By the time you read this, our daughter will be looking back on her first week of university in the north of England, probably relieved that the initial few terrifying days are behind her; hopefully starting to settle into her course and make new friends. Meanwhile, back in Delhi, her parents are still stifling a sob every time they pass her empty bedroom and marvelling at how one family member can take with her 60% of the household noise.For us, of course, this moment has come too soon but then our little girl has always been in a hurry to get on with life. She arrived suddenly and dramatically while her father was still filling up the birth pool; she talked before she could walk and is now cracking on with her dream of studying acting at the tender age of 17.As the East Riding of Yorkshire starts to wonder what’s hit it, we’re wondering if we’ve done enough to prepare her for the rest of her life. After seven years of living in India, we worry whether she’ll ever get the hang of using a washing machine, shopping in supermarkets and the Green Cross Code (a 1970s British road safety initiative—“Stop, Look, Listen, Think”).The only thing I know for sure is that on the night before she left home, she ate all of her favourite foods, choosing pakoda-like cauliflower fritters, spicy chicken couscous and a steamed syrup pudding. Steamed puddings are traditional British fare, essentially a cake mixture which is steamed in a bowl rather than baked in a tin. There are many versions, including Christmas Pudding and Spotted Dick, but in our family the syrup variety is the only one we ever make.One of my own earliest food memories is of the unbearable anticipation of the sound of the pudding basin rattling away for hours on the stove. The soft, sweet, sticky taste is like a great big hug on a cold wet day—guaranteed to soothe away most of life’s little disappointments. So far, the only thing I’ve found it hasn’t worked for is Empty Nest Syndrome.Syrup Pudding with Fresh Vanilla CustardServes 5IngredientsFor the pudding4 tbsp golden syrup100g butter, plus a little extra for greasing100g caster sugar100g plain flour2 level tsp baking powder2 eggs2 tbsp milkFor the custard500ml single cream (or 250ml thick cream and 250ml milk)1 whole vanilla pod, split in two5 egg yolks2 tbsp caster sugarMethodYou will need a 1-litre pudding basin with a tight-fitting lid (mine is plastic with a plastic lid but my mother used a glass bowl covered with greaseproof paper tightly tied on with string). Fill a kettle and when the water has boiled pour about 2 inches into a large pan and place over a low heat.Lightly grease the inside of the pudding basin. Spoon the golden syrup into the bottom of the basin.In a large mixing bowl, weigh out the butter, sugar and flour, then add the baking powder, eggs and milk. Beat together with a hand-held mixer until completely smooth, then pour into the basin on top of the syrup. Smooth the top of the mixture and put on the lid—this has to fit snugly so that no water gets into the sponge during cooking. Carefully lower the basin into the simmering water, cover the pan with a lid and let it bubble away for an hour or so. Check every so often to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated—if it’s getting a little low, add more hot water from the kettle.To make the custard, first separate the eggs and put the yolks in a large bowl with the sugar. Mix the two together well. Put the cream into a thick-bottomed saucepan, scrape the vanilla seeds in, add the pod and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and leave to cool slightly. Then pour the vanilla cream into the egg yolks, sugar and whisk well. Clean and dry the pan, then pour the custard mixture back in.Over low heat, and whisking constantly (to avoid lumps and curdling), bring the custard to boil. It should be perfectly smooth and in no way resemble sweet scrambled eggs. If you think the mixture is in danger of curdling, take it off the heat and place it over a bowl of ice, then whisk like fury.When the pudding is ready, lift the basin out of the water and remove the lid. Place a large plate on top and flip the pudding over on to it. It should be golden and sweet smelling with a little puddle of syrup.Serve hot with the fresh custard.
It’s 43 degrees outside, and of course it’s madness to be baking in an AC-free kitchen the size of a small dining room table. But for now I don’t care – the cherries have arrived, which means urgent Clafoutis-making and an opportunity to wallow in my annual ‘Summer in Provence’ fantasies. At other times of the year, I make plainer versions with apples and pears, but they’re more ‘home on the ranch’ than South of France.
Cooking anything in Delhi at this time of year requires a certain amount of mind over matter, but the sight of a cherry clafoutis straight from the oven with its puffed-up, red-studded batter, and the accompanying gasps of delight from La Famille, make it all worthwhile.
I like my clafoutis straightforward and wholesome – eggs, milk, cream, sugar letting the cherries speak for themselves without the distraction of liqueur. This recipe is a version of Nigel Slater’s and the cherries can be replaced by the same weight of apples, pears, figs.
4 eggs, 75g plain flour (maida), pinch of salt, 75g vanilla sugar*, 225ml cream, 225ml full cream milk, 450g cherries, stoned
Preheat the oven to 200ºC and butter a 25cm tart tin. Wash and stone the cherries – this is a little labour-intensive but if you put on an apron and sit yourself at a table set with a gingham tablecloth, you can really start channelling Provence. Pop the cherries into the tin.
Whisk together all the other ingredients until you have a smooth batter and pour over the cherries. Bake until the batter is puffed up and golden. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Eat warm or cold.
* Vanilla sugar really makes the difference in puddings like this. Keep a jar of caster sugar with a vanilla bean in for just such occasions.