A good Christmas pudding is a joy indeed; rich, moist, fruity and flavoursome. If you don't have the time, or talent, to make your own, there are plenty of ready-made puddings available from supermarkets, charities and boutique producers.

But which one is worthy of being the grand finale to your celebratory feast?

CHOICE taste test

As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so in the lead up to Christmas 2012 we put 14 puddings to the test, from high-end puddings by specialist producers to supermarket own-brand puddings.

In a blind taste test, our experts assessed the puddings for general appearance, quality of finish, moistness, texture, mixture quality, flavour, and aroma.

The experts also looked for good shape, weight, balanced fruit, spice and alcohol flavours, even distribution of good-quality fruit ingredients and puds that held their shape when cut.

High-end vs cheap and cheerful

If you don't start making your own pudding by late November, according to custom you're leaving it too late. "Stir-up Sunday" (the fifth Sunday before Christmas) is traditionally the day when the pudding is made, allowing time for it to mature sufficiently ahead of the Christmas Day feast.

If you've ever made Christmas puddings at home, you'll know they're not cheap to produce. The cost of quality ingredients such as dried fruit, butter and alcohol, and the fact that they're generally made to a labour- and time-intensive recipe, all add up. So if you're buying ready-made, it's reasonable to assume you might have to fork out a little more for a top-quality pud.

Our taste test results certainly reflect this. The four best-tasting puds were all more than $3.60 per 100g, whereas the cheaper puds generally fared worse in our test. However, our judges also recommended four that won't break the Christmas budget.

Meet the experts


  • Brigid Treloar (left) ran her own cake business for 10 years. Her experience as a food judge includes Royal Agricultural Show (RAS) Fine Food Show judging. She's also a cookbook author, educator and freelance food consultant.
  • Alison Mutton (centre) represents the Country Women's Association (CWA). Her experience ranges from judging The Land Cookery competitions for more than 14 years at both a local and state level, to appearing as a guest judge on MasterChef.
  • Jan Boon (right) is a home economist who has been involved in the food industry for more than 40 years. She is an RAS recognised judge for the Fine Food Show and has been judging for local, interstate and regional shows for over 35 years.

Higher-end puddings

They may cost a little more, but these were the four tastiest puddings.

Itha's Traditional Plum Pudding



Contact: ithaspuddings.com.au

Price: $4.20*/100g

Tasting notes: "A traditional cloth-wrapped pudding, with an appealing home-made appearance. Cuts well, with well-prepared fruit and nice consistency of cake mixture. Rich, fruity aromas and a good balance of flavours."

Pud for All Seasons Traditional Plum Pudding


Contact: pudforallseasons.com.au
Price: $3.62*/100g
Tasting notes: "Typical pudding basin shape, a nice balance of fruit and batter, moist without being gluggy. Holds shape well and easy to serve. Tastes like a pudding should."

Pudding Lady Traditional Christmas Pudding

Contact: puddinglady.com.au
Price: $4.30*/100g
Tasting notes: "Smooth, with shiny skin, characteristic shape of a boiled cloth pudding. Strong, citrus peel flavour. Moist, dense appearance that looks heavier than it tastes."

Crooked Creek Authentic English Christmas Pudding

Contact: crookedcreek.com.au
Price: $5.50*/100g
Tasting notes: "Nice pudding basin shape, which holds shape well when cut. Good texture, and moist. Good-quality pudding mixture with a good fruit selection and even distribution of fruit."

Budget puddings

These weren't quite as good as the expensive options, but were gentler on the hip pocket.

Woolworth's Gold Vintage Christmas Pudding

Contact: woolworths.com.au
Price: $1.98*/100g
Tasting notes: "The glacé orange slices look good, but it needs careful cutting for serving. Good texture, though nuts could be cut smaller. Very fruity and moist."
  
Fowlers Luxury Plum Pudding

Contact: bakeandbrew.com.au
Price: $1.63*/100g
Tasting notes: "Characteristic pudding basin shape with a smooth surface. Moist, but a little doughy and sticky in texture, making it crumble during cutting. Slight bitter/burnt aftertaste."

Lions Traditional Lions Christmas Pudding

Contact: lionsclub.org.au
Price: $1.22*/100g
Tasting notes: "Good appearance, pudding basin shape. Good distribution of fruit and cake, but slightly dry texture. Slightly bitter aftertaste."
  
Coles Finest Luxury Christmas Pudding

Contact: coles.com.au
Price: $1.56*/100g
Tasting notes: "Topping of nuts and whole cherries is uneven, and the nuts are too soft. Doughy cake mixture that falls apart on cutting. Nice fruity flavour. Good if you like a really moist pudding."

* Prices are what we paid in 2012. Not all these puddings are necessarily available every year, and recipes may change from the versions we tested.

Expert tip

Take care when following microwave heating instructions. All microwaves vary and the overall consistency and density of the pudding can also affect the final result, so it's best to err on the side of caution.

Christmas pudding recipe

Make your own steamed Christmas pudding with this recipe from Pamela Clark, Director of the Australian Women's Weekly (AWW) Test Kitchen.

Ingredients
  • 3 cups (450g) chopped mixed
  • dried fruit
  • ¾ cup (180ml) water
  • 1 cup (220g) firmly packed brown sugar
  • 100g butter, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 eggs, beaten lightly
  • ¾ cup (120g) finely chopped dried seedless dates
  • ¾ cup (120g) finely chopped raisins
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • ¾ cup (110g) plain flour
  • ¾ cup (110g) self-raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Method
  1. Combine mixed fruit, water, sugar and butter in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves; bring to the boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for six minutes. Stir in bicarb soda. Transfer mixture to large bowl; cool to room temperature. 
  2. Stir in eggs, chopped fruit, rum and sifted dry ingredients. 
  3. Grease a two-litre (eight-cup) pudding steamer; spoon mixture into steamer. Top with pleated baking paper and foil (to allow pudding to expand as it cooks); secure with kitchen string or lid. 
  4. Place pudding in large pot with enough boiling water to come halfway up side of steamer. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and boil for four hours, replenishing water as necessary to maintain level. Stand pudding for 10 minutes before turning out onto plate; serve with custard if desired.

Recipe provided by AWW. Photo credit: Ian Wallace; Styling: Louise Pickford.