into a measuring cup to the required level — do not pack or shake down. Use heavy cake pans or line with two layers of baking paper. Although it is not necessary to grease the pans if they are to be lined, doing so ensures the paper sticks firmly to the pan and does not shift while you spoon in the mixture. Makes your treats well ahead so the flavours mellow and they are easier to cut.


This light fruit cake should be covered and stored in a cool place for at least 3 weeks before cutting. Ice with a white chocolate ganache to which icing sugar has been added. Or just dust with icing sugar.

150g each: pitted dates, craisins, walnuts, white chocolate, all chopped
150g light brown sugar
finely grated rinds 2 oranges
300ml sticky wine eg late harvest Riesling, or orange juice
3 large eggs, beaten
1 apple, peeled, cored and grated
2 cups self-raising flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 160C. Lightly grease a 21cm round cake pan and line with baking paper. 

Combine the dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, brown sugar and rinds in a large bowl. Stir in the wine.

Add the eggs, apple then the sifted flour and cinnamon. Pour into the prepared cake pan.

Bake for about 1 1/4 hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool and wrap in foil to store.


This is a microwave recipe but you can also steam the pudding in a basin for about 2 hours.

1 cup (175g) diced, ready-to-eat dried figs
3/4 cup each: diced pitted dates, pitted prunes
1/2 cup plain flour
1 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup brown sugar
50g butter, grated
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon each: golden syrup, apricot jam
3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons brandy

Lightly grease a 4-cup pudding basin.

Combine the dried fruit in a large bowl. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder and mixed spice. Add the breadcrumbs, brown sugar and butter. Mix with a large fork. Whisk the liquid ingredients and stir in.

Spoon into the pudding basin. Cover the bowl with baking paper and tie with string. Make a slit in the top.

Microwave on high for 4 minutes (700 watts). Stand for 5 minutes. Cook a further 3 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool then cover and refrigerate for up to 4 months.

To serve, warm the pudding in the microwave and flame with warmed brandy. Great served with salted caramel sauce. Serves 6-8.



Finely chop any large dried fruits, such as apricots and prunes.

1.2kg mixed dried fruit
1/2 cup each: orange juice, brandy
250g butter or olivani, at room temperature
300g light brown sugar
5 large eggs
250g gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon each: ground cinnamon, ground mixed spice
pinch salt
blanched almonds, optional

Place the dried fruit in a large bowl. Add the orange juice and brandy and mix well. Cover and soak overnight.

Next day, preheat the oven to 150°C. Line the base and sides of a greased 23cm-25cm round spring-form cake pan with baking paper.

Beat the butter or olivani and sugar together, until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. (A little of the flour can be added to prevent the mixture from curdling.) Sift the flour, spices and salt into a bowl then add to the sugar mixture alternately with the dried fruit and any liquid. Spoon into the cake pan and smooth the top with a wet hand. Decorate the top with the blanched almonds, if using.

Bake for about 2 1/4 hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove and cool in the pan. Wrap in foil and store in a cool place.


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