Grandma’s Chocolate Pudding

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And now for something completely different.

One of my most enduring childhood memories is family Sunday roast dinners. Going back as far as I can remember, and continuing pretty much up until I left home, my family would sit down together every Sunday for a roast. When I was small, this usually included my mum’s parents, at our house or theirs.  We would all meet after church, the adults would drink sherry, and we would be allowed a coke. Sometimes, we would be joined by friends and neighbours – leading to the now famous incident when I, as a small child, told my grandparents’ local MP off for not eating his vegetables. How embarrassing.

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We have been blessed with our grandparents: my dad’s parents retired before I was born to Alderney, in the Channel Islands, and we spent wonderful summers there as children. My dad’s father died when I was very young, and it is one of my real sadnesses that I didn’t know him better. Dad’s mum, however, was a big feature of our childhood, and in particular of our fantastic holidays in Alderney.

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My mum’s parents, in contrast, were much closer to home, and therefore more involved in day-to-day life. They helped with the school run, and we would sometimes go to them for a night or two for ‘holidays’ – which were probably holidays for everyone except them! They were truly magical times: my grandfather was forever full of magical tales and games; we would spend hours with him in the garden – ‘helping’ with his vegetable patch, building ‘fairy gardens’ (for the fairies to visit), and cubby holes for us to hide in. There were all sorts of fun things in the garden – his shed, which contained all manner of treasures, from a thurible (used for incense in church), to spades and saws and home-made furniture; a mini windmill thing (honestly, I can’t begin to describe it); and his pride and joy – his barbecue. As a red-blooded Australian male, his barbecue was of paramount importance, and his was a home-made triumph: constructed from an old metal oil drum standing on its end, with a section cut out and racks inserted for the coals to sit on, and an old sheet of metal on top to cook on. No barbecue before or since has come close.

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Speaking of cooking – there, as well, my Grandad had a unique approach. My Grandma was never an early riser – in fact, she would send us to bed with the words ‘sleep well, see you in the morning – not too early!’. Grandad was usually up early, and we would come down for breakfast with him. Tea and toast were central – very weak black tea with sugar, and toast dipped in it. To this day, when I want something comforting, I have ‘grandad tea’. His talents didn’t end there, and such classics as orange in a basket (an orange, with two almost quarters cut out of the top to create something like this, but with the orange still in rather than berries, and with sugar sprinkled on the cut sides), ketchup sandwiches, egg-in-a-nest (a piece of toast, with a hole in the middle with an egg cracked in and fried – like this), and Aussie chips (sauteed potatoes, to anyone else…) were legendary.

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Where my Grandad is an outdoors kind of chap, who would prepare breakfast in his vest and pants, and taught us to clean pans with dirt ‘like in the army’, my grandmother was the opposite: always stylish, beautifully turned out, and glamorous to a fault. They went to Australia every year to visit their other children and grandchildren, and the family joke was that Grandma would take an extra suitcase for all the shoes and handbags she would buy! Where he was always early, she was always late – he used to sit in the car when he thought it was time to leave, and she would come out when she thought it was time to leave. On paper, you couldn’t find two more different people – but they were married for more than 55 years, until she died 10 years ago this year.

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She was also a great, if slightly unorthodox, cook – her recipe scrapbook was full of gems. One of the best things about our Sunday roasts was Grandma’s chocolate pudding – in my mind, we had this every week, although I’m sure that can’t be true… Either way, it is so delicious, and simplicity itself to make.

I asked my mum for the recipe for Grandma’s chocolate pudding; she sent it over, along with a word about the recipe which I will share, because it made me laugh, and sums up my Grandma better than I ever could:

‘You will remember that Grandma rarely measured anything carefully and if she didn’t have quite enough of something she would wing it so that is why it was always different.’

Which seems like a very good approach to me!!

