Brandy butter has been around since the 1700s. This "hard sauce" is aptly named, the butter and sugar only softening when they meet the hot Christmas pudding. You either like the gritty texture of brandy butter or not. Those of us who cannot imagine Christmas without it will be beating up our butter and sugar with (or without) ground almonds, rum, nutmeg and orange zest.
Dice 180g butter and add an equal weight of soft brown sugar. Beat until soft. Stir in 2 tsp of grated orange zest and one of lemon, then slowly add 3 tbsp of brandy. Add 50g of ground almonds if you wish. Cover and keep in the fridge for up to a week. Serves 10-12.
Have your butter cool and firm rather than rock hard. I take it out about 30 minutes before I start. Cut the butter in small dice, as this will help it to marry with the sugar more successfully. Cream the butter a little before you add the sugar. Don't overmix, which will send the sauce "oily". Always add any extras such as ground almonds only after the butter and sugar have been thoroughly creamed. Make the butter a day or more in advance and store, tightly covered, in the fridge. You can freeze it too. To prevent it from curdling add the brandy slowly, beating in a tbsp or two at a time. Too much brandy will make the sauce bitter.
The addition of orange or lemon zest (sometimes both) is pretty much a given in my kitchen, but leave them out for a plainer, more trad butter. The sugar used can be the usual caster or granulated (I prefer soft brown) or something with more flavour like a demerara or even a light muscovado. They bring more than just sweetness to the party. Best to avoid the very rich dark sugars, as they will provide no contrast with the pud. Modern interpretations include using a good pinch of ground nutmeg or cinnamon. These will give the butter a similar flavour to the soft sweet white sauces the Victorians served with their Christmas pudding.The dark and sticky contents of a vanilla pod gets my vote, too. Especially if you prefer not to add too much alcohol.
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