The St Bart’s Body Parts Bake-Off.

Those of you who follow the Pud-Hog on Twitter might remember, way back in October, me mentioning a special little Cake sale here in London.

Held on the St Bart’s campus by a pop-up bakery movement called Eat Your Heart Out, it drummed up lots of web-based attention, and no wonder: it was full of medical edibles.

Lung Sponges, black with emphysema; kidneys, frosted with polycistic Icing; Cupcakes covered in STDs.

For the squeamish, no doubt it was gag-worthy.

But for pud pioneers like the Man and I, it was the chance to boldly go where no Hog had gone before…

Into the world of the edible Carbuncle!

… in to the world of the edible Carbuncle

With almost six months having passed now since the actual event, I’m aware that I’m rather behind in terms of reporting.

In my defence though, Ogglers, I was rather overwhelmed. With a whole file full of photos, and several tastings of note, my first drafts were several pages long.

My plan, you see, was to give you a thorough review; to impart my newfound knowledge on the taste of what we bought for a mere £3 a piece: a colourfully Wounded Bakewell (meh), a Macaroon Heart (crisp and creamy with buttercream innards), a fleshy pink Cupcake complete with rum-filled syringe (surprisingly dry), and a bar in the shape of a Carbuncle (Maltesers + Condensed Milk + dyed White Chocolate + Icing Sugar = waaaaay too much for even the sweetest sweet tooth).

After months of deliberation, however, I realised life’s too short for blog posts that long. And besides, you don’t buy goodies like these for the flavour; you buy them to wow your friends (and quite possibly make them feel sick).

So here you are Ogglers, without further ado: the photos you’ve all been waiting for.

Prepare to be awed and appalled, by…

THE WOUNDED BAKEWELL TART:

Bam!

Boom!

THE SKIN CAKE:

She'll have you in stitches!

She’ll have you in stitches!

THE ANATOMICALLY CORRECT HEART MACAROON:

Put THAT in your valves and smoke it!

Impossible to beat!

THE FLESH CUPCAKE:

STI Cupcake

A boost for your flesh AND your stomach!

THE LUNG CAKE:

A breath of fresh air!

A breath of fresh air!

THE ANATOMICAL WAX MODEL CAKE:

Head Tissue

Really gets under your skin!

THE POLYCYSTIC KIDNEY DISEASE CAKE:

Polycistic Kidney

How could you re-cyst!?

And last, but by no means least, what looks to me like

A BURNT LEG SPONGE CAKE:

INTO THE HOME OF DE-LEG-TABLE TREATS

De-LEG-table!

And with that, I’m all out of puns and photos.

I just hope you’re not out of sick bags…

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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…

The Gypsy Tart.

Yesterday, not entirely by chance, the Man and I found ourselves in Canterbury.

As usually happens whenever we go exploring, our walk through the city consisted of visiting bakeries, tea rooms and sweet shops, in search of edibles new and exciting.

Within just a few minutes we found something special, nestled inside A.E. Barrow & Sons.

It was this: the Gypsy Tart.

Gypsy Tart

The Pud that travels no further than Kent

Neither of us had seen one before, but we soon learned a few things about it:

  1. The filling is made from a mixture of Condensed Milk and Brown Sugar
  2. It’s a Kent speciality, well-known as a school dinner staple (probably coz it’s so cheap to make)
  3. The girl at the bakery counter can’t stand it (in a word, she thought it was ‘bleurgh’)

Of course, I bought one as soon as I could and, later, while shielding myself from the wind, I had me a tentative bite.

It was not what I’d expected.

At all.

From the outside, it looked so innocuous: beige Pastry; beige filling; not a single decoration or Chocolate Curl.

The flavour, however, was a veritable no-holds-barred explosion of sweetness: part-melted granules whisked into a mousseline frenzy with an unnatural amount of syrupy Condensed Milk.

The Brown Sugar gave it a strong molasses taste – not a hundred miles away from that of Liquorice – and the fact that the Pastry was sweet as well made things even more intense.

