It is thought by many that our so-called traditional Christmas meal of a turkey, a ham, a Christmas pudding doused in alcohol and set alight and the odd mince pie, is actually a creation of Charles Dickens. gorgeous accompaniment to numerous desserts certainly only found real favour in the UK in the nineteenth century. Most English sauces of that time were butter-based, like the béchamel or hollandaise but brandy butter is unusual in that it really isn’t a sauce at all, even though it is often known as Hard Sauce, it is literally an alcohol-flavoured, sweetened butter. varying in consistency according to taste.
For some reason, and no one seems to know why, the cooks of Cumberland have been making a rum butter in the same way as a brandy butter since the early eighteenth century. This lovely pudding accompaniment is now something of a specialty to Cumbria, though why they use rum rather than any other spirit is a mystery! And we can’t really discuss brandy butter without discussing a bit of the history of the pudding it accompanies, the Christmas or plum pudding and the mince pie, both made of a rich mix of dried fruit, suet and alcohol. It was traditionally made five weeks before Christmas, on or after the Sunday before Advent. The day was often called ‘stir-up Sunday’ because each family member or child in the household gave the pudding a stir and made a wish. I certainly did so as a child and it heralded the start of the Christmas festivities for me.
Many households, including ours, mixed in silver coins (for wealth). For others, tiny wishbones (for good luck), a silver thimble (for thrift), a ring (for marriage), or an anchor (for safe harbour) were added and, when served, whoever got the lucky serving would be able to keep the charm. When silver coins were not as readily available, the practice ended because people feared putting alloy coins in their pudding.
I am going to give you three different takes on a brandy butter, traditional – with brandy alone, one made with a vanilla pod and one enhanced with a little orange rind. You will find that most recipes call for the same quantities of butter and sugar, but some of those made with icing sugar reduce the sugar quantity by a quarter, (200g of butter to 175 icing sugar). You may also find that some recipes specify unsalted butter. In my opinion, it is more about what you like! One thing you should do is to get the butter out of the fridge about 30 minutes before making the brandy butter, so it is cool and slightly firm, not cold and rock solid. I would also advise you to cut it into little pieces so it absorbs the sugar better.
The sugar you use can be almost any (icing, golden caster, caster, light muscovado, granulated, or demerara) except the very dark sugars because those will make the butter taste too much like the plum pudding. The sugar is what makes a huge difference to the consistency, from quite granular (demerara) to smooth (icing sugar). My preference is for a slightly granular one, using golden caster. Taste the brandy butter after 3tbsp before adding any more, too much can make the brandy butter taste bitter.
Traditional brandy butter
- 180g butter
- 180g sugar (golden caster, caster, light muscovado, granulated, or demerara)
- 3-5tbsp brandy
- splash of hot water
Allow the butter to warm at room temperature for 30 minutes. Dice it into small pieces and then cream with the sugar till a light golden yellow, add the brandy and the splash of hot water (the water allows the brandy to be more successfully assimilated). Chill till ready to be consumed. This will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days or you can freeze this for up to a month.
- 200g butter
- 200g light caster sugar
- 1 vanilla pod, deseeded or 1tsp of good vanilla extract/paste
- 5-7tbsp brandy
Allow the butter to warm at room temperature for 30 minutes. Dice it into small pieces. Deseed the vanilla pod (add the vanilla essence/paste) and add with the sugar to the butter, and then cream till a light golden yellow. Whisk in the brandy one tablespoon at a time, tasting after each spoon is added and stop when you achieve the taste you want.
Brandy Butter with Orange Zest
- 180g butter
- 180g light muscovado sugar
- 2tsp grated orange zest
- 3-5tbs brandy
Allow the butter to warm at room temperature for 30 minutes. Dice it into small pieces and then cream with the sugar till a light golden-yellow. Stir in the orange zest, then slowly add the brandy one tablespoon at a time, tasting after each spoon is added and stop when you achieve the taste you want. Cover and keep in the fridge for up to a week. This recipe should be enough for ten.
We’ve been experimenting in the kitchen the last few days and have made Brandy Butter Ice Cream, using our vanilla ice cream recipe and simply using the traditional brandy butter recipe to make quinnells of the butter which are then suspended in the ice cream mixture. We’ll let you know how it tastes later. Here it is pre-freeze….