The King Cake Chronicles.

Ruler of my tum

Ruler of my tongue (and tum)

Not long ago it was Mardi Gras season in New Orleans, and the Pud-Hog was getting a piece of the action.

How?

Through the continuous consumption of King Cake, of course.

Now, for those of you who have not yet had the good fortune to try it, King Cake is a Mardi Gras staple, bought, sold and eaten from Twelfth Night (i.e. 5 January) until Fat Tuesday (which, this year, fell on 12 Feburary).

As sweet treats go, it is, quite frankly, delicious: a large hoop of Cinnamon pastry, often filled with flavoured Cream Cheese, and sprinkled with gaudy granules of sugar in Mardi Gras colours of green, gold and purple.

A regular fixture in cafes and bakeries around New Orleans and Southern Mississippi, each one contains a small plastic baby, planted somewhere in the dough. Get one in your slice and tradition dictates that the next King Cake is on you – as long as you don’t choke on baby, that is.

Our first exciting taste of the stuff was in Biloxi: a shop-bought slice filled with Strawberry Cream Cheese.

It. Was. MAGNIFICENT.

And from that goo-filled moment on, my mission became to try it at every juncture.

The King Cake had such an excellent texture: the Pastry was fluffy, soft and chewy; the Sugar was extra crunchy, and the Cream Cheese filling was moist and… well… creamy.

No doubt each piece was suffused with a large dose of e-numbers too (making sugar that bright can’t be easy), but what the heck – it probably just helps you party that little bit harder.

With sugar like this, who needs drugs?

With sugar this colour, who needs drugs?

My second King Cake opportunity arose at the Lost Love Lounge – a dingy Vietnamese restuarant, attached to an even dingier bar.

Despite the unlikely setting, the food was exceedingly good, and their King Cake (though not made onsite) was only $2 a slice.

This time there was no Cream Cheese filling, but again it tasted wonderful. Lubricated with some sort of Cinnamon Jelly, it slid down my gullet in record time, making me hungry for more…

I did not have to wait too long, thank goodness, for the next day, at the Cake Cafe, I managed to buy two lumps of the homemade variety.

I say ‘managed’ because it was bloody hard: two times I attempted to buy some before I came up trumps.

The first time I was two hours late, and all the day’s stock had sold out. The next time (the following morning), I was told I was much too early – and advised to come back in an hour or so.

Third time lucky (at last), I bought one portion of Goats Cheese and Apple, and one of Raspberry Cream Cheese.

At $5 a piece sans tax, they weren’t the cheapest cakes by any means. They were, however, the biggest – each one enough to satiate two people, I should think.

Anyway, as you may have guessed, these were Cakes for a more gourmet market.

Though lacking crumbs of Sugar, both were festooned with bright strips of icing, with small plastic babies on top. When we bought them, both were warm as well – but, having filled up at breakfast, neither of us could face eating them in their prime.

This was a shame, as it happened – because, by evening, each one was slightly stale.

Not that we threw them away, though, Ogglers

Who could do such a thing to King Baby?

Who could do such a thing to King Baby?!

Instead, we made the best of what we had – enjoying the fillings (though wishing there was more to keep things moist).

The Raspberry version was particularly good, while the Goats Cheese and Apple was a twist on the classic I gladly tried – but might not rush to try again (though pleasingly peppered with Apple chunks, it lacked my desired amount of goo).

The King-Cake-a-thon wasn’t over, however.

In the morning, not ten hours later, our guesthouse served shop-bought pieces with Praline Cream Cheese for breakfast (!) and I felt unable to go without trying a slice.

Nutty, creamy, soft and sweet, it probably contained enough sugar to power a steamboat – yet compared to the Deep-Fried Cheesecake I’d had it was virtually Muesli and Milk.

Alas, however, even the Pud-Hog have too much of a good thing.

And having tried King Cake in almost every setting, at last I was ready to turn my attention elsewhere – at least for the time-being.

Truly, this is one sweet treat that really suits its name.

Just put some in Buckingham Palace and I’ll be a royalist.

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Rated, Y’all: The Biloxi Beignets.

Breakfast, Biloxi-style

A Beignet breakfast, Biloxi-style

What? A New Orleans speciality that has migrated over the border: warm Doughnut-type pillows infused with Cinnamon, deep-fried in Cottonseed Oil, and dusted (very liberally) with a heaps of powdered Sugar.

Unlike the deep-fried Cheesecake they made a rather lovely breakfast, being softer and much lighter than they looked.

Surprisingly fragrant and not oily in the slightest, they came to us as soon as they were ready – proudly homemade and as fresh as can be.

If only we’d had space for their White Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding too.