I could see why the girl at the bakery hadn’t been keen – it certainly had the air of a pud that would be an acquired taste (far too rich for most, I expect).

As to feeding it to schoolchildren? Might as well give them crack cocaine, for all the addictive powers of that Sugar…

That said, it wasn’t unpleasant. The texture was particularly nice: light and bubbly; quite a bit melty too.

It just wasn’t something you could (or should) buy often.

Once a month/year/decade would probably do it…

Good thing we don’t live in Kent.

Cakehole’s Coffee & Walnut Cake.

Cakehole Coffee and Walnut Cake

The Coffee Cake that fills a hole – and then some…

In all my years as a Pud-Hog, I never once thought of Coffee and Walnut Cake as a luxury item.

Essential tea-time staple, perhaps, but not generally the main event.

After a trip to Herne Hill Market, however, I’m starting to think that I just hadn’t tried the right one…

There, you see, at a stall run by Cakehole, I picked up a rather appealing slice in an exciting end-of-day mark-down (being a bargainous £1.50 – or £1 less than the norm).

It was the last slice left – pleasingly large and fat with filling – and, having walked for some miles before finding it, I’d certainly built up the hunger to knock it back.

Or so I thought.

Those first few mouthfuls were totally dreamy, with an obscenely generous quotient of milky Coffee icing and a scattering of finely-chopped Walnuts, which gave the top level a lovely crunch.

All too soon, however, after just under half had been eaten, I suddenly felt unable to finish the rest.

It was all those thick layers of filling: super-sweet slabs which seemed to exceed the subtler sum of the Sponge.

While they started out as a blessing, providing three decadent pockets of moisture, eventually they verged towards being sickly.

At that point, I did something quite out of character: I decided to stop eating.

Not since Honey & Co’s Chocolate Sandwich had I felt such a need to share – but the Man didn’t want to partake (being no fan of either Coffee or Nuts).

Instead I was forced to wrap the Cake up and pop it back into my bag.

For a moment I felt like I’d failed. The Sponge had overpowered me.

But then I realised: two sittings of Cake are better than one.

The next day, prepared for its sugary hit, I brought out the half-eaten chunk after lunch.

This time, it was the perfect size.

And thankfully, once again, it was delicious.

The St John Doughnut.

Custard Doughnut

Any moister and you’d need armbands

I couldn’t keep away from Maltby Street after last time’s successful feasting (best Choc Ice ever, fragrant London Buns, etc, etc), so yesterday the Man and I returned.

Being the first market of the New Year it was fairly sparse in places, but a lot of the top dogs were open for business – the popular St John Bakery being one of them.

We went to their archway on our last visit, and purchased a rather nice Eccles Cake, which was so dense with Currants the insides were almost like Fudge.

Our highlight, however, was the fresh Salt Caramel Doughnut.

Salt Caramel Doughnut

A.K.A. The Sugar Daddy

Now, I’m generally not a huge Doughnut fan: I was never an admirer of Krispy Kreme, and even a just-baked Jersey specimen couldn’t convert me to the cause.

The Salt Caramel St John Doughnut, however, was a rather different story.

Being die-hard Salt Caramel lovers, we bought one for only £2, and attempted to have a small bite of it round the corner.

Within seconds the centre was welling up – a vast, molten core of sweet liquid, which threatened to cover the street – and our ‘taster’ turned into a scoffing spree, as we tried to contain the eruption.

It. Was. Obscene. But in the best way possible.

Finally, I had found the ratio of filling to dough that I’ve always longed for; one that keeps the whole thing moist, and wins out over what it was fried in.

The type of filling was wonderful too: light, luxurious, smooth and silky, with a tang that was almost alcoholic.

The outside, meanwhile, was dotted with crumbs of Honeycomb and Salt. Clearly, this was no healthy option – but it was easy to see why their customers queued out the door.

Anyway, back to yesterday’s trip, and this time the flavour on offer was Custard.

