For the uninitiated, stir-up Sunday is a historical baking tradition that has won itself legions of fans over the years for its sweet sentimental nod to the season. The practice was started as a way to remember to make the year’s Christmas puddings in time for the big day and it’s a little ritual that many people return to year after year.
Traditionally, each year on the last Sunday before advent the cooks of each home would put aside their usual tasks for the day to whip up a pudding or few for Christmas day. By making Christmas puddings well in advance of the 25 December you give them enough time to mature, a bit like a good cheese or fine wine. All the alcohol can spend the next few weeks really getting to know the fruit well, which we can confirm results in a beautiful friendship, because what’s better than a good old boozy, sweet hit?
While recipes do differ according to households and family hand-me-downs, the typical combination is a sure-fire winner for us. Brandy, sweet raisins, currents and citrus peel are sprinkled through a steamed sponge mixture that’s coloured with dark sugar and treacle, and spiced with the warmth of allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg. And while these beauties do take some time to soak and steam, the actual mixing part takes very little effort and no more than a handful of ingredients which can be swapped and substituted easily for whatever you have in your cupboards.
Traditionally Stir Up Sunday is a family event, with everyone gathering in the kitchen to make the most of the little ceremony. In times gone by, children would be taught the ingredients as they went, and everyone would be given a turn to stir the Christmas pudding for good luck.
Still not satisfied? We looked up the most common questions asked around Stir Up Sunday and have answered them below. A warning for the atheists, there’s a LOT of Jesus chat when it comes to the tradition of Stir Up Sunday.
When is Stir Up Sunday 2021?
In 2021 Stir Up Sunday is on Sunday 21 November. Stir Up Sunday is always on the last Sunday before advent (which is also your reminder to snap up one of this year’s best advent calendars).
When did Stir Up Sunday start?
It’s thought that it was around Victorian times that Stir Up Sunday really took off, but there are records of Christmas puddings being part of our winter celebrations as far back as 1714 so presumably people way back when also thought to pre-make their puds at some point.
Why is it called Stir Up Sunday?
It is thought that the name Stir Up Sunday originated in the Anglican church, when parishioners took inspiration from the Book of Common Prayer. The collect for the last Sunday before advent reads, "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people", but was subsequently coined to represent the act of stirring up a good old Christmas pud.
Which way do you stir a Christmas pudding for good luck?
You are meant to stir a Christmas pudding from East to West which is supposed to signify the way the Three Wise Men travelled to meet Jesus. To the layman this means you should stir your Christmas pudding mix anti-clockwise.
What goes into a Christmas pudding?
Some people say there should be 13 ingredients in a Christmas pudding, which represent Jesus and his 12 disciples. These include dried fruit like raisins and currants, as well as sugar, suet, breadcrumbs, citrus juice and peel, flour, mixed spices, eggs, milk and the all-important brandy. There are now unlimited ways to make a Christmas pudding, from adding chocolate to the mix to swapping our brandy for flavoured spirits instead.
If you're looking to elevate things a little this year, why not take cue's from a Michelin starred chef? Mark Birchall, Chef Patron of Moor Hall, says “If you’re going to the effort of making your Christmas pudding from scratch then you want to get the most out of all the flavours and one way of doing this would be by making the candied citrus peel yourself. You can do this by peeling any citrus fruit you want to use, I find a mixture of orange, clementine and grapefruit works best with the classic Christmas spices. It’s incredibly easy to make and also helps to reduce kitchen food waste, which is often at an all time high around Christmas.”
What is traditionally hidden inside a Christmas pudding?
The most popular thing to hide in a Christmas pudding is a silver coin, which if found is meant to bring the recipient good luck (although a few broken tooth anecdotes might say otherwise) for the next year. This is sometimes wrapped in tin foil to keep up hygiene standards, because nobody wants mucky money depositing its grime on their dessert. Other traditional tokens hidden inside a Christmas pudding include a ‘Bachelor’s Button’ and an ‘Old Maid’s Thimble’ – which if a single man or woman had the misfortune of finding would apparently signal that they’d be single for another year. Lovely. A ring was sometimes hidden too, which was meant to bring good fortune in the form of riches and a marriage in the following year. We like that one better, but money still wins it for us.
Why is Christmas pudding set on fire?
We always thought it was just a nice excuse for some pyrotechnics and a bit of theatre in the depth of winter but turns out this has significance from a religious perspective too. Some people believe the fire signifies Jesus’ love and power. The more you know?
How do you make Christmas pudding?
The big question. You essentially make a cake mixture, add spices, dried fruit and alcohol and then steam it. The best thing about Christmas pudding is how long it lasts, so that it doesn’t actually have to be confined to Christmas, you can eat sweet, stodgy bowls of dessert well into the dark nights of the New Year (which, if we’re honest is when we need it most). Here's one of our favourite Christmas pudding recipes by Jame Oliver.
Our favourite Christmas pudding recipe
Celebrity chef Paul Ainsworth makes his Christmas puddings extra specials by serving them in individual portions. If you make these on Stir Up Sunday and then feed them in the run up to Christmas they're guarenteed to impress (grown up!) guests.
- 175g currants
- 175g sultanas
- 140g glace cherry
- 50g mixed peel
- 50g flaked almonds
- Zest 1 orange
- Zest 1 lemon
- 1 carrot peeled and grated
- 150ml brandy
- 50 triple sec
- 175g light muscovado sugar
- 175g breadcrumbs
- 125g self raising flour
- 1 tsp mixed peel
- ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
- 175g butter
- 2 eggs beaten
- Soak the dried fruit with the brandy and triple sec and leave for at least a few days before making the puddings, the longer you soak the better the results! Its not unusual to soak dried fruit a year before you make minced pies or Christmas puddings. You can also make the puddings on Stir Up Sunday and then feed with booze in the lead up to Christmas.
- Mix the fruit, almonds, citrus zest and the carrot in a large bowl. Cover and leave to soak, if you want to add an extra glug of brandy to make the puddings boozier than this wouldn’t affect the recipe, you can achieve a slightly more moister pudding.
- Mix all the dry ingredients together, grate in the butter then add the eggs and stir.
- Grease the pudding moulds with butter if you have caramelized brown butter this will add more depth and flavour to the pudding, fill each mould with 80g of mix and then tin foil each mould.
- The best way to cook the pudding is steaming in an oven, or you can place into a pan with water and cook with a lid on for 45 minutes, make sure the pan doesn’t dry by adding more water throughout the cooking.
- Serve with pouring cream or my favourite Cornish clotted cream.
Why do we put holly on a Christmas pudding?
You guessed it, our friend Jesus. The holly is meant to represent the crown of thorns Jesus wore on the cross before his resurrection at Easter. So the time of year is a little confusing given we’re mixing up Easter and Christmas, but we’re willing to let it slide because we’re fans of this spiky decoration tradition.
Would rather leave the cooking up to someone else? Us too. Here are our favourite restaurants in London open on Christmas day.