Few things ignite more dinner table debate than Christmas pudding.
No matter how much you stuff yourself with turkey and all the trimmings, there’s always room for something sweet at the end of the meal – particularly on Christmas Day.
But for many people, tucking into a stodgy pudding rammed full of dried fruit isn’t exactly their idea of heaven.
Plum pudding might be the traditional option, but it’s a divisive one – just call it the Marmite of festive food.
If you do want to skip Christmas pudding this year, what other options are out there? Chefs have given their best recommendations for festive alternatives…
Christmas dessert is very much a divided affair in the Roux household, with Michel Roux (Michel Roux At Home, Seven Dials, £26) saying: “It’s a bit like sprouts, isn’t it – you either love or you hate them.”
Roux is a fan of Christmas pudding, but he also has to cater to his daughter and son-in-law, who “hate” it.
In that scenario, he says: “You’ve got to go for the French alternative, which is the Bûche de Noël – the Yule log.”
Roux calls this a “very simple recipe” – but it looks incredibly impressive.
This is the kind of dessert for chocolate lovers, as a light chocolate sponge is rolled up with ganache in the middle. Roux spikes his with Grand Marnier, and decorates it with caramelised hazelnuts.
Meanwhile, pastry chef and founder of Longboys, Graham Hornigold, recommends making a similar version of the Yule log – known as a Mont Blanc roulade, and playing around with different flavours.
“They’re so easy to make and perfect for sharing, you can prepare in advance and freeze, or just slice straight from the fridge. The flavour combinations are endless, and if you wish to make a vegan version simply just substitute the dairy products for plant-based,” says Hornigold.
“My favourite one to have at Christmas is with vanilla sponge, blackcurrant jam, chestnut cream, candied chestnuts, all rolled together and served with blackcurrant ripple ice cream.
“For something a bit more simple, try chocolate sponge with marmalade, chocolate cream, and toasted macadamia nuts, it’s delicious.”
Sticky toffee pudding
Sticky toffee pudding is a crowdpleaser on any day of the year, so why not treat yourself to the best on Christmas Day?
Choosing this pub classic for her festive dessert is a “long-standing tradition in my family of Iranians who are not traditionally Christmas celebrators”, says Sabrina Ghayour (Flavour, Aster, £26). “We have always had it, since my mum was a kid.”
Ghayour puts a spin on the traditional recipe by adding coffee and warming spices to the toffee sauce.
“It’s actually quite delicious – it’s a lot more of a grown-up toffee sauce,” she notes. “It has a bit of cinnamon, it has vanilla, it has cardamom and it has coffee in the background,” with her inspiration coming from “the coffees of the Arab Middle East”.
Warming baked fruits
Matt Tebbutt – who has teamed up with kitchenware brand ProCook – admits that while Christmas pudding is “delicious”, it’s “not necessarily what you want after a massive lunch”.
So if he were to forgo it entirely, what would Tebbutt make?
“I used to do this thing – it was based on a Delia Smith recipe, actually. It was winter fruits – basically all the fruits you get in a Christmas pudding, baked in masala with a cinnamon stick and nutmeg – all those basic ingredients, and rather than caked together, it’s baked.
“It’s very loose – and a spoonful of that in a bowl with some whipped mascarpone cream is super light and super delicious.”
Spiced ice cream
Ice cream in winter might seem counterintuitive, but a few chefs have picked it out as a festive favourite.
For Rick Stein (Rick Stein’s Simple Suppers, BBC Books, £28), the ideal Christmas pudding alternative is on the chillier side.
Stein recommends making semifreddo – a frozen dessert that is like ice cream but with a lighter texture, almost like a frozen mousse. Stein calls it a “creamy sort of dish, flavoured with the spices of Christmas pudding” – including fruit macerated in Kirsch or Cognac, orange zest and vanilla.
To really take his ice cream-inspired dessert to the next level, Stein recommends setting it in a kougelhopf pan –making it seem like a Christmas wreath – and decorated with cocoa powder and flaked almonds.
Stein seems to be onto something, and Sarah Raven (Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook, Bloomsbury, £35) takes this idea one step further into a full-blown festive centrepiece.
“I’m crazy about my coffee meringue ice cream cake topped with pomegranate seeds for Christmas,” she says. The flashes of red pomegranate seeds keeps it on theme, and she says it’s “great with a splash of burning brandy, too”.
And if all else fails…
Who said you had to have Christmas pudding on December 25? Chances are you’ve had bad experiences with it – in no small part down to the fact that by the time dessert rolls around, you’re so full of Celebrations, nibbles, turkey and roast potatoes that you can’t fit anything else in.
That’s why two of our chefs particularly recommend holding off and actually enjoying it on Boxing Day – with a bit of a twist.
Roux likes his “either cold or tossed in a pan with a bit of butter”, and Tebbutt’s plan is to only have a “tiny bit” on December 25 – he has similar advice: “Fry it up in butter the next day – it’s delicious.”
Plus, with the sheer amount of food waste that can often happen over Christmas, it’s a good way of making sure nothing gets unnecessarily chucked out.