This wasn’t like any Custard Doughnut I’ve ever had, though. Unsurprisingly, it was much better: not claggy and dark like those stodgy cold Dough-bricks you get in a box at the supermarket; more like a geyser of Cream.

With Vanilla Seeds and a hint of Lemon, it too was so full and refined that it threatened to spill down my chin, while drifts of Sugar flecks settled all over my jumper, rucksack and trousers.

As the last mouthful went, I was covered in crumbs, with a scrumptious residue coating my fingers and lips.

I felt like I’d been baptised. No wonder they call it St John.

The Pud-Hog’s Pud of the Year: Top 10 (Purchased) Puddings.

This is it, Ogglers: the Big One; the post you’ve all been waiting for.

After much deliberation, I’ve finally picked my Top Ten Puddings of 2012.

While choosing the best was a reasonably easy feat, sorting the ranking has taken weeks of thought. My brain has been flooded with memories – while my mouth is in floods of saliva.

I think I’ve just about cracked it though…

Each entry on this list stands out for a host of reasons, including value, size, originality, texture, taste and even audibility (in other words, if I didn’t hear myself groan with delight, it didn’t make the cut).

What you see below are the cakes and desserts that stopped me in my tracks. They are among the best calories that have ever passed my lips and, with the tragic exception of No. 10, they’re all out there for you to try.

For more information, click on the links at each heading. Then add them to your To-Chew list and get gobbling while you can.

10. Niko B.’s Pumpkin Pancakes with Halloumi and Chocolate Sauce

Warning. Photo may cause mouth leaks.

This isn’t a match I would ever have thought of, but blimey it was a good’un.

Soft Pumpkin Pancakes, rich Chocolate Sauce, and thick slabs of fried Halloumi – if my last supper were scheduled for breakfast, I’m pretty sure this would be it.

Hailing from Niko B’s now defunct Chocolate Lab, alas, they may never be my Sunday treat again.

It’s a tragedy, folks. But I feel truly blessed to have tried them.

9. Pistachio Rose’s Chocolate Tarts

Indian Tartlets

What you see here are the crispest, cleanest Pastry Tarts, filled with the most Chocolatey spiced fillings that this Pud-Hog’s ever had.

Milk Chocolate Chai; Dark Chocolate with Salt and Chilli; White Chocolate and Sweet Fennel: every flavour is exciting, with a melt that makes me shiver every time.

8. The Bakery Cafe’s Chocolate, Fennel and Caraway Brownie

Fennel and Caraway Brownie

BEHOLD: a textural triumph of tremendous proportions!

This Brownie was moist, melty, crispy, chewy – and perhaps more excitingly still, absolutely ENORMOUS.

If its intriguing mix of spices doesn’t float your boat, then the slightly salty edge will surely get your oral rivers flowing.

Worth a train trip to Sherborne all on its own.

No other Brownie compares.

7. The Kooky Bakes’ Kooky Slice

Congratulations. You have reached the Holy Grail.

Here is the slice to end all slices.

With Condensed Milk, Pecans, Pretzels, Dulce de Leche AND Dark and White Chocolate, this cunchy gooey beast has all the trimmings.

As it happens, the Kooky Slice is the first cake of the year I almost married. Our love affair didn’t last long though: eating it was so much more fulfilling.

6. Outsider Tart’s Congo Bar

Congo Bar

This juicy slab is made up almost entirely of Cookie Dough, with a finishing flourish of Chocolate Peanuts. It also happens to be my favourite creation of Outsider Tart so far.

Even now I can’t help marvelling at its construction.

How do they make the outside so crisp, while the inside is perfectly gloopy?

Clearly, there’s some sort of miracle going on. Those bakers deserve a sainthood.

5. Bonda Cafe’s Bubur Pulut Hitam

Into THIS

The fact that this bowl of glutinous Black Rice looks so downright unappetising only proves the strength of my love for its flavour and texture.

Creamy, warm, soft, and suffused with Brown Sugar and Coconut Milk, it ticks all the boxes as my ideal comfort food.

Bonda Cafe: I salute you.

