Sweet memories: return of the Seventies dessert

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Food in the Seventies was often a dismal experience, over-reliant on "exotic" but dreary dishes such as watery spaghetti bolognese and overcooked beef stroganoff, but for people negotiating the stressful, diet-conscious Noughties there seems to be a strange appeal about scoffing a pudding that had its heyday in the days of glam rock.

Many of the classic desserts that were considered the height of culinary achievement 30 years ago are enjoying a revival.

According to market research, sales of Black Forest gateau, tiramisu, and those dedicated Seventies treats profiteroles and apple strudel, are up almost a fifth in a year. A more impressive performer has been cheesecake, that calorific throwback to the days of Mike Leigh's play Abigail's Party. Sales are up 46 per cent.

Whether the new-found popularity of such retro desserts is a form of gastronomic kitsch or a hankering for stodge is unclear.

There does, however, appear to be a renewed interest in Seventies dishes. The experimental chef Heston Blumenthal included Black Forest gateau as one of the dishes on his recent BBC series In Search of Perfection - although home cooks might like to note that if they wish to try his creation at home, they would need wild sour cherries, 2lb of chocolate, a vacuum cleaner, an industrial spraying machine and a gas whipping canister.

Many people prefer to eat a dessert made by someone else. The chef Antony Worrall Thompson, who runs three restaurants in London, believes there is a switch back to simpler food.

On his menu are those Seventies classics steak diane, prawn cocktail and ... avocado prawns. "I put avocado prawns on the menu as a joke but they are now the biggest seller," he said, adding that sausage and mash were "walking out the door".

"I think people are maybe getting a bit annoyed with celebrity chefs and there's a feeling that they want food that they're used to in restaurants," he said. "One of our pubs is doing great business with casseroles. There's a big market out there for people who want normal, homely food and I am sure it will catch on. We've always had a great heritage of puddings in this country."

Marks & Spencer believes that it has pinpointed the demand for old-fashioned afters. Sales of retro desserts are being driven by "10 o' clock cheesecake girls" who sit in front of the news after a busy day and treat themselves. Fifteen per cent of 500 women polled by the company said they did this.

Shasheen Bradley, M &S dessert expert, said: "Many women are now eating balanced meals instead of dieting so they know they can treat themselves with a slice of cheesecake from time to time. When cheesecake first came to the mass market, packet versions were popular but the taste wasn't as good. Other retro favourites like profiteroles and tiramisu are more popular than they've ever been."

Which is worse: stuffing yourself with cheesecake or lying to your friends? Half of the women surveyed by Marks and Spencer had passed off shop-bought cheesecake as home-made.

Young people are also seeking a taste of the era of the Space Hopper. Jenny Stringer, of Leith's School of Food and Wine, said: "Students see retro food - and desserts in particular - as cool in a way they didn't a few years gone by.

"They want to bake cheesecakes now and tiered cakes stands are becoming popular again. The trend for retro desserts is partly driven by celebrity chefs - Nigella Lawson has written a lot about cheesecakes and how to make the proper New York version.

"A lot of the people who are doing the family shopping now were children in the Seventies so there is the nostalgia element of people wanting to have what they enjoyed in their childhood."