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This is what’s known as a self-saucing pudding – which is also why it’s never the same twice. You prepare a batter, and then before baking, sprinkle over a mix of sugar and cocoa powder, and pour over a cup or two of water. This then soaks into the pudding in the oven, creating a layer of sauce underneath. It’s like magic – and, depending on how much water you add, how hot your oven is, how long you cook it for, etc, you might either end up with a chocolatey sauce which you can spoon over the pudding, or a thick, sticky layer, too thick to be properly called a sauce. This also means it’s very forgiving – it’s rarely a problem if it’s in the oven a little longer than planned, which is a good thing if you’re lingering over lunch…

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Grandma’s Chocolate Pudding 
Serves 4-6

  • 4oz / 115g caster sugar
  • 4oz / 115g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 6oz / 170g self raising flour and cocoa mixed: add 2-3 tbsp cocoa to the measuring bowl, then add enough flour to bring it up to 6oz. You can use more or less cocoa, to taste.

For the sauce:

  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 3-4 tsp sugar
  • 1 – 2 cups water (see instructions below)

Preheat the oven to 175C / 350F.

Cream the sugar and butter together until they are light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs. Gently fold the flour/cocoa mix into the batter.

Grease a baking dish (the one we used was about 8inx6in), and spread the mix in the dish – you need to make sure there is at least 1.5in between the batter and the top of the dish.

When you are ready to bake, sprinkle the sugar and cocoa over the dish, and pour over the water. The amount you use will depend on the size of the dish – you are looking for all the batter to be covered by about 1cm water. Bake for around 30-40 minutes, until the top is shiny and slightly cracked.

Serve with pouring cream.

Melting Moments

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So, exciting news here in the Orange Kitchen. This week, we are cat-sitting for our friend Ari. This is amazingly exciting – I love cats, and I really miss having my own, but it’s just not practical at the moment. So this has been a real treat for us – Lyle is hilarious, he keeps me in stitches. He’s a great mix of silly and snuggly, and I have loved watching him charge up and down the flat like a mad thing, in pursuit of a bottle-top. Although, note to self – remember to shut the bathroom door when showering, unless you want to be attacked through the shower curtain mid-shower.

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In between Noel coming back from two and a half weeks in Japan & China and very important cat care, I haven’t done a whole lot of cooking lately – and I completely failed to go shopping yesterday because I was playing with the cat. So here’s a quick and easy recipe which I loved making when I was younger.

When I was nine, my parents moved from the UK to live in Germany, and I went to boarding school. My school was near where my mum’s parents lived, and I spent many weekends with them, at first on my own and later with my sister who joined me at school when she was old enough. Our weekends were the most wonderful times – we would watch classic Saturday night TV: Blind Date and Gladiators, and we used to do a lot of baking with grandma, making treats to take back to school. She had a very old copy of The Cranks Recipe Book, which had a recipe for Melting Moments – a very simple, but delicious biscuit.

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I’m not really a baker – I find the precision needed frustrating. One of the things I love about cooking is experimenting and adapting recipes and ideas – as I’ve become a more experienced cook, I’ve started to have the confidence to trust my own judgement and know when to add things, what I can substitute, what I can manage without. The exception, for me, is baking. This coupled with the fact that I don’t really have a sweet tooth means I don’t tend to bake that much.

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There are exceptions – and this recipe is one of them! I hope you enjoy – they really take just, erm, moments to prepare (sorry…), which is great if you have a cat which is happy to entertain itself with a ping-pong ball while you’re not doing anything, but needs to play with you and only you when you’re busy! And they’re very moreish. The only change I’ve made to the original recipe is that I’ve always used white flour rather than wholemeal, as that’s what I tend to have in the house, and I used caster sugar instead of raw brown sugar.

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Melting Moments
Slightly adapted from The Cranks Recipe Book

Makes 12-14 biscuits

  • 150/5oz butter or margarine – if using butter, take out of the fridge a bit in advance to soften a little.
  • 75g/30z sugar (I used caster sugar
  • 15ml / 1tbsp beaten egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence (I used extract)
  • 100g/4oz self-raising flour
  • 25g/10 oz porridge oats
  • Extra oats to coat (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180 C/ 350 F. Grease a baking sheet. Begin by creaming together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla essence. Add the flour and oats and bring the batter together – I used a combination of a wooden spoon and my hands!