4. The Classic Cinnabon

Cinnabon

As much as I like to support local foodstuffs and plug the wares of independent retailers, on this occasion I’m forced to make an exception.

In a nutshell, CINNABON RULES.

Their Original Bun quite literally drips with Cinnamon Butter, while its caramelised Sugar corners are just the thing to make a Pud-Hog sing.

No doubt it’s loaded with chemicals (I know for a fact that each one is loaded with calories), but quite frankly all other Buns pale in comparison.

3. Honey & Co.’s Cold Cheese CakeCold Cheesecake

Cheesecakes don’t have to be heavy and rich, as this heavenly plateful proves.

Instead, they can be nests of Honey, Fruit, Almonds, fresh Mint, Pastry and creamy Curd-like Cheese.

Every mouthful of this is sheer delight, with just the right balance of crunch, bite and softness.

If the Pud-Hog made clouds they would taste like this – and the skies would be damp with drool.

2. The M’Hencha

M'Hencha

Light, luscious and practically bursting with syrup, here’s another Middle Eastern pud you really mustn’t miss.

A.K.A. the Mmm’hencha, life’s too short not to sample this stupendous Pastry swirl, with its filling of Ground Almonds, Lemon and Rosewater.

Indeed, according to the Guild of Fine Foods, it’s 2012’s best Cake in Britain.

Having sampled a great deal of cake myself, this Pud-Hog can proudly concur.

And finally… drum roll please…

1. La Grotta’s Pine Nut and Candied Orange Cedrat Choc Ice

The reason that God made Ice Cream

WOOO!

This is it, Ogglers: the champ of well over 200 Pud-Hog posts – and it’s a worthy winner indeed.

I looked at my notes for this Choc Ice the other day, and in big letters, filling up three lines, one phrase is scrawled in biro:

‘Oh!’

It’s quite difficult to describe just how special this Ice Cream was. I have never, never had anything like it.

A magnificent mash-up of fresh sea breezes, thick Milk Chocolate, Pine Nuts and Candied Orange, before I tried this, I mistakenly thought that I’d had all that Ice Cream could offer.

If you can, get your hands on one sharpish – and congratulate La Grotta on a pud well done.

Happy Hogging – and thanks for supporting the Pud-Hog’s first year!

Here’s to the next twelve months…

P-H x

The Pud-Hog’s Pud of the Year: Top 10 Pudding Producers.

Would you Adam and Eve it?

Last week marked the one year anniversary of the Pud-Hog Blog – and I was so caught up in those Cape Town desserts, I blooming well let it pass by.

A BELATED HOGGAVERSARY TO YOU ALL!

To celebrate, I’ll be looking back over the past year of tasty Pud-Hog treats (now in the two-hundreds, last time I counted), and presenting the best of the bunch.

To kick things off, here’s my Top 10 Pudding Producers; a handful of excellent companies that have caught my eye, with various ranges of sweet treats guaranteed to make you drool.

These are by no means one-hit wonders, folks: they’re places for Pud-Hog pilgrims (and no – they’re not all in London)…

10. Chococo

Luvly Jubilee

Why? Chococo is an excellent Chocolate company which sells all manner of gorgeous goodies, using locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. Their flavours are pretty exciting too – think Truffles filled with Molasses, or even Stinging Nettle Ale(!)

Where? They have a factory/shop/cafe in Swanage (you can order things from their website too).

Try: the Chocolate Cream Tea (Chocolate Scones with Dulce de Leche and Clotted Cream); one of their Ice Cream Sundaes (drowning in homemade Chocolate Sauce).

9. Konditor and Cook

K&C Brownies

Why? Though slightly pricier than the average bakery, the range and quality of their cakes is more than worth the money. Indulgent and full of all the right flavours.

Where? K&C has numerous shops in London town – their store at Borough Market is always buzzing.

Try: their Brownies (to my mind, the best in London); Pumpkin Pie; the Curly Whirly Cake (a must for Cream Cheese Addicts).

