PROVIDING we balance out how and what we eat – not eating cream and cheese three times a day and including plenty of vegetables and fruit in our diet – a pudding now and then can be extremely comforting during the cold winter months.
And the best comfort puds are those which, while standing the test of time, can be given an up-to-date twist using ingredients not available in the past. Last autumn I ate a baked apple, on holiday in Italy, which had been filled with apricot jam prior to baking. It had never occurred to me to use apricot jam in baked apples, but I have been making them regularly ever since, adding diced ginger and grated lemon rind to the apricot jam. They are so simple, but very good, especially when eaten with crème frâiche containing diced ginger, or a proper vanilla egg custard.
A creamy rice pudding is also a winter treat, the creaminess comes not from adding cream to the rice but from the starch in the rice itself, which can, of course, be embellished with other flavours. Such a small amount of rice is used in my recipe that it is almost a diet pudding in itself.
Baked dark chocolate puddings are the request of any of our family when visiting. They couldn’t be simpler, but they are very good indeed, especially with chilled vanilla-flavoured whipped cream.
Baked apples with apricot and ginger, served with ginger crème frâiche
• 6 even-sized cooking apples, each washed
• 6 tablespoons top quality apricot jam
• 6 pieces of preserved ginger, drained of the syrup from the jar
• finely grated rind of 1 lemon
Preparing the apples dictates, to some extent, the delicious results for this simple pud. First, with the tip of a knife score around the equator, as it were, of each apple. This helps prevent them from bursting as they bake.
Then, with a small sharp knife, cut down inside the centre of each apple and chisel out the core. Old-fashioned apple corers do this to some extent, but apples aren’t uniform in where the core is, so push your finger inside the apple and any core your finger feels, cut it out with the knife. When you are sure that each apple contains no trace of core, put the apples into a wide ovenproof dish.
In a bowl, spoon in the jam. On a board, slice and dice the ginger, then add this to the jam. Finely grate the lemon rind into the bowl and mix it and the diced ginger thoroughly into the apricot jam.
Then divide this mixture evenly between the holes in each apple.
Bake the apples in their dish in a moderate heat, 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4 for 25-30 minutes, or until the apples are very soft.
Ginger crème frâiche
This makes the perfect accompaniment to the baked apples.
• 2 tubs of crème frâiche – reduced fat, if you prefer
• 6 pieces of preserved ginger, drained of its syrup and diced as for the above recipe
Mix the diced ginger into the crème frâiche in a bowl. Serve with the baked apples.
Rice pudding with lemon and vanilla
• 3oz/75g round grain “pudding” rice
• 1¼ pints/900ml milk, which can be skimmed but is so much nicer if it is full fat
• 4oz/120g granulated sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• finely grated rind of 1 lemon
Thoroughly butter an ovenproof dish, 3 pint/1.5 litre capacity. Put all the above ingredients into a non-stick saucepan over moderate heat. Stir until the milk simmers gently, cook for 5 minutes, stirring, then tip the contents of the pan into the buttered dish. Dot the surface with bits of butter, and bake in a moderate heat, 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4 for 40-45 minutes. A golden brown skin will form. Serve warm, with, if you like, crème fraiche or cream.
Baked dark chocolate puddings
• 6oz/175g dark chocolate, 70 per cent, broken into pieces into a Pyrex bowl
• 4oz/120g butter, cut into pieces into the Pyrex bowl with the dark chocolate
• 4 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
• 4oz/120g caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 just-rounded teaspoons self-raising flour, sieved
Butter 6 ramekins thoroughly and put them onto a baking tray.
Put the Pyrex bowl containing the chocolate and butter over a saucepan containing about 1”/2cm barely simmering water – the base of the bowl must not touch the water. Leave until the butter has melted and the chocolate is very soft, and mix the two together. Take the bowl off the heat.
Whisk the eggs, yolks, caster sugar and vanilla together for several minutes, until the mixture is greatly increased in volume and is very pale in colour. This will take about 4-5 minutes’ whisking with a handheld electric whisk. Sieve in the flour, and fold it in together with the chocolate and butter mixture. This is easiest and most thoroughly done using a flat whisk.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the buttered ramekins, dividing it evenly. Bake in a hot oven, 420F/220C/Gas Mark 7 for 10 minutes.
Eat immediately – if you like, dust with icing sugar before serving, and also if you like (I do!) – serve with chilled whipped cream flavoured with vanilla.