One family baking business spends the entire year gearing up for Christmas dinner, we find out why their Christmas pudding prep starts in spring.
The Darling family can tell you a thing or two about organising a Christmas spread, they’ve been experts in rearing turkeys for years. However, it’s now their puddings that take the starring role on Christmas Day, and with three varieties to make, it’s no wonder that preparations must start a long time before Christmas.
Robert Darling took over the reins to Burtree House Farm over 40 years ago and in 2000, embarked on diversifying the business with wife Lea, rearing turkeys for Christmas. Like many other farmers, they realised that they would have to find other sources of income to make keep themselves in business.
Having always been a keen baker, Lea took her apple pies and sponges to the local farmers’ market at Barnard Castle and found they were flying off the table.
“We’d take along different baked products to see which were the most in-demand, find out what people were coming back for,” recalls Lea. “It’s through this process that we work today and have been able to refine our offering. The pudding range started with sticky toffee pudding, and it’s one we’re really proud of for winning the Supreme Champion at the Great Taste Awards in 2005.”
As word spread about their puddings, they started to expand the range. Lea’s favourite, the deluxe Christmas pudding, was the first she concocted – laced with rum, barley wine and stout, it’s definitely the most alcoholic of the three and it has a richer flavour.
Next came the traditional Christmas pudding which is made to a family recipe and has more texture thanks to the addition of flaked almonds. The Burtree Puddings gluten-free pudding is infused with a mix of brandy and cider, which lends fruity and sweet notes to accentuate the fresh orange in the recipe.
Using free-range eggs from a neighbouring farm in their Christmas puddings, all are prepared by hand and steamed in batches daily on the farm.
The Christmas puddings are made not by chief baker Lea, but by Robert, who is ‘very good at making them’, she assures. He also gets help from their long-standing kitchen assistant, Barry. Keeping their products so close to their hearts has always been at the fore of what they do, remarks Lea. “Excellent-quality ingredients go into our puddings and we make them so that when you come to put them out on the table, it would be as if you had made one individual pudding yourself.”