In the second of her guest posts this month, Joanna Masters-Maggs talks more about her recent culinary discoveries in France, as we ask her, “Is the foodie capital of the world everything it’s cracked up to be – or does the emperor need to put his clothes on?”
“I’m tired of these perfectly-glazed French tarts”, my husband declared last night. “I want a big, fat, English pudding.”
I looked up sharply. Was he making some untoward comparison between chic French ladies and less well-presented English women, such as myself? I hoped not, for his sake. But he was ruefully regarding the Mille Fueille on the plate before him.
“Some custard too. That would be nice.” He looked at me sadly.
I wasn’t sure how to react. “Get me some Golden Syrup and I’ll make steamed pudding,” I offered. Sixteen years overseas, but how English we are!
Just desserts…every Sunday
We have only been in Aix for six weeks and have held to our plan of finding the best food and drink it has to offer. Part of this includes buying a cake or tart from a patisserie each week for Sunday dinner. I reflected on what we have so far sampled: a chocolate Opera for the weekend of my daughter’s birthday, an open apple tart, another filled with patisserie cream and topped with fruit and, yes, glaze. We tried the Tropezienne which hails from St Tropez and was named by Brigitte Bardot.
Now this “thousand leaves of pastry” sat before us. Like its predecessors, it was pedigree in origin. Only the most shameless “bring–a-dish” guest would try to pass this off as homemade. Perfectly cut, evenly browned, you just knew it would not suffer from a soggy bottom or any similar such indignity.
So why is it that with these desserts fastidious restraint is so easy to find? My husband is right. If we had a steamed syrup pudding and some custard before us, we would have been slavering for second helpings. With this aristocrat, to do so would seem uncouth and unnecessary.
The proof of the pudding…
Perhaps, dare I even suggest, in terms of flavour and texture, if not the skill required to make it, Syrup Pudding and its like are superior as a pudding to their French counterparts. I am ducking the missiles I feel may be coming my way. But if I am unrefined in my tastes, surely I cannot be alone? Syrup Pudding may be simple, comfort food but it is also a divine comination of textures and flavours. The addition of custard, Crème Anglaise if you will, serves to cut any possible cloyingness of texture or the risk of oversweetness. Surprisingly light, but pleasingly substantial, there always seems room for another serving.
I have, on occasion, offered to clean up after dinner, singlehanded. Not some heroic act of self-sacrifice, offered at the shrine of my family’s comfort. Rather, the siren call of the dish the pudding was steamed in, enticing me to scrape it out. Can the same be said for the tin in which a Tarte Tatin was made? I fear not.
Leave it to the experts – or leave it to Mum?
I have been told that no French person would take along homemade pudding as a contribution to a dinner to which he or she had been invited. Such a thing would be to insult the host with a poor quality, amateur offering. Why take some ramshackle amateur affair when there are professionals to do a proper job?
It seems that we English – well, at least, my husband and I – feel differently. The “homemadeness” is what we enjoy. The time spent making it, the compliment to the host. As I cast my mind back to adverts for cakes and packaging for various factory-made cakes and puddings, it is clear that supermarkets and manufacturers are keen to stress their product is “Just like home” or “What Mum used to make.” The Brits will remember Mr. Kipling and his extraordinary cakes, which he liked to bring out for village fetes and cricket matches. It’s just that Mr. Kipling was a factory, somewhere fairly industrial in England, churning out Battenbergs by the thousand.
I have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy my foray into French patisseries. However, I feel it will not end my love of the home-baked, and what I will enjoy in most French bakeries are the comfortable croissants and brioches.
The best of both sides (of the English Channel)
For me food seems less about style and more about comfort and general “toothsomeness”. Is this another difference between England and France? I think it may be. I count myself lucky that, at the moment, I can enjoy both attitudes. But this weekend, my husband will get his syrup pudding and custard. Not, not just custard — make that “Crème Anglaise”!
Finding Paradise in Provence, Part I: An expat foodie’s views on French cuisine for the very young
Displaced Q: in modern French cuisine, who wins the race — the slow-food tortoise or the McDonald’s fast-food hare?