*SIGH*

Guess I’ll just have to go back…

Where? Le Café Beignet in downtown Biloxi, MS

How Much? $3.95 without tax

Rating? 8/10

I tasted the love – and loved the taste

Rated, Y’all: The IHOP Deep-Fried Cheesecake.

Deep-Fried Cheesecake

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here

What? The most ludicrous thing I’ve conceived of – let alone seen on a menu.

For breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you too can get yourself a square of Pastry, filled with Caramel and Banana ‘Cheesecake‘ (read ‘biscuitless mush’), which has been deep-fried and covered with Whipped Cream, Banana slices, and sticky Strawberry Sauce.

At 660 calories, 34g of fat, and 36g of sugar, it has to be one of the naughtiest things you can buy without breaking the law (and the most ridiculous breakfast I’ve ever had).

Surprisingly, despite being a deep-fried, Cheese-and-Sugar-filled Pastry, it didn’t taste that extreme.

Indeed, the chopped Banana and (admittedly syrup-soaked) Strawberry pieces kept things fairly fresh, providing some much-needed tempering.

It certainly had a good mixture of textures too.

But would I recommend it as anything other than a novelty item?

Well…

The Whipped Cream was not much more than froth, the filling tasted neither of Banana nor Caramel (only of something generically sweet), and, in general, it looked like a car crash.

The innards, in particular, resembled a cross between Gruel and congealed wallpaper paste.

By far the worst thing about it, however, was the lingering flavour of oil – something that lasted long after I put down my spoon (though not quite as long as the headache the whole thing triggered).

That said, as puddings go it wasn’t terrible – it just wasn’t terribly tasty

Where? Available at IHOP in the U.S. of A

How Much? $3.99, excluding tax

Rating? 4/10

Sugar and fat, fried in oil? Once in a lifetime could well be one time too many…

Rated, Y’all: T-Bone’s Turtle Cream Cheese Bar.

Time for T

Time for T

What? All the best things in one edible square: Pecans, Chocolate Drops, Chocolate Sauce, and – of course – Cream Cheese.

Fairly small as American portions go, it made for a moreish mouthful.

The crunch and chew of it were great – but extra goo would have been even better…

Where? T-Bone’s Cafe in Hattiesburg, MS

How Much? $1.79 excluding tax

Rating? 7/10

The ‘T’ is for tasty. Probably

Rated, Y’all: Sal & Mookie’s Pecan Bar.

EXCITING NEWS, OGGLERS: I am writing to you today from MISSISSIPPI, where the puds are huge and the hogging is sweet.

It. Is. Awesome.

As was the first Cake the state had to offer…

Pecan Perfection

Pure Pecan Perfection

What? A warm and buttery square of nutty goodness, freshly made and drizzled with syrup.

It’s got the crunch, it’s got the melt – and it’s got the perfect amount of chopped Pecans

Where? From Sal & Mookie’s in Jackson, MS

How Much? $2.50 (plus tax)

Rating? 10/10

Just couldn’t fault it – or get enough

Rated: Classic Herd Jersey Yoghurt.

Jersey Yoghurt

Yog-Hog

What? Perhaps the thickest Vanilla Yoghurt that money can buy – more like Custard in texture than Fromage Frais – and all thanks to the work of those cows in their lush Jersey pastures.

Though studded throughout with Vanilla Pods, it tasted ever so slightly cheesy (clearly much more rich than this Pud-Hog is used to).

It gave off a rather sour smell to boot…

Where? Our pot of Classic Herd came from the Holme Grown farm shop (they of the marvellous Gâteau St Honoré)

How Much? £1.90 for 500ml

Rating? 5/10

Loved the texture – not massively keen on the tang

Sweet S.A. 4: The Koeksister.

I’m starting to think I should emigrate to Cape Town, if only for the puddings.

Within just a few days it played host to a divine plate of Chocolate Samoosas, a Tart which trumped the grand majority of its English counterparts (countertarts?), and the wonderful syrupy bonanza that is Malva Pudding.

Then, just when I thought things couldn’t get much better, there came another surprise:

Koeksister

The Twisted (Koek)Sister

Now, this may look like something a toddler would bring home from their first ever dalliance with clay, but, trust me, it was delicious.

For those of you who have never seen such a thing before, allow me to explain. This glistening knot is a Koeksister: a twisted, deep-fried Doughnut which has been dunked, post-fry, in syrup.

Sounds greasy, right?

Well, it is – but not overly so.

As it happens, the one I tried (bought at the Old Biscuit Mill Market for 5 Rand – i.e. less than 40 pence) was a real treat, with the taste of oil surprisingly muted behind the general honey-like sweetness.

Though hard to the touch, the Doughnut was soft on the inside, and yielded a rush of cool syrup when bitten.

In fact, it was quite a lot like my favourite Indian sweet, the Jalebi, with its similarly moreish texture of light crunch and juiciness.

