How many times have you found yourself demanding figgy pudding while singing along to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” — only to realize you have absolutely no idea what it actually is? Well, we decided to finally look into the silly-sounding dish from this classic carol.
Apparently, the name is a bit misleading, especially for those of us located outside of the UK where the song and recipe originate. Not only is “figgy pudding” typically lacking in any figs, it’s also not exactly what we would consider a “pudding” here in the US. Instead of the creamy dessert we’re used to, the term is used for all types of dessert across the pond. Cakes, pies, ice cream — basically any sweet treat can be considered a “pudding.”
Debbie Waugh, who’s originally from the UK and now the coordinator at the Historic Green Spring House in Alexandria, VA, told NPR back in 2015 that figgy pudding is also more commonly known as plum pudding or Christmas pudding. “The ‘plum’ was a pre-Victorian generic term for any type of dried fruit, but most specifically, raisins,” she explained. “Certainly, at some time figs would have been incorporated into Christmas pudding recipes, but today, not traditionally.”
Along with dried fruit, the ingredients usually include brown sugar, candied orange peel, eggs, breadcrumbs, warm spices like nutmeg and cloves, and suet (similar to lard, but can be substituted with veggie-friendly swaps). Rather than baked in an oven, the pudding is steamed in a pot for hours. Then comes what Waugh described as “the most important part of the Christmas pudding tradition” — lighting it on fire. More specifically, the loaf is doused in liquor, like brandy, and then very carefully set alight.
Take a look below to see how British chef Jamie Oliver whips up his own take on the holiday treat, including a delightfully fiery finish:
Whether we actually make one of these flaming desserts for ourselves, it’s at least nice to know what we’re talking about when we sing “now bring us some figgy pudding”!