Food: Sweet somethings

In the final part of his favourite recipe series, there's just room for four rich puddings. Photograph by Jason Lowe

Simon Hopkinson
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:52

Smooth chocolate, rich pastry, a cool and fragrant ice-cream and a rib-sticker of a British steamed pudding are the final choices for this three-course mini-series. All four are absolute and cherished favourites, bringing together all that is sweet and greedy about me. They are also (excuse me, goes without saying ...) excellent, tried-and-tested recipes that I have been cooking for many years.

Petit pot au chocolat, serves 6

This is not chocolate mousse. Mousse is nice, but it is very different from this luscious little pot. I developed le petit pot while in the kitchen (dungeon) of, once more, the restaurant Hilaire in the Old Brompton Road, London, where I spent some of the happiest, most constructive hours of my cookery career.

The chocolate pot came about after reading some recipes for velvety custards in the pages of The Cuisine of Paul Bocuse (first published by Flammarion, 1976). I sort of knew about these custards, but had always had the feeling they were a bit dull, you know? How wrong I was. Vanilla cream pots can be particularly pure and rarefied, as can pale and perfect "beige-cashmere-cardigan-coloured" coffee ones. However, these chocolate pots are unique. Once you get them right, and the tops of the custards have developed a crust, you will never again be happy with just mousse.

100ml whipping cream

100ml double cream

1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthways

100ml milk

125g best-quality, dark bitter chocolate, broken into pieces

2 egg yolks

1 heaped tbsp icing sugar, sifted

a little extra cream [optional]

Pre-heat the oven to 275F/140C/gas mark 1. Warm the cream with the vanilla pod, whisk for a moment to disperse the seeds, cover and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Meanwhile,in a small saucepan over a low light, gently melt the chocolate in the milk. Now beat the egg yolks and icing sugar together until fluffy, add the chocolate milk and vanilla-infused cream and blend together thoroughly. Pass through a fine sieve and pour into ramekins or small porcelain pots (the latter are conspicuous by their bulbous shape and marked on each side by decorative looped handles). Place them in a deep roasting tin and pour in enough hot tap water to come to at least two-thirds up the side of the pots. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until slightly puffed-up and spongy to the touch of a finger. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a few moments and lift the pots from the water onto a clean tray. Refrigerate for at least six hours before serving. If you so wish, eat with a little pool of cold cream poured into each pot.

Cherry and almond tart, serves 6

Malcolm Ried and Colin Long came to eat at Bibendum just the once, about eight years ago. I was dead excited as these two pioneering cooks had been an inspiration to the many young apprentices of the Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties lucky enough to secure a job in the kitchens of their Box Tree Cottage restaurant in Ilkley, Yorkshire - the then-unknown Marco Pierre White among them.

The cherry and almond tart remains one of their most simple and impeccable recipes. I, sadly, never managed to eat at the Box Tree, but I had known of these talented fellows long before that - from avidly reading about them in the pages of the then divinely idiosyncratic Good Food Guide. The lovely tart recipe was eventually published in one of The Guide's early cookery books. So I cooked it.

For the pastry

100g plain flour

60g butter, cut into cubes

1 egg yolk

1-2 tbsp iced water

pinch salt

a little beaten egg

2 rounded tbsp apricot jam

For the filling

100g softened butter

100g caster sugar

2 large eggs

100g ground almonds

grated rind 1 lemon

400g [drained weight] stoned, tinned cherries, either morello, griottines or black ones

You will need a 20cm wide x 4cm deep loose-bottomed flan tin.

First make the pastry. In a food processor, electric mixer or manually, blend together the butter, flour and salt until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Now tip into a large, roomy bowl and gently mix in the water and egg yolk with cool hands or a knife, until well amalgamated. Put into a plastic bag and chill in the fridge for at least one hour before rolling.

Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/ gas mark 4. Roll out the pastry as thinly as possible, line the tart tin with it and blind bake. This is achieved by pressing a sheet of tin foil into the uncooked pastry case and filling it with some dried haricot beans, or similar. It is then cooked for about 15-20 minutes, removed from the oven, and the foil and beans transferred to a bowl or tin (for future use). Brush the inside of the case with the beaten egg, which will form a seal and prevent any leaks. Return to the oven for a further 10 minutes or so, until it is golden, crisp and well cooked through, particularly the base. Warm the jam slightly and spoon over the base of the tart. Leave to cool in the tin.

For the filling, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add one egg and continue beating until entirely incorporated, then add the next one and beat again. Add the ground almonds and lemon rind and carefully, but thoroughly, fold them in. Spoon into the tart case and smooth the top. Press the cherries into mixture, pushing them under the almond paste with your fingers.