It was probably not the healthiest option to have, I’ll grant you.

But given I’ve only tried one in my lifetime, I think I can spare room for two or three more…

Sweet S.A. 3: Milk Tart.

A Tart to heart

A Tart to heart

Why, oh why had I never had Milk Tart before my trip to South Africa?!

It’s not as if it contains anything we can’t get here in England. So why does nobody sell it in this country?

Like Malva Pudding, Milk Tart (or Melktert) is a tasty South African staple that you’ll find in many bakeries and cafes all over Cape Town and beyond.

It’s a bit like an Egg Custard Tart – only much much better.

Instead of Nutmeg, it’s usually topped with Cinnamon (a perennial Pud-Hog favourite, as you regular Ogglers know). And although the filling is similar to Egg Custard, it’s much more… well… milky.

The beautiful specimen you see at the top of this post was bought at the excellent weekly Capetonian market at the Old Biscuit Mill, off a stall selling produce from Martin Senekal.

Costing a mere 15 Rand (or about £1), it was a glorious pairing of crisp, thin Pastry (with a lovely grainy wholemeal texture), and a delicate, wobbling, milk custard filling – not forgetting that liberal dusting of Cinnamon.

Light, smooth and slightly tangy, it slipped down my throat in a matter of moments, and gave me a delicious boost as we trundled through the market.

Now that I’m back in the freezing climes of England, I can’t help wishing that boost would come again.

Bakers of London, take heed: there’s a creamy, Tart-shaped gap in this city. One of you really ought to start milking it.

Sweet S.A. 2: Malva Pudding at Bardelli’s.

Malva Cake

Mmmalva

One dessert you’ll almost always see at the back of a Cape Town menu is Malva Pudding. If I’d been so inclined, I could have eaten it every night – and I admit, I was sorely tempted.

In essence, it’s much like Sticky Toffee Pudding: a moist, spongy concoction with a sweet sauce, served hot with Ice Cream and/or Custard. Depending on the chef’s inclinations, it can also be made with extras like Dates and Apricot Jam – bringing a rather nice zing to proceedings.

At Bardelli’s restaurant, where I finally succumbed, I couldn’t detect any fruity additions (somewhat of a shame, in my book), but it nevertheless made a very nice plate of comfort food.

Rich, syrupy, and slightly chewy, it was certainly more of a luxury pudding than most, and from time to time my spoon would hit a pale pocket of Butter, making it seem even more of a pig out.

Still, I could have happily eaten seconds: as with yesterday’s Chocolate Samoosas, the portion size for dessert was nowhere near as generous as that dished out for main meals, and at 40 Rand it was only a fraction cheaper than the HUGE Margherita Pizza I’d eaten before.

Perhaps I’m being a little unfair. As sizing in restaurants goes, it wasn’t that small – it just wasn’t enough for a Pud-Hog.

Sadly, few things are…

Sweet S.A. 1: Chocolate Samoosas at Rick’s.

Those of you who follow the Pud-Hog on Twitter will know that I’ve just come back from a week in Cape Town.

It was my first visit to South Africa, and, foodwise, I wasn’t expecting to have my boat floated.

Being veggie and all, I imagined I’d spend the whole time eating Beans and Bread, while my cousin – my travelling partner – got fat on Springbok Steaks and Ostrich.

In fact, the reality was quite different: not only was there plenty of choice in the main meal department, but – on the whole – Dessert was exciting and bounteous.

During my stay, I tried numerous Cakes and Puddings, many of which I had not had before.

I’ll be featuring most of them over the next few posts, but today I start with one of the biggest highlights: the Chocolate Samoosas at Rick’s Café Américain on Park Road.

Chocolate Samoosas

Why fill a Samoosa with anything else?

Sweet Samoosas (or Samosas) probably aren’t the first thing you would think of when contemplating African cuisine. Then again, I can’t say I’ve seen them anywhere else – and they make quite excellent ambassadors.

Two hot and super-crisp Pastry triangles, crammed full of Dark Lindt Chocolate, served with fresh Fruit and a scoop of homemade Bourbon Vanilla Ice Cream.

In a word? Bliss.

The texture was particularly good: through some weird process I don’t quite understand, the Chocolate in the centre had congealed while cooking. As a result, it stayed lovely and firm, rather than dribbling over the plate.

The Ice Cream was superb as well: it partnered with the Pastries beautifully, keeping things smooth and providing a much-needed coolness to balance things out.

My only reservation was the price. At 48 Rand for a plate of two (just under £3.50 at current rates), it was only a few pence cheaper than one of our huge main meals – and certainly wasn’t the largest serving of Pudding I’ve ever had.

Then again, it was one of the tastiest. And in London it would have cost at least double, I’m sure.

What the hell: we were on holiday!

Before we knew it our plate was cleared – and seconds were on their way…