Form the mix into walnut-sized balls, and arrange well apart on the baking sheet. Flatten slightly, and sprinkle with oats, if using.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely – they will be very soft when they come out of the oven but will harden as they cool.

The best-ever apple cake

Well… we survived our first Thanksgiving in America! More than survived, in fact – we had a wonderful time, and are both, shall we say, more rotund as a result. We were lucky enough to be invited to spend the holiday with our lovely friend Laura and her family in Connecticut. We were welcomed so warmly, and initiated thoroughly into the ways of Thanksgiving – which included eating the most wonderful food. A holiday all about eating and drinking? This is a holiday I can get on board with!

On the subject of family – I’ve been thinking a lot about my family in the past weeks. We’re now spread across three continents – four, if you count my aunts, uncles and cousins – and, perhaps because Thanksgiving is so much about family (and food and drink, did I mention?), I am missing them at the moment. And so, for my recipe offering this week, I have turned to something which makes me think of them – my mum’s apple cake.

We are definitely a foodie family – I take inspiration all the time from the way my brother, sister and dad enjoy food. But my biggest influence, and the person I really have to thank for my love of food and cooking, is my mum. She is a wonderful cook, we were so incredibly fortunate growing up that she instilled in us the importance of food and its role not just in nourishing our bodies, but in nourishing our souls and bringing us together. My mum is still the first person I turn to with a food question – thank heavens for modern technology, which means continents and oceans are no barrier to her answering my many, many questions!

This apple cake is something I have grown up eating and making for as long as I can remember. My mum makes it from memory – I still need a recipe… I know that to suggest it’s the best-ever apple cake is a bold statement, but to me, it really is. I love the fact that the flavours are deep and comforting – but at the same time, there’s a complexity and sophistication that comes from the spices. But the very best thing is the topping – apples are layered on top, then covered with sugar and cinnamon, so the top becomes toasty and caramelised, but there’s a layer of soft apple yumminess underneath where the pieces of apple overlap. It’s a wonderful reminder that sometimes, the simple things are the best.

In the UK, I use ready-mixed ground mixed spice, which is easy to buy in the supermarket – however, over here, I couldn’t find it, so have put together my own mix. Having done a bit of research online (here and here), it seems the components and ratios vary slightly, but tend to include allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, coriander and ginger, sometimes with the addition of mace. I’ve used the following, with slightly less cinnamon than in some recipes because cinnamon is used to top the cake. This makes more than is needed for this recipe, you can store the rest for use at a later date:

  • 1/2 tbsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tbsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger

Best-ever apple cake

  • 4 oz / 115g Butter – softened
  • 4 oz / 115g Caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 oz / 170g Self-raising flour
  • 1 tbsp ground mixed spice
  • 2 apples, cored, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tbsp each of cinnamon & sugar, mixed

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Grease and line an 8-inch cake tin.

Cream the butter & sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs into this, one at a time. Gently fold the flour and mixed spice into the batter – do this in several batches, using a cutting and folding motion, trying to keep the air in the batter. You are aiming for a soft, dropping consistency – add a splash of milk, if the batter is too thick.

Spread the batter into the prepared tin. Arrange the apple slices over the top of the batter – you are aiming for each piece of apple to overlap with its neighbour, slightly. Sprinkle the cinnamon & sugar mix over the apples. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the cake is cooked and the sugar mix has caramelised on top.

Allow to cool slightly, then remove from tin and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Notes:

  • Normally, I would use an 8-inch springform cake tin – I don’t have one at the moment, so I used an 8-inch square tin instead. Here’s hoping I can get the cake out of it…! (I did…)
  • If using a round tin, I would arrange the apples in a circle around the edge, with a few in the middle
  • Use your judgement with the ratio of cinnamon to sugar on top – don’t use too much cinnamon. What you are aiming for is for the sugar to melt and therefore the cinnamon to get sticky with it on top – if you have too much cinnamon, you will end up with a sort of dusty topping, which is not so nice!
  • I’ve also had success making this with plums, instead of apples – exactly the same procedure. Make sure not to slice the plums too thinly.