Monday, 14 November 2011
Expectation is a funny thing.
It starts off from a rose-tinted idea in your mind. You call it a dream and think of how much lovlier your life will be when exams end or new adventures start. Some of these plans never come to fruition - the warm glow fades before it even happens and you turn to the next brightest flame.
It's not that reality is better or worse, just different.
I wonder why we can't keep that warm glow alive once it becomes reality. Maybe it's just that - reality cannot be perfect and there are always difficult or testing parts, however small. It feels so romantic to say and believe that you're following your dream, but I wonder if it is too much pressure. Maybe the only way to live is to try and focus on today rather than the future.
I couldn't decide which traditional pudding to make for this post, so I put it to the vote on facebook (I've also updated the page and added an album of black and white outtakes from posts). The choices were a baked custard tart (a.k.a. Henry IV's coronation dulcet - I nearly made this just because it mentions that Chaucer was at the feast), a Sussex pond pudding or this, the Queen of Puddings.
Jane Grigson describes the Queen of Puddings as "a pudding that deserves its name for the perfect combination of flavours and tastes, a most subtle and lovely way to end a meal".
How can a pudding live up to "perfect", to being the winner, to being deemed the "Queen"? It's just like an experience living up to the rosy 'dream' we have called it.
The pudding is definitely "lovely" and "subtle". The custard is warm and nubbly from the breadcrumbs (don't skimp on the vanilla and lemon zest as it brings it to life). The raspberry is only a hint, but it adds another layer of flavour. The meringue is pillowy like pavlova inside and crisp on the outside.
The reality is delicious, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting. It's no worse for that.
Time moves on. The dust settles, familiarity forms and habits are set into place. The next 'dream' or 'queen' recipe slips into the previous place, altered by your new experience. The cycle starts again, pushing you forward onto the next plan, the next idea.
I try to live for today, but my dreams and plans for the future are what drives me - striving for something gives me purpose in life. As with most things, a balance is probably the answer. To not wish the present away but hold onto those dreams. To anchor your feet but keep those brightly coloured balloons tightly wrapped around your hand, propelling you forwards.
Queen of Puddings
(adapted from Jane Grigson's English Food)
For the custard base:
75g fresh white breadcrumbs
zest of 2/3 lemon
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla paste or extract
30g unsalted butter, cubed
pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
1 heaped tbsp raspberry jam or jelly
1/2 tsp lemon juice
For the meringue:
2 egg whites
70g caster sugar (I used golden)
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. In a medium bowl combine the breadcrumbs, zest and sugar. Stir the milk, butter and salt in a medium saucepan and set over the heat. When the butter has melted into a golden film on the surface and the mixture is steaming but not boiling, pour it over the breadcrumbs. Mix together then let it stand for 10 minutes.
Beat the egg yolks into the breadcrumb mix with a spoon or spatula (not a whisk - you don't want to add air). Pour into a shallow ovenproof dish that holds approximately 750ml. Place into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the custard is set but still wibbles in the middle (you will be baking it again, so err on the side of underdone). Lower the oven to 150C/300F.
Warm the jam or jelly in a small saucepan with the lemon juice, stirring to combine. Sieve if you've using jam with seeds. Spread over the custard gently, being careful not to break the skin.
Whip the egg whites until they are firm and hold soft peaks. Sprinkle half the sugar over the top and whisk to combine. Repeat with the other half and then whip until stiff and satiny. Spoon the meringue on top of the jam and swirl, making sure it meets the sides of the dish. Place back in the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until golden and crisp to the touch. Serve hot alone or with cream.