Books have always seemed more like real life than life itself to me, and so although I live in southern California in the twenty-first century, for years my ideal Christmas dinner was roast goose and steamed pudding, just like the Cratchits have in A Christmas Carol. Going vegetarian just meant I could focus that much more on the pudding.
For those who have never tried one, steamed puddings aren't puddings in the traditional American sense of something cold, creamy, and milk-based; they're cakelike, if they can be said to be like anything but themselves. They're rich and dense and almost impossible to stop eating once you've taken that first fateful bite.
Plum pudding is the traditional winter treat, but it should be prepared days, weeks, or even months before you actually want to eat it. This chocolate steamed pudding can (and should) be made and eaten the same day, and instead of the six hours of steaming a plum pudding requires, this one only takes two and a half.
This recipe requires special equipment. You need a pudding tin. Try a department store or kitchen supply shop; eBay often lists them for sale. You also need a pot big enough to hold the tin plus a rack for it to sit on.
Begin by melting 9 ounces semisweet chocolate and letting it cool. Grease the pudding tin.
Get two 12-ounce packages of any kind of fruit-bar cookie you like. Raspberry is wonderful, but you could try apple or good old fig.
Put the cookies in a mixing bowl along with half a cup each of milk and apple juice. Pound at the whole mess with a wooden spoon and let the cookies soften for at least five minutes.
Meanwhile, cream 1/3 cup butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar in a large bowl, preferably with an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the melted chocolate, two eggs, two teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Still using the electric mixer, beat in the cookie mixture until thoroughly combined. Spoon the batter into the tin. Cover the top with wax paper before putting on the lid.
Put the tin on a rack or trivet in the pot. Add enough boiling water to reach about a third of the way up the tin. Cover the pot and keep the water at a low boil for two and a half to three hours. Check now and then to make sure your water hasn't boiled away.
Carefully remove the tin from the pot. Loosen the lid and let the pudding cool on a rack for ten minutes.
Now for the tricky part -- getting the pudding out. Take off the lid and the waxed paper and put a plate upside down over the open mouth of the pudding tin. Pushing the tin firmly against the plate the whole time, turn it all over until the plate is sitting flat on the counter and the pudding tin is upside down on top of it. Slowly, slowly lift the tin straight up away from the plate.
If you've greased your tin thoroughly and steamed the pudding enough, it should come out cleanly in one piece. Steamed pudding is both soft and stiff, so any repair work you need to do in the kitchen won't be visible on the finished product.
This pudding is wonderful alone or with sweetened whipped cream or good heavy cream for a topping.
Enjoy with a cup of tea, a roaring fire, and your favorite Dickens, Austen, or Bronte novel.