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Picture: Gerald Moscarda/The West Australian

Plum pudding is a Christmas staple, like fruit mince pies and ham. Traditionalists make it on "stir-up Sunday" - the last before Advent - with everybody taking a turn stirring the mix, eyes closed, and making a wish. A coin, a ring, a thimble and a button, each wrapped in paper so as not to be swallowed, are added for luck.

It was originally called plum pudding because of the dried raisins and sultanas, not plums, and first referred to as "Christmas pudding" in a novel by Anthony Trollope in 1858. Back then, it would have been made with suet, the white hard fat from the kidneys and loins of mutton and beef. Breadcrumbs were originally added for bulk, but are still used in most recipes because they give a better texture than flour.

"You end up with a pudding that's not so gluggy," says the Baking Paper's Rochelle Smith, who has three last-minute recipes you can still make, including an ice-cream Christmas pudding with Baileys liqueur and fruit mince, plus a cherry and chocolate pudding that's a cinch to bake.

"My traditional steamed plum pudding has about equal quantities of flour and breadcrumbs which, I think, makes for a lighter consistency. It's packed full of fruit and that can make it expensive, especially when you include the cost of alcohol for soaking. You're looking at $50-$60 in ingredients for a 1-1.5kg pudding."

If you want to take it easy and get one off the shelf, expect to pay about that much for a top-of-the-range pudding. And always read the ingredients list: butter makes for better flavour than palm oil.

To help you decide, we've taken the guesswork out of choosing by sampling 22 varieties, including generic and high-end brands, from supermarkets, gourmet grocers, department stores and patisseries around Perth. All were heated according to instructions and eaten warm, but the best ones still tasted good as leftovers cold.

Pudding Lady Traditional Christmas Pudding, 1.5kg, $66.95 from David Jones. Chock-full of boozy fruit (4 per cent alcohol by weight) and traditionally made with butter, breadcrumbs and flour, boiled in a cloth the old-fashioned way and hung to mature. Moist texture, even fruit, dark colour and pleasant flavour. It holds its shape and slices into portions without falling apart. Comes in a vacuum sealed bag with calico cover.

Pudding Lane Classic Christmas Pudding, 1.5kg, $55 ($40/1kg) from Aussie Farmers Direct. Moist and boozy, it's wrapped in cling film for easy reheating and comes in a white cloth with festive red ribbon tie. Free-range eggs, Australian fruit and matured brandy (4 per cent) tick all the right boxes. It oozes butter straight out of the microwave and is messy to unwrap but the proof, as always, is in the pudding.

Heston from Waitrose Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding, 1.2kg, $18 from Coles. Michelin-star chef Heston Blumenthal has put together this upmarket Waitrose range, which reportedly sold out in the UK within days of its release. Made with English cider and Spanish sherry, it's a squishy, sweet, gravelly mix of dried fruit, walnuts, almonds and pecans, with a candied orange in the middle, which cuts through the sweetness and infuses the pudding with citrusy notes. A 227g version with a hidden candied clementine is $7. Heed the typical Heston theatrical twist on the label: Overheating may cause fruit and sugar to ignite.

Woolworths Gold Vintage Christmas Pudding, 907g, $18. Top marks for good looks in this perfect domed pudding with slices of glace orange on top. Gooey, crumbly and not too sweet, it's made in the UK and laced with cognac, sherry and cider. Dried cranberries, apricots, almonds and macadamias are a notch above your standard sultana-raisin Christmas pudding mix.

Lions Traditional Christmas Pudding, 900g, $11. The ultimate feel-good pudding, with proceeds channelled into medical research, disaster relief, drug awareness and orphanages. Perfect shape, even fruit and good flavour. It's drier than some, probably because of the flour (no breadcrumbs), but a classic slathered in brandy sauce.

Pudding Lady Perfect Plus Christmas Pudding, 1.5kg, $69.95, from David Jones. Reduced fat, gluten free and no added sugar - but you'd never guess. Texture is moist and crumbly, with boozy kick (4.4 per cent alcohol). Wrapping is similar to the traditional Christmas pudding. You won't hear any complaints - no other GF pudding comes close.

The West Australian

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