Nothing captures the traditional Christmas spirit quite like the food your people love to indulge in over the holidays. Some foods are enjoyed over large parts of the world. A turkey with stuffing is a popular Christmas dinner staple on both sides of the Atlantic. Americans have sugary Christmas cookies in the shape of Santa, a tree or a reindeer decorated in colorful frosting, which are a rarity in Ireland. Here, we have two main festive desert staples – the Christmas cake and the Christmas pudding. The cake is unlike American cakes, and the pudding has no resemblance whatsoever to American pudding – or to the breakfast meats black or white pudding that confuse and alarm tourists.
Irish Christmas Cake
An Irish Christmas cake has some similarities to a fruit cake, but it isn’t quite what North Americans know as a fruit cake. For starters, it involves a lot more booze. A lot. Whiskey is the obvious choice, but brandy and triple sec are also popular and even stout has its advocates. There is no definitive recipe for Irish Christmas cake, but the key ingredients – aside from the obvious flour, eggs, sugar and butter – are dried fruits soaked in alcohol and icing with marzipan.
Some choose not to use the marzipan and icing, but it is believed they are actually distant relations of Ebenezer Scrooge, which calls the authentic Irishness of their recipes into question. And tossing a little powdered sugar on top does not count as icing the cake.
Irish Christmas Pudding
Christmas pudding has a lot in common with Christmas cake, particularly the dried fruit and alcohol and the variety of recipes. A proper Christmas pudding, however, requires a serious commitment from its maker. This is not a desert one whips up on a whim. The Christmas puddings that will be enjoyed this Christmas are largely already made and hung up waiting for their big day.
No one knows what would happen to you if you ate a Christmas pudding within days of making it, and honestly, no one wants to know. Depending on the recipe, alcohol poisoning is a possibility. Yes, Christmas pudding uses more alcohol and more types of alcohol. Setting a pudding alight is optional, and serving it with a rich custard sauce is highly recommended.
The cake versus pudding debate is not quite as controversial as some of the divisions in Irish society, but families do tend to fall into one camp or the other. It makes little sense, really. It is the season of good will, after all, and there is no reason not to enjoy a bit of each. Cake families and pudding families do intermarry and share the holidays peacefully… as long as everyone remembers to praise all the food and not compare it. Surely that isn’t too much to ask of people who are able to keep a smile on their face while eating Brussel sprouts. Yes, those green balls of horror are also an Irish Christmas dinner staple. It is possible that is why so much alcohol is used in making the desserts.