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[Ed: A treat for everyone today – a new guest blogger all the way from Port Colborne, ON (I think our most far flung contributor yet!). Everyone give Robin a warm welcome…]
My stepmother carries chocolate pudding with her wherever she goes. She once dreamed that she found a baby by the side of the road, and she wants to be prepared.
While you and I may not view chocolate pudding as one of nature’s great restoratives, it is true that puddings, historically, were not the frivolous foods that they are today. Medieval puddings were made from highly seasoned meats or fowl, more like sausage than dessert; the pease pudding of nursery rhyme fame was a thick soup of split yellow peas boiled with a ham bone. By the 1800s these savory puddings had evolved and were sweeter, often made with nuts or fruit, but were still boiled; plum pudding is a prime example. Pudding as we know it today is more closely related to custard. The ancient Romans (from ancient Rome, I mean, not elderly Italian cooks) realized the binding properties of eggs, and made sweet flans flavoured with honey and cinnamon; these custards evolved through time into such delights as creme caramel (custard baked on a layer of caramelized sugar which when inverted provides the sauce), Bavarois (custard with whipped cream, gelatine, and fruit or chocolate flavouring), and many other classic desserts.
So there’s pudding for you, in a nutshell. To be honest, even though I spent most of my working life as a cook, I haven’t made much chocolate pudding. I, myself, don’t even care for the stuff. It smacks of invalids and toothlessness, and lacks both textural interest and complexity of flavour. However, when I was a kid, it was a different story. We lived on a farm and had parents with back-to-the-land leanings; oh, how I coveted my little friends’ lunches! Wonderbread, Wagon Wheels, Twinkies, and most of all, those cunning plastic pots of Jell-O Pudding; I would gladly have traded the entire contents of my red barn lunchpail (with silo thermos) for just one Pudding Cup. My mother tried to placate me with homemade chocolate pudding, but I was not deceived. Her pudding came in an earthenware bowl, was topped by a leathery skin, and tasted faintly of goats; I craved pudding that tasted like the sound of that unctuous voice from the Kraft commercials that aired during the Carol Burnett Show.
But today, oh yes, today is Chocolate Pudding Day! A mere three hours ago, I cast aside my culinary snobbism and prepared chocolate pudding – not hot chocolate sabayon, not even pot au chocolate, but straight-forward chocolate pudding, the kind that tempts you to drop the ‘g’. I whisked together a quarter cup of sugar, two tablespoons cornstarch, a quarter cup of cocoal powder and a pinch of salt, then added two cups of whole milk and brought the mixture to a boil, whisking steadily, as is my wont. I beat a couple of egg yolks in a small bowl and whisked in a little of the hot mixture, then added the yoolks back into the saucepan and whisked some more, being careful not to overcook the egg.
Then I took the saucepan off the heat, beat in four ounces of chopped dark chocolate, added a little vanilla, and poured the mixture into four six-ounce ramekins. I toyed briefly with the idea of putting a bit of parchment paper on top of the ramekins to prvent the dreaded puddinskin [Ed.: Great word!], but felt that this was somehow a betrayal of tradition. I chilled the cups for two hours, then tasted.
You know what? It wasn’t that bad. Given a choice I would have preferred to have gnawed the four ounces of chocolate directly from the block, but maybe that’s just me. The pudding’s texture was pleasantly smooth but had the mouth-feel that cornstarch-thickened food always has, faintly glutinous. Using cocoa as well as chopped chocolate gives the pudding much-needed depth and the egg yolks add the richness that whipping cream and/or butter lend to more sophisticated chocolate desserts. And while the puddings did develop a bit of a skin, for some reason it wasn’t nearly as repulsive as I’d remembered. Really, the only thing missing was that little plastic pot, that, of course, and the partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, assorted emulsifiers, and artificial colour and flavour…
Happy Chocolate Pudding Day!
What would we be without eggs? I will argue that this simple, elegant food is more versatile and more critical to our cuisine than any other. The complex and unique protein make-up of eggs allows for tremendous culinary feats. Eggs can bind, emulsify or thicken and can render dishes fluffy or creamy or chewy.
There are many sophisticated foods that could not be without egg. Meringue, souffle, mousse, zabaglione, custard, sabayon, mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce are a few fine examples.
