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First, prepare the fruit. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dried fruit, cherries, almonds and apple with the alcohol and the orange juice and zest. Cover with cling film and leave for at least a few hours, or overnight if you can.
Next, prepare the mandarin. Put it in a pan, cover with cold water, then cover the surface with a scrunched-up piece of baking parchment. Bring to the boil and cook for 30 mins or until completely tender when poked with a cocktail stick. Remove the mandarin from the water, keeping 300ml of the cooking liquid in the pan. Set aside the mandarin.
Add the sugar to the cooking liquid in the pan and heat gently to dissolve. Poke several holes in the mandarin, then add to the syrup along with the liqueur. Cover with the parchment again and simmer for 45 mins, turning the mandarin halfway through. By the end of cooking it will be a little translucent and have a dark orange colour. Leave to cool in the syrup (overnight is fine).
To make the pudding, grease a 1.5-litre pudding basin, then scatter over the 2 tbsp sugar. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and a pinch of salt. Coarsely grate the butter, and fold into the fruit with the dry ingredients, followed by the eggs.
Fill the basin one-third full with the fruit mix, then nestle the mandarin into it. Pack the rest of the mix around and on top of the mandarin and smooth over. (If you’re not using the mandarin, just press it all in as you’ll have more room).
Tear off a sheet of foil and a sheet of baking parchment, both about 30cm long. Butter the baking parchment and use to cover the foil. Fold a 3cm pleat in the middle of the sheets, then put over the pudding, buttered baking parchment-side down. Tie with string under the lip of the basin, making a handle as you go. Trim the parchment and foil to about 5cm, then tuck the foil around the parchment to seal.
To cook the pudding, sit it on a heatproof saucer in a very large saucepan, and pour in just-boiled water to come halfway up the side of the basin. Cover and steam for 6 hrs, topping up the water occasionally. Alternatively, place in a slow cooker, pour hot water halfway up the side of the basin and cook on High for 8 1/2 hrs. Leave the pudding to cool, and leave in a cool, dark place to mature. To reheat, steam in a pan for 1 hr or remove the foil and parchment, cover with cling film and microwave on Medium for 10 mins. Cut the pudding with a sharp serrated knife, so that the mandarin stays in place and everyone gets a piece. Serve with cream or brandy butter.