When a Julia Child-like curiosity about French cuisine leads to a displaced life — bienvenue au October theme
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Hilarious–I loved your opening ‘perfectly glazed French tarts’ vs ‘big fat English puddings’! I have a love of sticky toffee pudding, something I didn’t grow up with but have discovered since I moved to the UK. ‘Toothsomeness’ is a great way to describe a really satisfying pudding.
Jo, thank you so much for doing these posts for us! I’ve really enjoyed reading them…you should do more 🙂
Perhaps you could pass on your recipe for syrup pudding, especially as you’ve also given me the recipe for golden syrup?
It’s been a lot of fun, not to say therapeutic as I go through my eighth international move! My recipe is yours
175g softened butter
175g self-raising flour
175 caster sugar
Lemon zest and juice
Milk if required
I dump everying into a mixing bowl and mix until I have a lovely soft, bowl-licking-worthy mix. If it seems a bit stiff, you may add some milk. We are after a heavy, spoon-dropping consistency here.
Spoon a good 4 or 5 tablespoons of syrup into the bottom of a well greased pudding bowl, about 1 and three quarter litres is perfect. Gently dollop the sponge mixture on top and then cover the bowl with a double layer of aluminium foil (make a pleat in each in order to allow your sponge space to grow).
Now, pop into a large pan of gentle simmering water on top of the stove. The water should reach to about half-way up your bowl (staying well clear of where foil meets bowl). Put a lid on top and simmer for a good 2 hours.
This is very easy as you see, but don’t get too lost in preparations for the rest of the meal, or indeed, a good book. Keep checking and topping up with boiling water. You mustn’t let the thing boil dry.
When time’s up, remove carefully from the pan. This is the hardest part of the whole operation and quite dangerous. Oven gloves are required and the more organised amongst us will have fashioned a handle from some of the string used to tie the foil onto the bowl. Remove the foil, gentle loosen the edges of the sponge from the sides of the bowl with a knife, place a plate over the bowl, invert and shake, if necessary. When you feel the satisfying gentle thump of the pudding touching down, lift the bowl slowly and enjoy the sight and aroma of the glorious mound of naughty sweetness you will behold.
Enjoy with custard, or creme anglaise, that’s a whole other story. See if you can limit yourself to one serving. If you can, you are probably not British!
Like Kate, I’m grateful for your series of posts on food in Provence. I can just picture you sipping rosé wine on a terrace under the mellow sun. Though I’m pea green with envy, I think you deserve that fate after handling eight international moves.
On the other hand, I can see that I shouldn’t envy you the perfect cakes and tarts. I know what you mean, perfect can be boring! I actually learned that lesson as an expat in Japan, where the bakeries produce these wonderful looking Western cakes — that are perfectly tasteless.
I moved to Tokyo after several years of living in the UK, where like Michelle, I’d learned to savor the toothsome (love that word, too!) puds. I never actually indulged in syrup pudding, though. Thanks for sharing the recipe. To be honest, I think it sounds almost as daunting as one of Julia Child’s — especially if I have to make my own golden syrup. But who knows, I may give it a go!
Go on ML, give it a go! Once you try you will realise how easy it really is.
That’s interesting about the Japanese cakes. I had an experience in Malaysia of buying a gorgeous looking Easter-style confection with smooth white icing. When I tasted it I realised it was Crisco minus the icing sugar. Extraordinary. I wonder if it was intended as a centrepiece rather than for eating?
Interesting what you say about the Asian interpretations of Western desserts being largely for show. You could be on to something there! When I think back on my years in Japan, only two Western-style desserts stand out for having decent flavor: 1) so-called strawberry shortcake, a layered sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries in between and whipped cream frosting (I found a recipe for it here); and 2) tiramisu, which has more or less been adopted as a native dessert (the Japanese are very fussy about what they import from us!).
This feels true. During apple season in Normandy, we miss American style, deep dish apple pies