8. Gatineau

Any more colour and we'd have gone blind...

Why? This could well be the best patisserie outside of France: it always smells divine, their cakes and pastries are made fresh and onsite – and their less fancy pastries are very good value for money.

Where? Gatineau has a popular store in Summertown, Oxford.

Try: a bag of Macaroons (especially the Passionfruit and Raspberry/Chocolate varieties); the Chocolate and Almond Brioche (phwoar).

7. Kooky Bakes

Salt Caramel Whoopie Pie

Why? Big, bold, fun exciting and – above all – very American. Kooky Bakes make a damn fine cake – and their textures are superb.

Where? You’ll find the Kooky Bakes stall at various London markets (take a look at their website for details). They also have a few things in the Selfridge’s Food Hall.

Try: the one and only Kooky Slice (a crazy riot of goo, crunch, salt and sweet); the Salted Caramel Whoopee Pie.

6. The Bakery Cafe

Bakery Cafe Cakes

Why? The atmosphere in the cafe is great and the cakes are even greater, not only in terms of taste. The Fruit Scone and Bun are particularly huge – best of the bunch for value, hands down.

Where? At the top of the main drag in Sherborne, Dorset.

Try: the Chocolate and Caraway Brownie (OMG it’s good); the aforementioned Scone and Bun (you probably won’t need to eat for the rest of the day).

5. Pistachio Rose

High Chai Platter

Why? Refined and flavourful Indian-fusion products: like nothing else you’ve ever tasted.

Where? Some of their products are stocked at Fortnum and Mason. They also do markets (keep an eye on the website for details).

Try: the Shortbread Hearts (so crisp!); the Fig and Dark Chocolate Naan (so chewy!); any one of their super-dense Chocolate Tarts (Out. Of. This. WORLD).

4. Paul A. Young

Aquariva

Why? Mr Young is a stickler for authentic flavours: if a Truffle’s supposed to taste like Malt Loaf, you can be sure that’s what you’ll get. Their range transforms on a regular basis and is always full of surprises (Pea and Mint? Port and Stilton?) The only downside is the price – this is the upper end of luxury.

Where? There are three main stores in London, all filled to the brim with Chocolate (stop by in Soho, Islington, or Bank).

Try: spiced Aztec Hot Chocolate; the award-winning Salted Caramel Truffle; the Marmite Truffle; the PB&J Truffle (the Pud-Hog’s personal fave).

3=3. Sorbitium/La Grotta Ices

Greengage and Hazelnut Custard Crumble

Why? It’s a cop-out to tie them, I know, but each one of these Ice Cream and Sorbet makers is just as awesome as the other: both use incredible flavour combos, and numerous British ingredients that are all-too-seldom seen. Think Cobnuts, Quinces, Damsons – whatever’s in season (and tasty).

Where? For La Grotta Ices, head to the Spa Terminus Market in Bermondsey on Saturday (9am to 2pm). Sorbitium can be found in various London markets (you know the drill: check their website).

Try: if you can get it, go for Dark Chocolate and Chipotle Chilli; Greengage and Hazelnut Custard Crumble (both Sorbitium); Toasted Hazelnut Brittle; Pine Nut and Candied Orange Cedrat Choc Ice (mmm – both La Grotta).

2. Honey and Co

Chocolate Sandwich

Why? Their goodies are all made onsite and they are WONDERFUL. Cost-wise, they’re generally located towards the dearer end of the market – though are not nearly as pricey as some.

These puddings aren’t your normal restaurant fare, but decadent and delicious, with a Middle-Eastern bent. They change their menu regularly too – always a good sign.

Where? Their small cafe was established on Warren Street earlier this year.

Try: the Cold Cheese Cake (a fruity, nutty nest made with Honey and chopped Almonds); the Chocolate Sandwich with Peanut Butter (extremely dense and rich); the Chocolate and Hazelnut Loaf (a goo bonanza).

