Custard, anyone…?

When I wrote about puddings the other week, I did suggest that custard was quite possibly the best accompaniment and that I would look at it another time… well, that time has come!

As I am sure you know, custard is based on a cooked mixture of milk or cream and egg yolk. Depending on how much egg or thickener is used, custard can vary in consistency from a thin pouring sauce, such as crème anglaise, to a thick pastry cream, or crème pâtissière, beloved of so many of today’s chefs, and used to fill éclairs.

Mixtures of milk and eggs thickened by heat have long been part of European cuisine and can be traced as far back as Ancient Rome – perhaps Caesar was a custard fan!?

Most common custards are used in desserts or as a sauce to accompany a pud and usually include sugar and vanilla. But you can also have a savoury custard which can be used for quiches and other savoury foods.

Custard is usually cooked in a double boiler (bain-marie), or heated gently in a saucepan on a stove, although it can also be steamed, baked in the oven with or without a water bath, or even cooked in a pressure cooker.

As anyone who has seen ‘The Great British Bake Off’ will know, creating a good custard is a delicate operation! A temperature increase of just 3–6°C leads to overcooking and curdling and Paul and Mary roll their eyes. Generally, custard begins setting at 70°C and a fully cooked custard should not exceed 80°C.

I am quite a custard fan, but making it from scratch is time-consuming. Nowadays, you can buy delicious fresh custard in pots in supermarkets in full fat or skinny options depending on your conscience. There is also good old Ambrosia tinned custard, always a handy option to keep in the cupboard for an emergency.

However… you do need the right custard for the job, instant, or otherwise. If you are making a trifle, do not do what I did many years ago and used tinned custard, it needs to be a custard that sets! My beautifully arranged cherries and piped cream all sank into the runny custard beneath and I ended up with a bowl full of mush that looked awful, although it tasted fine!

Bird’s Custard is a great way of making set custard quickly and easily and is just what you need in a trifle. However, it isn’t really a ‘proper’ custard at all… Bird’s Custard is the brand name for a powdered, egg-free imitation custard powder. It is a cornflour-based powder that thickens to form a custard-like sauce when mixed with milk and heated in a pan. Bird’s Custard was first formulated and cooked by Mr Alfred Bird in 1837 at his chemist shop, in Birmingham because his wife was allergic to eggs!

I think custard is a very personal thing. I was very nearly put off it for life at school when we were served a quartet of custards of varying degrees of hideousness at school. In order of awfulness they were:

  • White custard – just about bearable
  • Yellow custard – a bit sickly and often lumpy
  • Brown custard – very unpleasant to look at and having no relationship with chocolate at all
  • Pink custard – utterly, utterly vile and sickly with a peculiar smell and very often with a skin on top!!

But each to their own. Perhaps you prefer cream, or ice cream on your pud or were so traumatised by custard at school that you don’t ever want to see it again… I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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In praise of pudding

This time of year, when the wind blows and the days are cold and grey, it is only natural that we think about ‘warming’ foods… and one of the most warming has to be pudding – just the word itself instantly makes me feel snug! Having said that, it isn’t the most healthy of options, but its role in life was always to be a stomach filler and a comforter, not one of your five a day!

Today, we tend to mean something sweet when we say pudding, and people will often suggest pudding when they mean dessert. But, of course, puddings were not originally sweet at all – they were savoury. The term ‘pudding’ is believed to come from the French boudin, originally from the Latin botellus, meaning ‘small sausage, so it referred to encased meats as used in medieval European puddings.

Puddings first popped up during Roman times when they were made using meat, blood or grains and stuffed inside animal intestines, like a sausage, or a cloth bag. Savoury ones still popular today include black pudding, haggis and of course, steak and kidney, but most of our puddings are sweet. Think spotted dick, sticky toffee or treacle pudding, doesn’t that make you feel instantly warmer?

In Medieval times, banquets would feature highly spiced savoury meat puddings and sweet puddings, still using intestines as a casing, that were then boiled, smoked or roasted. I’m not entirely sure I would have enjoyed any of those…

By the 14th century, things were looking up and Richard II’s cook produced a book featuring rice pudding and baked custards. During the next century, pudding cloths first get mentioned as an alternative to intestines… thank goodness!

In the 16th- century life became a lot sweeter with the arrival of sugar loaves (cones of refined sugar) and by the 17th-century cookbooks were being published, featuring puddings we still eat today, such as bread and butter pudding, one of my favourites!

In Georgian times, feasts became much more elaborate with jellies made in intricate moulds and ice cream became popular. But the traditional pudding was still a mainstay and appeared in all courses of a banquet.

The Victorians, who never did anything by halves, had a pudding for every occasion. Recipe books, such as the hugely influential Mrs Beeton’s ‘The Book of Household Management’ appeared, while many were devoted purely to puddings. It is at this time that jam roly-poly, spotted dick and treacle sponge first made an appearance.

Making puddings using a cloth or a greased pudding basin complete with baking parchment and string, plus hours of boiling, was pretty labour intensive. Unsurprisingly, in the 20th century as servants disappeared, so did the traditional pudding. By the 1970s and 80s, we were all into eating French gateaux and profiteroles and feeling very sophisticated. You did not expect to come across a spotted dick on the dessert trolley in a restaurant – very passé!

