Food: Sweet delights

Simon Hopkinson reinvents some old shop favourites

I have always been drawn towards a taste of the "non-u" when it comes to eating. For instance, I crave a KFC late at night after a jolly outing (I always ask for thighs - and get them too!), and I really like bacon and egg McMuffin, also (the morning after?). I treasure the memory of my first one when, miraculously, I discovered that the yolk was runny; it has not happened since - more's the pity. I adore Heinz tomato soup - and which everyone loves really; Campbell's cream of chicken, too, and the more lurid a packet of instant noodles, the better - although the best ones I have eaten are the ones from the Japanese store, Muji. And I am partial to a Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie from time to time.

I also like packaged cakes and pastries. Mr Kipling's treacle tart is good, though not as good as it was when there were no silly strips of lattice pastry over the surface, as there are now. What's the point? It hinders the filling in the most annoying way. I could eat a whole packet of Oreo cookies in seconds flat, but they must be accompanied by a large glass of ice-cold milk for best effect. Incidentally, Harvey Nichols of Knightsbridge, are selling giant tins of them just now in the Fifth Floor food hall. The flat tins are in the shape of an Oreo, the tall ones depict a whole stack of them. I have both.

Battenburgs, iced almond slices (reeking of almond essence), Viennese whirls and slices of moist malt loaf spread with salty butter all take my fancy. And Jamaican ginger cake is possibly the finest of all. I really don't think I could ever make one as good - but then I have never been that much of an expert when it comes to baking. There is also another one available now, which is very similar to the ginger cake: The Golden Syrup Cake!

Now this is something else, I thought, until I discovered - tucked alongside their Mummies and Daddies on the shelf - little boy and girl size golden syrup cakes and Jamaican ginger cakes. But oh no, it didn't stop there. These diminutive, individually wrapped cakes have a line of golden syrup running through the middle of one, and a similar channel of gingery goo forced into the other. An idea started to form in my greedy head and I promptly bought two of each.

I put the steamer together that evening - one of those dirt cheap Chinese jobbys, two layers and made of cheap aluminium; every home should have one. I unwrapped one of each cake, wrapped them in foil and steamed them for 30 minutes. They smelt absolutely marvellous when I unwrapped them. Into a dish they went, drowned in very cold pouring cream and... mmmmm... yum.

Well, a little work was still necessary to actually make a proper pudding. So I reverted to the grown-up Jamaican ginger cake, thought of bread and butter pudding and the following recipe is the result. It is a lovely instant pudding if you always have one of those cakes to hand (they keep for ages). But then each and every corner shop always seems to have them in stock.

Jamaican ginger cake pudding, serves 4

50g/2oz softened butter

1 Jamaican ginger cake, cut into 1cm/12in thick slices

5 globes stem ginger, cut into chunks

2 tbsp dark rum

175ml/6fl oz milk

1 small egg

2 small egg yolks

2 tbsp stem ginger syrup from the jar

150ml/5fl oz double cream

pinch of salt

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

a little sifted icing sugar

Lightly grease a suitable baking dish with a little of the butter, and use the rest to spread over the slices of ginger cake. Lay into the dish, slightly over-lapping and push the chunks of ginger into the cake with the point of a small knife. Spoon over the rum. Scald the milk. Beat together the egg and egg yolks with the ginger syrup and add the milk, cream, salt and vanilla extract. Pour over the cake and leave to soak for about 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 4.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30-40 minutes until the custard mixture has just set and has taken on a pale golden sheen around the edges. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for about 15 minutes, as the pudding is best eaten warm. Just prior to serving, dust with the sifted icing sugar. Eat with:

Creme Chantilly

150ml/5fl oz whipping cream, very well chilled

150ml/5fl oz double cream, also very well chilled

40g/112oz icing sugar

vanilla seeds scraped from a split 14 of a fresh vanilla pod

A (preferably metal) bowl that has been in the freezer for 12 hour.

It is important that all is cold for this most lovely of whipped creams; it allows for the least chance of the cream separating whilst being beaten. Put everything in the bowl and hand-whisk the cream using fluid motions until loosely thick, but on no account very thick. This does not take as long as you think it might. And it is a special further pleasure to see the differences between hand-whisked, as opposed to electrically-aided beaten cream.

Ginger nut biscuit log, serves 4

Here is another great little charmer of an instant pudding - from a packet of biscuits this time. Some of you may remember this one from the 1970s possibly? Along with marinated kipper fillets, mousssaka and chocolate roulade. The biscuits were dipped in something or other and then sandwiched together with cream. Finally, the log was completely smothered in cream, smoothed over, and sprinkled with grated chocolate.

1 packet of ginger nut biscuits

2-3 cups of very strong expresso-style coffee

2-3 tbsp of brandy, Tia Maria or rum (as much or as little as you like, depending upon how boozy you want the log to be)

570ml/1 pint double cream

2 tbsp caster sugar or, if you like, ginger syrup from a jar of stem ginger

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 tbsp good quality grated chocolate

Put the coffee in a bowl and mix in the chosen alcohol. Whip the cream with the sugar (or ginger syrup) and the vanilla extract, until holding soft peaks. Once again, as in the previous recipe for the creme Chantilly, try and hand beat the cream rather than using a machine; the results are infinitely superior. Have ready a lengthy china serving dish.

Dip the first biscuit quickly into the coffee/alcohol mixture and deftly spread it with some of the cream. Dip the second one and sandwich it to the first. Once you have got three done, these will sit on their sides in the dish without falling over. Continue until all the biscuits are exhausted. Spread the whole log with the remaining cream with a pallet knife, making swirls and dips for the best effect. Put into the fridge for at least 2 hours to get really cold. Sprinkle with the grated chocolate and serve. Note: I seem to remember that some people used to make the cake into a horseshoe shape instead of a log. I'll leave that up to you.

St milion au chocolat, serves 4

An absolute classic to finish with, although it may be something quite new to many of you. This one uses a fairly posh biscuit compared with the previous tea-time favourite. Originally, the recipe called for ratafia biscuits or macaroons, and was made famous by Geroge Perry-Smith from the Hole in the Wall in Bath (it is in the West Country, in fact, that you see more instances of St milion au chocolat on menus, than anywhere else in the country). The original recipe came from Elizabeth David's French Country Cooking. You can use Italian amaretti biscuits with equal success here, although, I think, the recipe is so named because the town of St milion is known - as well as for a little wine making - for its delicious almond biscuits.

4oz/110g unsalted butter

4oz/110g caster sugar

1 large egg yolk

225g/8oz best quality dark chocolate

200ml/7fl oz milk

16-20 macaroons, amaretti or ratafia biscuits

a little brandy or rum (optional)

Cream the butter, sugar and egg yolk until light and pale coloured. Scald the milk in a pan and melt the chocolate in it, stirring until the mixture is very smooth. Allow to cool slightly, then add to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and further beat together until glossy and voluptuous.

Arrange half the chosen biscuits in the bottom of the deep dish and sprinkle with a little brandy or rum (if using). Spoon over half the mixture and then put in another layer of biscuits (moisten with alcohol once more, if using). Top up with the remaining chocolate mixture and smooth over the surface neatly. Cover with cling film and chill for at least 12 hours or overnight. Surprisingly, this very rich pudding is further improved eaten with very thick cold cream

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