Return to the oven and bake for 40 minutes or so, until the surface is golden brown, puffed up and springy to the touch. Switch off the oven and leave to cool there with the door ajar, for 15 minutes. Dust with caster sugar before serving.

Coffee ice-cream, serves 4-5

This ice-cream makes me realise just how extraordinary coffee is. The way the aromatic oils and deeply roasted flavour of the crushed beans infuse the milk, cream, eggs and sugar astonishes me every time.

Coffee ice-cream is also one of the simplest to make: a milky infusion, a little whip of egg yolks and sugar, a stir and a coolant of cream. A machine to ice, smooth and thicken the cream is something worth investing in. I know they are expensive, but I would rather save for one of these, than squander my money on electric woks, electric steamers, microwave ovens, and slow-cookers (does anyone really use them?). With an ice-cream maker in the corner of the thinnest galley kitchen, and a few ingredients from the most basic of corner shops, one of the finest desserts is always there at the flick of a switch.

600ml full-cream milk

75g coarsely ground coffee

5 egg yolks

125g golden caster sugar

400ml double cream

1-2 tbsp Tia Maria [optional]

Put the milk on to a low heat and tip in the coffee. Stir well, and bring up to the boil. Allow the milk to seethe up over the coffee once, remove from the heat, give it a brief whisk and cover. Leave to infuse for at least 30 minutes. Strain through muslin into a bowl. Beat together the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale yellow, then add the coffee milk to them. Gently whisk together and pour back into the (wiped clean) milk pan. Make custard with this mixture, being careful not to allow it to boil, but be assured that it does actually thicken. Pour into a chilled bowl and whisk in the cream and Tia Maria, if using. Leave to cool completely and remove any surface froth with a spoon. Churn in an ice-cream machine.

Note: apart from flavour, another advantage of adding the liqueur is that it keeps the texture of the ice-cream softer than is usual, as alcohol does not freeze solid. This is good news if you go the manual route, freezing the mixture in trays and doing the intermittent whisking thing.

Steamed ginger pudding, serves 4 pigs

One Sunday night at Bibendum, some four years ago, the immensely famous French chef Alain Ducasse came to dine in the restaurant as one of a party of eight people.

Now Sunday nights in busy restaurants can be appalling - everyone wants to eat between 8pm and 9pm because they want to be in bed by 11pm. By about 8.15pm, we had around 90 guests sat down in the dining room. The earlys were late, the lates were early and the few "on times" were, naturally, dead on time. I lost it and collapsed into a heap of hysterical blubbering.

The young and brilliant Darren Simpson [now chef at Conran's Sartoria in Savile Row] stepped in until I pulled myself together enough to cook a few more dishes, clean down my station and go home to bed. The following day, I learnt that Alain Ducasse had thought the steamed ginger pudding one of the finest things he had ever eaten. I gave him the recipe the last time I saw him in Paris. It made me feel all better.

Apart from necessary adjustments to the original recipe that appeared here nearly four years ago - and for which I feel I have been apologising ever since (it was too much bicarb and baking powder) - there have been a few further tweakings, one of which is the addition of treacle or molasses. This has made the pudding a little less sweet, has enriched the flavour and deepened the colour; more like gingerbread really.

100g plain flour

2 rounded tsp ground ginger

1 heaped tsp mixed spice

1 rounded tsp baking powder

1 rounded tsp bicarbonate of soda

100g suet

100g fresh breadcrumbs

165g jar preserved stem ginger

scant 200ml milk

50g golden syrup

75g treacle or molasses

1 large egg, beaten

pinch of salt


Sift the flour into a mixing bowl with the spices and raising agents. Add the suet and breadcrumbs and mix well. Coarsely grind the jar of stem ginger, including the syrup, in the bowl of a food processor. Warm the milk with half of the mass of chopped stem ginger, the golden syrup, the treacle or molasses and a pinch of salt. Beat into the dry ingredients with the egg, until sloppy and just dropping off the spoon. Add the salt and mix well. Generously grease a 2-pint pudding basin with butter and put the remaining half of the chopped ginger mass in the bottom. Pour in the pudding mixture, cover with buttered foil, and steam for two hours. Turn out on to a dish and serve with very cold thick cream or custard

`The Independent' offer: to order a copy of Simon Hopkinson's `Gammon & Spinach' at the special discount price of pounds 20, P&P free (RRP pounds 25), call Macmillan on 0181-324 5705. Please allow 28 days for delivery.

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