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Dec 26, 2008 09:54 AM

Just how much booze is needed to set a plum pudding aflame?

I buy this small plum pudding and I'm reading about plum pudding on the web since I have limited familiarity with this dessert.

There are lovely pictures of the pudding a flame and stories of turning the lights down while the pudding is brought to the table and people oohh and ahhh.

So I pour some booze over a slice. I'm all set for things to go wrong and have things on hand to put out the fire should it get out of hand.

Nothing. I get a few matches too close to the pudding and it puts the match out. I'm pouring more booze on it. Nothing. nada. zilch.

I'm not a hard alchohol drinker so all I had on hand was some 80 proof vodka. Does vodka not flame? Why wouldn't it? Alcohol is alcohol.

What am I doing wrong?

Plum pudding seems very fruitcake like. I wonder why people never set fruit cake on fire. To people who don't seem to like fruitcake, that would seem to solve the problem ... the annual burning of the fruitcake log.

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  1. We did one last night. We turned out the lights and one person held a large spoon and another poured the booze into it and lit it in the spoon. Then the spoon-holder poured the flaming stuff over the pudding. Several people (not me!) sang about figgy puddings until the flames burned out. So, to answer your question, it was a very large spoonful for a small pudding. Brandy, I think.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Glencora

      Ah, thanks ... the secret.

      I did get my teaspoon of vodka to flame. Pouring it over didn't work. Holding it under part of the pudding didn't work with the next spoonful. I was bored at this point and just ate the now vodka-soaked plum pudding. I am now lit aflame.

      Next year I'll try using a larger spoon.

      1. re: Glencora

        Just be careful. I and several friends once ordered Irish Coffees in a Tokyo hotel bar. We'd had them there before and the tableside preparation was a real floor show. Part of the preparation was to flame a large jigger of whiskey in a long handled metal shot glass then pour the booze in about a foot-long flaming arc into the glass. Just as our waiter was doing this, another waiter passed by and jostled his arm. The flaming booze ended up on his arm from the hand to the elbow. Talk about sangfroid. He never stopped serving - just kept going as though nothing was wrong. The other waiter grabbed a napkin from a nearby table and extinguished the flames. It was about 10-15 years ago and memory fails, but I hope we had the decency to leave him a generous tip!

      2. Desert's always better when you set it on fire. 80 proof liquor will burn, but it doesn't really want to - it's mostly water, after all. The trick is to get alcohol vapors coming out of the liquid, then set those vapors on fire. Since alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, it's pretty easy.

        Next time, try gently heating the liquor in a small saucepan until you start to smell the alcohol volatilizing. Ignite the stuff while it's still in the pan, pour it over the pudding, and you're good to go. The heat of the flame will evaporate more alcohol, which will feed the flame, which will evaporate more alcohol and so on until it's spent.

        6 Replies
        1. re: alanbarnes

          Yes, the "key" is to just gently heat the booze so that the alcohol is separating from the water. Brandy really works much better than Vodka Alan's technique is perfect

          1. re: FriedClamFanatic

            What i forgot to don't need more that a few tablespoons. A 1/4-1/3 cup is overkill. It's more the effect than any real add-to on the recipe

            1. re: FriedClamFanatic

              Thanks all. Yeah, since this was a flaming dessert, I didn't think any additional flavor would be added with the alcohol which is why vodka seemed an acceptable substitute.

              1. re: rworange

                If you're just looking for fire, vodka's fine. (Although if you're not a drinker, be aware that ethanol will suck water out of the air as it sits around. A bottle of 80-proof liquor that was opened two years ago isn't 80 proof any more.) IMO brandy, rum, and certain whiskies are preferable, not because they burn better, but because they bring a little extra flavor to the party.

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  I agree. The flavors in a good plum pudding stand up to and match up with brandies and rums, in my opinion.

                  Also, if you start with booze over 100 proof, it will burn much more easily. In fact, 100 proof is called that because it can be set afire. That used to be the test for whether whiskey had been watered down or not. Without chemistry or government regulation, it was a way for a consumer to gauge potency.

                  Years ago, when I was a child, the best local restaurant served flaming ice-cream (made with 150 proof California brandy) as its standard dessert. Even served it to 10 year old boys. :- ) Probably couldn't do that these days.


                  1. re: Ed Dibble

                    Probably not......unless they wanted to be on CNN as incredibly global-warming, child-mongering, disaster-resistant purveyors of food. What a shame!

        2. We always flame with 151 rum - it's the only thing we've ever had luck with.

          1. Our "standard" pour for Christmas Pudding is a good tablespoon of brandy. Warm it first and light it as soon as it's poured. Never fails.

            1. All alcohol is not the same. They each have different proof. Use an alcohol which is at least 100 proof (50 % alcohol by volume) Heat it and then tip the pan or spoon so the flames hit the fumes and let it burn as you pour it over whatever.