1. Outsider Tart

Outsider Tart Stall

Why? These are some of the most imaginative guys around, with a no-holds-barred approach to baking. Chunky, unpretentious, usually bursting with Chocolate… I’m not talking about myself here, but the numerous Brownies and Cookies in their repertoire (one which appears to expand by the day).

It’s the only market stall I can’t help but run to, just to see what new creations they’ve invented. Pecans, White Chocolate, Strawberries, Whisky, Oreos, Marshmallows, Oats, Caramel – all feature on a regular basis.

Comforting, filling (and frequently naughty), if I could, I’d eat their products every day.

Where? Catch them at the Southbank Real Food Festival (look for the jostling crowd of people), or at their shop in Chiswick.

Try: walking past without buying anything (trust me, you won’t be able to). The Pud-Hog’s favourites so far include the Congo Bar (a medley of Chocolate Peanuts and Cookie Dough), the Apple and Whisky Pop Tart (served warm with a dusting of sugar), and the Mile High Bar (beats an aeroplane tryst every time).

The Millionaires Ice Cream Bombe.

Tick tock…

Is there anything more extravagant than an Ice Cream Cake? The whole concept smacks of impracticality: once you’ve taken it out and served the thing there’s no going back.

Too few of you clustered around the table and things start to get obscene pretty quickly. Unable to refreeze it you have only two choices: either stuff your face or watch in dismay as the leftovers melt into oblivion.

I recently faced this dilemma myself. With four of us craving sugar after a splendid Indian feast, someone had to go out and buy dessert.

The brief, to suit all appetites, was this: costing less than £5 it had to be both gooey and exciting – with a generous serving of Chocolate to boot.

Our emissary returned with a Millionaires Ice Cream Bombe from Sainsbury’s, plating it up to a round of applause. He had covered all the bases. Not only was it studded (and topped) with Chocolate-covered Biscuit nuggets, but inside was the excitement and the goo:

A.K.A. a raunchy Caramel filling

Extravagant indeed!

Especially when you consider that we’d eaten less than half before feeling full.

What to do with the rest though? After softening a little at room temperature it was clearly at its best: smooth and melty without having made the full transition to liquid.

The contrast in textures was lovely too: crunch and goo; hard and soft. But soon it would all just be damp. And, with none of us fancying full-fat Milkshakes for several days, all would go to waste…

Some of the group stayed strong, recognising the madness of trying to finish the lot.

Others, however, metaphorically (and literally) decided to step up to the plate.

Seconds went down all right, but proved more than enough for my comrades. Alone, I soldiered on, but the third bowl of richness was perhaps a bowl too many.

Damn you, Ice Cream Bombe! I cried. Are you trying to make me obese?!

With a quarter still dripping defiantly, it seemed like I was fighting a losing battle.

Thankfully, minutes later, we were saved by a stray housemate, who mercifully ate the last of it, putting us out of our misery.

Even so, the damage had been done. Though thoroughly delicious, I realised I could never buy another one: the Bombe had lived up to its name, and gone off far too quickly.

It was time for the Pud-Hog to call for a truce. And a very long lie-down indeed.

Review: Za Za Bazaar and the Pudding Bowl Blowout.

Food as far as the eye can see…

There are some concepts I just can’t resist, however much I might want to.

Za Za Bazaar is a prime example: an all-you-can-eat buffet, with 1,000 covers – apparently making it Britain’s largest restaurant.

Before I go on, you should know that I hate crowds. I also hate feeling like I am competing for food – there’s nothing worse than having your eye on a certain Cake or Pastry, only to see it snatched up by the person in front of you.

Nevertheless I was drawn to the place, namely because of the choice: most of the world’s cuisines in just one room – from Sushi to Sausage and Mash – with a dessert list longer than anywhere outside my dreams.

Since we were in Bristol – i.e. home to this particular Bazaar – it seemed like we really should give it a go. The website alone made my eyes spin, but when else would we get the chance?

From the outset it was clear that this wasn’t your usual dining experience. You can’t just book any time you want, but have to go on the hour.