But then… as so often happens, old becomes new and puddings are back in fashion. Along with ‘heritage’ vegetables and homemade bread, classic puddings now pop up in 5-star restaurants as well as your local café. What should accompany a pudding? Is it ice cream, cream, or good old custard? I think the latter… but that is a whole other subject and one I might just have to have a look at in a future blog!

Meanwhile… Are you a pudding fan? If so, what’s your favourite? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

 

 

 

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Dear Santa…

I thought I’d share my personal ‘wish list’ for Christmas books, both cookery and fictional. I have cheated and also included one book that is top of Richard’s wish list – just in case there are any history buffs reading, or if you need an idea for a history-loving relative!

I try very hard to limit my intake of cookery books these days as there’s so much out there for free on the internet. However, nothing compares with curling up with a cup of tea on the sofa and a beautifully illustrated cookbook!

The novels I have included are definitely not candidates for any Booker or Orange, or whatever, book prize – my reading tastes are very straightforward and, if there’s one thing I hate, it’s pretentious literature that you are ‘meant’ to like as you struggle through it. I want to be entertained by a book, I want to smile a bit, cry a little and definitely feel I can’t bear to put it down until I have finished

So, I offer this list just as a personal – “hHere you go, this is what I am asking Santa for this year!” They are all available on Amazon – as are all my own novels (hah!) – surely you knew I wouldn’t be able to resist a plug!

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Chocolate Orange Fudge Cake… naughty but SO nice!

chocorangecake3I thought it was time to share a yummy cake with you that is definitely not something for a healthy diet, but a complete treat and oh so delicious! And this is most definitely a naughty cake! Jo Bridgeman, our bookkeeper, made this to share with all the staff – and I did say it almost had a Halloween feel to it. It will be as near as I get to a Halloween celebration as it’s not really my thing – but hey, the colours are right aren’t they!

Jo B said the recipe and method comes from a really fabulous baking website that’s worth visiting www.shewhobakes.co.uk as there are lots more ideas on there and a good newsletter – I’m off to have a look!

Ingredients:

To get a really tall cake like this you need to double the quantities and make two batches using 2 x 7” round tins.

For the cake:

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 100g dark brown sugar
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 50g golden syrup
  • Orange flavouring
  • Zest of two large oranges
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 75ml sour cream
  • 5 eggs

For the orange buttercream:

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 350g icing sugar
  • A few splashes of milk
  • Orange flavouring
  • Orange colouring

For the ganache covering and topping:

  • 600g dark chocolate
  • 250ml double cream

Instructions

Mix together the butter, golden caster sugar, brown sugar and golden syrup. Now add the eggs, mix in the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate.

Now mix in the melted dark chocolate and sour cream. Finally, add the orange zest and flavouring.

Divide between two lined 7” tins and bake at 140º C for one hour. Check to see if it’s ready by gently inserting a skewer in the centre – if it comes out clean it is done.

Once cooked, leave in the tin for 10 minutes and then place on a cool surface or cake rack to cool completely.

To make the buttercream, whisk the butter for 5 minutes so it is aerated (and yes this is assuming you have electrical help here – not by hand!) Then add the icing sugar one cup at a time, if necessary add a few splashes of milk to soften. Finally, add the orange colouring and flavouring to taste.

Split the cakes in half, or even into thirds, then fill with the buttercream. Stack them gently and put in the fridge while you make the ganache.

Put the chocolate and cream into a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds, whisking hard and then put in for another 30 seconds, whisk again and then into the microwave for a third time again whisking hard when it comes out.

Once it is set, cover the cake with a palette knife. Then return the cake to the fridge. Melt what is left of the ganache so it is spreadable and pour over the top so it drips down the sides.

Finally, decorate with rosettes of orange buttercream and sections of a Terrys chocolate orange… then sit back and enjoy!

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Time for tea?

There are times when I just love playing with the pretty decorations that I have in my house – well I think they’re lovely anyway! Dating back to the times when I was helping style all the non fiction flower arranging and cookery books that I wrote in the 80s and 90s, I have always liked arranging pretty things.

Some might call my house cluttered (Richard does for one) but I just can’t resist lovely bits of vintage lace, shells, pretty flowers, semi precious rocks, old china – you name it and I squirrel it away pretending it might come in for a photo shoot sometime, somewhere!

Well these lovely flowers arrived today and I thought they were too nice not to share with the world. The blue hydrangea is high on my list of favourite flowers as Richard knows and the fabulous bouquet of tulips and herbs was part of my Christmas present also from Richard – a bouquet of flowers every month for six months – how lucky am I?

So I got playing and before you accuse me of eating way too many cakes, these are fake cakes intended for use in photography or window displays and I just think they look lovely sitting on the dresser base I have in that room. I have had to explain to little Grace several times now that they are Granny’s toy cakes like the bits in her toy kitchen and not for eating – you can see her narrowing her eyes and deciding whether to believe me or not!

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