I don’t know about you, but when I hear the lyrics of the Christmas song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” where the carolers are demanding figgy pudding, I can’t help but thinking that they’re being a little rude. Like, did I even ask for you to come to my house and start singing in the first place?!
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The closest thing I had to something like figgy pudding (or any “pudding” for that matter) when I was growing up was the occasional fruit cake, which isn’t really that close. I also thought of pudding as that creamy dairy based desssert that you can buy in a box mix, but that’s the American in me showing. Puddings in the United Kingdom refer to a dish like a cake, or even sausage, that is either boiled or steamed inside of a mold or other container.
My love for figs in all forms led me on a journey to recreate that famed figgy pudding from the song. I figured the singers were so demanding that it had to be good. I was lucky enough to have a fig tree in my parents’ garden that I could have fresh figs from each summer, and equally lucky to have parents that would indulge my love of those soft cookies we call Fig Newtons. However, an era of pre-prepared foods and the lack of the existence of the internet made it a little difficult to find a recipe to work with.
Finally, my search was somewhat rewarded with a couple of recipes that used persimmon. I now had something that I could adapt to make a proper figgy pudding. I also wanted to simplify the pudding making process to avoid having to bother with a mold and a pot of boiling water to steam the pudding. It is a longer process to make this way and I’m a bit of an impatient person.
The end result is a moist cake (yes, cake, not the custard-like dish we call pudding here in the US) with that wonderful fig flavor, accented with a generous dose of warm spices, citrus, and of course, rum. Seriously, the Brits like their desserts fortified with rum and I’m not going to argue with that. They also like liberal doses of fresh cream and I’m totally here for that, too. This pudding/cake wouldn’t be complete without a hefty dollop of whipped cream, so be sure to have some on hand when you serve this!
Some quick notes before you begin:
Traditionally, puddings like this are poured into a covered mold that looks a little like a Bundt pan. The mold is then placed on a rack in a pot filled with boiling water and the heat from the steam then cooks the pudding. While you can certainly prepare my version in the same way, it does take much longer to fully cook. Instead, I put it in a baking dish and tightly cover it with foil. This traps the moisture in just like the mold would do, but allows for a much shorter baking time.
Do not skip the greasing of the pan and the foil used to cover it. This type of cake will stick badly due to its high moisture content, which a generous coating of oil or butter will help prevent.
You will not likely be able to turn this cake out onto another platter for serving. The sticky and moist nature of the cake will make it difficult. If appearance will be important be sure to choose a decorative pan for baking the cake in.
There are two main types of dried figs commercially available: the darker Mission type fig and the lighter Golden type. Either will work fine. In fact, you could also make this with any dried fruit you like. Plums would work beautifully if dried figs are hard to find. Fun fact: almost all figs grown in the US are from where I live here in Central California! The climate is perfect for their production. Greece is also a top producer for the same reason.
Figgy Pudding Recipe
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- 8 ounces of dried figs, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/4 cup rum, dark or light
- 2 Tbsp. orange juice
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup butter at room temperature (use salted butter)
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- zest of one orange
- 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
Grease an oven proof pan with butter. Choose one that is about 11 x 8 inches and 2 inches or more deep. Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a small pot combine the figs and water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and let sit to allow the figs to soften and cool (you can start putting together the remaining ingredients while you wait). Once cooled, add the rum and orange juice and puree in a food processor or blender until mostly smooth.
In a bowl, mix together the flour (measure the flour by whisking it first then gently scooping it into a measuring cup), baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt. Set the bowl aside.
In a large bowl beat the butter until light and fluffy, add in the eggs and beat again. Add in the sugar and orange zest and beat again until the sugar is mostly dissolved.
Add the walnuts and fig puree to the butter mixture and stir together. Gently mix in the flour mixture just until it is all incorporated. You don’t want to “overwork” the flour or your pudding will be tough due to the gluten in the flour.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Grease a piece of foil on the dull side and put that side over the top of the pan. Make sure the foil is tightly crimped down against the pan. You want to trap as much steam as possible to avoid having the pudding dry out.
Bake the pudding for 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to remain covered for 15 minutes to keep moisture trapped, then remove the foil and lightly place it over the top of the cake until cooled. You want the foil to still be over but now allow excess moisture to escape and let the top of the cake dry so it is not mushy.
This pudding/cake is best served at room temperature or even slightly warm. If you decide to warm it up, cover with the foil and put into a warm oven (around 175F to 200F) until warm. It is also best served with a nice dollop of whipping cream, but a scoop of vanilla ice cream won’t hurt. Enjoy!