The price also varies depending on when you go (as does the range they offer). Our visiting time being peak (i.e. Saturday night), we supposedly had the whole range of their dishes, for a fairly meaty £15.99 per head.

When we got there almost the first thing they told us was what time we had to leave: it was 8.45 at the latest; little more than ninety minutes after we’d arrived.

Which brings me to another thing I hate: time-limits.

With one-and-a-half hours to sample various cusines, the main temptation was to pile up our plates and start scoffing. But no: the Man and I had been working on a plan.

It ran as follows: do the rounds first to scope out the joint; try tiny samples of everything we fancied; minimise the carbs (too filling and cheap – not easy to get your money’s worth); drink plenty of water; and – most importantly – try to avoid being sick.

I have to say, our main meals went surprisingly well. The food quality wasn’t generally great, but the spectacle was amazing: our first recon took about ten minutes, so vast was the range on offer. Each station was themed by place, and was manned by at least two chefs; some of whom could make things on request.

Enough about savouries, though – this blog post is hardly the place. As I learnt that night, it’s vital to save space for pudding.

So here it is (brace yourself):

Four kinds of cake on this side…

…a Chocolate Fountain with Fruit, Marshmallows and Cake Chunks…

…Gulab Jamun, Sweets, and two cabinets of Jellied Desserts…

…a Mr Whippy-style Ice Cream Dispenser…

…PLUS Ice Cream for scooping, Crème Brûlée (in the background), AND Kheer, Apple Crumble and Custard (just out of shot). WHEW.

In short, there was quite a lot – and my aim, as the Pud-Hog, was to try a little snuffling of each thing.

Alas, however, my ambitions were unfulfilled. Not, I might add, because my stomach was overwhelmed (I’d been sparing with my savouries in preparation for this challenge), but because a great deal of what was on offer was apparently not vegetarian.

In fact, the issue of what was and wasn’t veggie caused myself (and the Chefs) no small amount of headaches, mainly because the labelling was so ambiguous: on the few occasions that it was visible, it was hard to tell exactly what it meant.

Take this label for the Indian-style Rice Pudding, for example:

Vegetarian: X

Where most of the labels wrote ‘Y’ or ‘N’ beside the word ‘Vegetarian’, this one plumped for an ‘X’.

But was that an ‘X’ as in a tick box? Or an ‘X’ as in I’m-crossing-this-bad-boy-off-my-list-and-so-should-you?

Nobody seemed to know. One Chef said it wasn’t veggie, another disagreed. Back at the table, our waiter told us it was gelatin-free…

Who to believe?

Elsewhere, as well as the usual no-nos (the Marshmallows and Jellies) a whole cabinet of cakes was apparently off-limits too. Not that this seemed rational either.

Perhaps someone had made up their mind to bake gelatin into everything like some hog-hungry maniac. Or perhaps the labelling department was being incredibly lax.

As for the contradictory Chefs, I’m not sure what the problem was. A language barrier? Undertrained members of staff? A ruse to prevent the Pud-Hog from gobbling up all the stock?

I have my suspicions…

But, again, let’s bring ourselves back to dessert.

What, after all this confusion, did I eventually choose to eat?

Well, this was my first plate:

And so it begins

Sadly, some of it didn’t get eaten (the Chocolate Square, the Swiss Roll and the Pie), but purely because of my aforementioned bewilderment. As for the rest, I’m surprised to reveal that it wasn’t half bad.

Indeed, as products for what is basically a mega (and generally indiscriminate) feeding frenzy, they could have been a whole lot worse.

The Crème Brûlée tasted nice and fresh, with a thin but crunchy caramel top.

The Chocolate Tart was pleasantly rich and dark (if a little too thick and soft in the Pastry department).

The Carrot Cake was something I’d be happy to pay full price for in a bakery, while the Gulab Jamun wasn’t perfect, but just as syrupy as you’d hope to get.

My next stop was the Chocolate Fountain, where I dosed up on Tinned Peaches and a square of Sponge. Alas, you couldn’t just spoon the Chocolate in (instead you had to spear and dip), but I managed to get a fairly decent covering, topping the lot with a scattering of generic chocolate-filled shells.