But eggs are also critical to more humble dishes. Most casseroles call for eggs as a binder, and most baked goods call for egg. Here’s a fun bit of baking trivia for you: when cake mixes were first introduced to the market the egg was already included in the mix in a dehydrated form. They were a failure, not because the product was inferior to those which now call for the addition of a fresh egg, but because housewives of the ’50s felt inadequate making a “just add water” convenience food. The directions were changed to require the addition of that one simple, wholesome ingredient, and the women suddenly felt that they were involved in and responsible for the resulting cake. To this day cake mix is a grocery staple. Such is the power of the egg.
I haven’t yet touched on the pure egg preparations. Fried, scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, coddled, roasted or baked, as an omelette or a plain frittata, a simple egg well prepared is a delight all on its own. Chef Michael Romano claims that French Chefs will test the mettle of a new cook by asking them to prepare eggs “sur le plat”; a deceptively simple baked egg dish which calls for no more than butter, salt, pepper and shelled eggs with yolks intact.
The ubiquity of eggs helped me very much these last weeks. My first egg dish in thinking about the blog was a variation of Endives a la Flamande, a tasty combination of braised belgian endives and hard-boiled eggs with a lemon parsley butter sauce. It wasn’t very pretty, so there aren’t any photos. But I hope you’ll enjoy these other pics, many of which are of breakfasts my lovely friends prepared during our trip to the Sasquatch music festival this last weekend.
Finally, I will add that there is a great deal of symbolism attached to eggs in different cultures. Beyond the birth and fertility and resurrection of Christ and pretty easter eggs and all that, there are some fascinating beliefs attached to eggs. Have you ever heard of Oomancy; the practice of divining the future by reading the patterns of tendrils of boiled egg whites? Or the old slavic and german practice of rubbing raw egg on your garden hoes to render your soil more fertile? foodtimeline.org (http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodeggs.html) has plenty more intriguing examples. And if you want a really juicy example, just ask Di about the Collectivo driver who likes his wife’s eggs spicy!
‘Til neggst time,
Pound cake is one of those desserts that everyone has eaten at some point. If you haven’t made one yourself someone in your family probably has. No dessert table, picnic basket or bake sale is complete without some version of this baking basic. The original recipe is British in origin and dates back to at least the early 18th century. By the 19th century, pound cake recipes had appeared in American cookbooks. The question is, with all the ingredients and techniques available to us now, how has the humble pound cake defended its place amongst the gastronomic giants of the pastry world?
Sorry, no original photos today. Never got home to bake a cake especially for today. But I have made the one pictured above and it is fantastic. Check out the recipe at Epicurious.com.
One might also wonder, what makes a pound cake a pound cake? It’s a piece of genius really. The name is the recipe, as long as you can remember four ingredients that is. A traditional pound cake is a pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs. There are no artificial leaveners in the original. All the lift comes from the air whipped into the eggs. Of course, most modern recipes make use of baking powder to create a lighter cake. That said, the heavier and denser original has its merits and in some applications is the better cake. The other great thing about the basic recipe is that you can reduce or increase the recipe according to your needs without the typical disaster incurred by messing with the chemistry of other pastry recipes. Just remember to maintain the 1:1:1:1 ratio.
Here’s the basic recipe, the one I can give you since the copy right for a 300-year-old recipe has probably expired. As for variations, I’m afraid, I have to send you to consult the cookbook library.
- 1 pound butter, softened
- 1 pound sugar
- 1 pound eggs (about 10 large)
- 1 pound cake flour, sifted
- 2 tsp vanilla
- pinch of salt
With an electric mixer whip butter and sugar together until light in colour and very fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly between additions. Stir in vanilla and salt. Turn mixer speed to low and add flour in three batches. Pour into a greased and floured loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.
How easy is that?! If you want to jazz things up a bit, add a couple teaspoons of lemon zest to the batter and drizzle a lemon glaze over the glazed cake.
The real beauty of pound cake, beyond how ridiculously easy it is to make (remember I am a confirmed non-baker) and how it lends itself to be the ingredient in other things. A big slab of pound cake, toasted on the grill with a slice of grilled pineapple and a drizzle of caramel sauce is a fantastic “barbeque” dessert. Cubes of pound cake are perfect for dipping in a chocolate fondue. For the fondue, I really do recommend the traditional recipe. You’ll need a nice dense cake for dipping. I like a heap of strawberries and nice dollop of sweetened whipped cream with mine, a sort of strawberry shortcake.
It’s easy to see why pound cake can still be found in modern cookery. Pound cake is one of those simple, versatile and delicious creations that needs little embellishment but can take anything you throw at it. All on it’s own or as a component of something much more grand pound cake deserves a place in your culinary repertoire.