Steamed puddings don't stand alone as a Christmas tradition in British homes. These puddings, rich with fruits and spices, are always served with an accompanying sauce. Or better yet, with two, the traditional combination being hard sauce and brandy caramel sauce.
The sauces in such a tradition-bound home might be made early in the week before Christmas, then relegated to the back of the refrigerator, lest too many spoonfuls disappear before Christmas Day. After Christmas dinner, the lights would be dimmed and the pudding flamed with brandy. Each person was then served a small portion. On top of the pudding, you'd place a huge spoonful of cold hard sauce, and then ladle over that as much of the hot brandy sauce as you would dare. The hard sauce would then start to melt into the perfect end to Christmas day.
Tastes change, however, and perfection takes new forms. Here, along with the old standards, are some sauces that are less traditional and lighter. The sauces all contain flavorings, some with fruit in the form of brandy or fruit juice. Other liqueurs may be substituted depending on the end use. Most of the sauces are of medium consistency. The thickeners used are heavy cream, cre me frai che, egg yolks and flour.
The ginger sauce and golden carrot sauce are usually served warm. The fluffy apricot sauce and orange cre me frai che are best cold. In addition to steamed puddings, pound cake and crepes as bases for these cold sauces, fresh seasonal fruits are delicious. All the sauces can be made a day to a week ahead and refrigerated. HARD SAUCE (Makes 3/4 cup) 1/3 cup butter, softened 1 cup confectioners' sugar 1 teaspoon rum 1 tablespoon hot water
Cream butter until very soft. Gradually add sugar and cream well. Beat in rum. Gradually add hot water to prevent curdling, stirring constantly. Spoon sauce into a small serving dish and refrigerate until hard.
Serve cold over hot carrot or plum pudding, or add walnuts and use as a cold crepe filling and serve with hot brandy caramel sauce. BRANDY CARAMEL SAUCE (Makes 2 cups) 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 cup brown sugar, packed 1/8 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter 1 1/4 cups boiling water 2 to 4 tablespoons brandy
Combine cornstarch, sugar, salt and butter in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture blends and butter melts, about 10 minutes. Allow to brown, being careful not to burn mixture. Remove pot from heat.
Very carefully add water, stirring constantly. Mixture will spatter and become lumpy. Stir several minutes until smooth. Place back on heat and stir to remove remaining lumps. The sauce will be slightly thicker than heavy whipping cream.
Just before serving, add brandy to warmed sauce. Serve over steamed puddings or vanilla ice cream. FLUFFY APRICOT SAUCE (Makes 3 cups) 2 eggs, separated 1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar 1/4 cup hot milk 3 to 4 tablespoons apricot brandy 3/4 cup whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gradually beat in sugar until mixture is very stiff. Continue beating and add hot milk and brandy.
In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks until light yellow. Beat in whipping cream until soft peaks form. Fold yolk mixture into whites and refrigerate overnight to blend flavors. Before serving, whisk separated liquid back into sauce.
Serve with plum or carrot pudding, fruit clafouti or poached pears. GINGER SAUCE (Makes 3/4 cup) 6 tablespoons wildflower honey* 3 tablespoons water 2 tablespoons brandy or dry sherry 1/4 to 1/3 cup finely chopped stem ginger with its syrup Juice of 1 large lemon
In a small saucepan, mix all the ingredients. Heat for 5 minutes on medium heat. This is a flavorful, thin sauce. If a thicker consistency is desired, continue to heat and stir. Be careful not to burn sauce.
Serve warm sauce with lemon sherbet-filled crepes, vanilla ice cream, lemon pound cake, or over poached meringues.
*Available at Bethesda Avenue Co-op, Magruder's or health food stores. GOLDEN CARROT SAUCE (Makes 1 1/2 cups) 1/2 cup sugar 3 tablespoons flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 cup boiling water 4 tablespoons minced carrot 2 tablespoons orange juice 2 tablespoons lemon juice 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
Mix sugar, flour and salt. Place in a small saucepan and add boiling water, stirring constantly. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes until thickened and clear, stirring constantly. Add carrot, orange juice and lemon juice. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in butter until creamy. Serve warm over any steamed pudding. ORANGE CREME FRAICHE SAUCE (Makes 1 1/2 cups) Zest of 2 oranges 4 tablespoons sugar 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 eggs, well beaten 6 tablespoons creme fraiche or 2/3 cup whipping cream
In the work bowl of a food processor, combine zest and sugar. Process until minced, or mince zest alone by hand.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine sugar, zest, orange juice, butter and eggs. Cook 5 to 8 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring gently, until sauce thickens. Do not boil or sauce will curdle. Pour into a metal bowl to prevent further cooking.
If cre me frai che is unavailable, whip the cream to soft peaks and fold into sauce. If using cre me frai che, stir into sauce and refrigerate. Serve cold or at room temperature over plain carrot cake, steamed puddings or fruit clafouti.