Like so

Again, it was OK. No Purbeck Chococo wizardry, obviously, but fine as long as you had average expectations. The Chocolate was slightly too thin and oily, but the Peaches were juicy and moreish.

My third bowl quite surpassed them though, with both Kheer and Apple Crumble being pretty gosh darn tasty.

Trust me, it was better than it looked

The former (which I’d decided just had to be veggie) was nice and creamy, with a lovely flavour of Cardamom. The latter was very comforting: a stodgy (though only part-baked) Crumble, with plenty of warm, cooked apple.

It was so comforting, in fact, that I went for seconds – this time with some custard.

My thirds came with Melon and Pineapple.

My fourths with another Gulab Jamun and a sliver of Chocolate Fudge Cake (like one of those Betty Crocker ones; sludgy, but not too bad).

Of course, if you think six bowls of pudding sounds rather piggish, you’d be right.

Then again, it could have been worse: I didnt have the Cupcakes or the Ice Cream – they just didn’t seem that exciting. By the end I was also feeling slightly full…

…and then we were herded out.

The verdict then? A pretty impressive experience, but not one I’d like to repeat.

One session of scoffing against the clock is more than enough for me.

The International Chocolate Awards: Judging the World Final.

Polenta, Water, Chocolate; it’s time to get down to bidness!

I think my career might have peaked – should I just retire now, and go out in a blaze of sugar-coated glory?

Last week I received an email, the first line of which had me rubbing my trotters with glee: ‘We’d like to invite you to judge at the World Final of the International Chocolate Awards‘.

Id like to say, ‘Hell YES,’ I thought, so I RSVPd straight away.

The regular Ogglers among you might remember my first foray into Chocolate Judging at the European Semi-Finals of the same awards, back in May. On that occasion, I learnt the basics of tasting Chocolate properly, and tired myself out with a four-hour afternoon session.

This time I was able to pace myself, with a single two-hour stint on two consecutive mornings (the Tuesday and Wednesday of Chocolate Week, no less). Each session contained around 15-16 samples, placed in anonymous pots just like before.

This being the World Final, the stakes seemed that much higher: we were told we were tasting the ‘best of the best’; things which had already survived three previous rounds of judging, including numerous products which had won Gold and Silver Awards.

Following the same routine as last time, we warmed up our palates with three Dark Chocolate samples, tracking the evolution of flavours and comparing our results.

In a room that was filled with Grand Jury members – people who really knew their stuff – it was easy to feel a bit like the Great Pretender. Then, as decades of dedicated piggery kicked in, I soon got into the groove.

In the first two-hour session, we worked our way through Dark Origin Bars – a round I was familiar with from before. It quickly became apparent that, yes, the group overall was far superior to what we had judged in May: finer textures, fuller flavours; bars that were just more exciting to eat.

Not that I liked them all, mind you. At this stage I can’t get into specifics – the results have yet to be announced – but certain flavours had me pulling faces (and not the blissful/wowzers kind either). I expect this was down to personal taste, but thankfully they were few and far between.

In my second day’s session, our category was Ganaches, Pralines and Filled Truffles, mainly of the Dark variety.

Boy, do I love tasting Truffles, but they were no less of a challenge than the Bars.

Not only is there the filling to examine, but the presentation, the Chocolate shell… the whole shebang. It’s weird. In the semi-finals I remember them being easier to judge – this time each one took me minutes to prod and ponder.

Perhaps it was the quality issue: again, the standards were generally higher, with less to distinguish the great from the good. At times, the challenge was tricky. We were out to track down the globe’s finest, after all – you can’t slap on labels like that willy-nilly.

Even now I’ve got no idea who might come up trumps – there were several disagreements once the plates were cleared away.

There is one thing I’ll say for certain, however: there’s a world of exciting Chocolate out there. So no, I won’t be retiring.

As long as there are taste buds on my tongue, I’ll be darned if I stop using them.