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).

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(Y)umami – the Sixth Basic Taste?

The other day, I had one of the most intense Lemon Tarts I’ve ever eaten.

This Lemon Tart, in fact

Made by the chef at The Field Kitchen Oxford, it was so amazingly tangy that it felt like the taps in my mouth had turned on, flooding my tongue with saliva.

It wasn’t just delicious: it was POW!

It pressed my buttons so well that my jaw almost ached.

Weird, I thought, as I savoured the feeling. I’m not normally that keen on Lemon Tarts. There must be some kind of unusual ingredient at play

But when I asked for the recipe’s secrets there was nothing out of the ordinary: lemon, sugar, butter, eggs, cream – all the usual suspects.

Still, it got me thinking. The intense mouth-watering properties of this particular Tart reminded me of something. And that something was Umami.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, I’ll just give you a brief low-down: identified in the  as one of the basic tastes (along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter), Umami’s the name for a particular savoury flavour, often described as meaty.

It’s the taste you get in foods like Parmesan, Mushrooms and certain Seaweeds (allegedly Breast Milk too): a satisfying, long-lasting flavour, which, when balanced with the right amount of salt (and I’m quoting Wikipedia here) ‘induces salivation and a sensation of furriness on the tongue, stimulating the throat, the roof and the back of the mouth’.

Just, in fact, what this Tart had done to me.

Racking my brain for other pudding-based examples, I didn’t come up with all that much. Certain Salt Caramel products sprang to mind – Paul A. Young’s Salt Caramel Truffles being the strongest contender. Classic Cinnabon buns had the same effect too.

For each of these sweet treats there had been salt involved (in the butter, caramel or otherwise), and, as with the Lemon Tart, my mouth had been prickled and dowsed with drool.

Even now, as I write this, the memories are helping to bathe my tongue. Like magic, it is – the makers of these goodies are like wizards performing their spells. Simple ingredients turned into something marvellous.

Could it be that they’ve managed to harness a new basic taste? Umami’s non-savoury counterpart? A reason why some desserts hit the spot, while others just aren’t quite right?

Sadly I don’t have the test tubes or know-how to work that one out as yet. I’ve an inkling that certain food gurus (Heston Blumenthal for one) might have at least some idea – but they’re probably far too engrossed in their own special potions. Far be it for me to distract them from such valuable work.

What I do now have, however, is the urge to track down more examples.

At last I have the ultimate excuse. It’s for Science, I’ll say, as I stuff my chops full of more pudding. You can’t stand in the way of Science now, can you?

Certainly not, my Ogglers.

This is a new dawn.

This is the age of (Y)umami.

The Nut Tree.

At last! It’s the post you’ve all been waiting for: the one which you may need a bib to read. I’m aware I promised it to you on Tuesday – and that all those global puddings got slightly in the way. But I hope you’ll agree that it’s been worth the wait.

You see, Ogglers, on Saturday – for the very first time in my life – I was taken to a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Can you imagine? All those swanky people in their fancy clothes, sipping Pimm’s while a Pud-Hog wallows in the mud around their ankles?

Actually, I’ll be honest: it wasn’t quite like that. For starters, there was no mud. Also, on the whole, I kept away from other people’s feet.

Anyway, the occasion was, of course, in honour of the Man’s birthday – a treat from his parents to which I was most pleased to be invited. The location? A pub called The Nut Tree, in a village not far from Oxford.

The weather was lovely, the atmosphere relaxed and casual, and the staff extremely friendly. But although my starter and main were both delicious, I reserved my judgement for course number three: the long-awaited dessert.

There were four to choose from on the menu, and with three of us ordering differently, that meant only one would escape our mass tasting.

Before the puds even arrived, things were boding well. To my delight, unlike the strange folks at Kopapa (who make all their ice creams and sorbets with gelatin), all of the options were veggie friendly. Well, nearly all: the orange jelly cubes that came with the Man’s Chocolate Fondant were the only things off-limits.

Talking of fondants, here it is:

A Chocolate Fondant with Cardamom Ice Cream (and Orange Jelly Cubes)

Isn’t it pretty? Discounting the Man’s remarks that the smear of chocolate looked like a skidmark (what a puerile chap he is), it was just the kind of top class presentation you would expect from a place with a Michelin star.

Taste-wise, the Fondant was seriously chocolatey: very dark, with a warm puddle of sauce that spilled out from the centre. It definitely needed the sweetness of the ice cream – the Cardamom flavour of which was also a nice way to lift the chocolate up. As was my silver spoon…

The pudding I ordered was better still: a plate of Sticky Toffee Pudding, Caramelised Apple Tart and Praline Ice Cream.

So nice that it’s almost a shame to eat it… (NOT)

It’s a weird-sounding combination, don’t you think? Never before had I thought of putting anything other than cream/custard/ice cream on a Sticky Toffee Pudding and the thought of adding a Caramelised Apple Tart to the mix seemed almost absurd (like something out of This Is Why You’re Fat).

Naturally, I was super keen to try it.

And?

You’ll be pleased to know it was AWESOME.

There were so many textures and flavours, it could easily become a Pud-Hog classic: the zingy apple crisp, the biscuity band on the top (virtually flavourless – but pleasantly crunchy; as if the whole thing had a halo), the rich and gooey brick of Toffee Pudding (served with just the right level of warmth), the mouth-watering Praline Ice Cream (filled with sweet morsels of nut)…

As I said: AWESOME.

Sadly my photo of it hides one of the pud’s more intriguing components, the Caramelised Apple Tart, which turned out to be a small disc of crisp pastry, heaped in toffee-covered apple. Again, the mix of textures was just right.

Looks like I’ll have to serve all of my puddings with fruit tarts from now on…

EXCELLENT.

Wait though, Ogglers. My gushing isn’t over yet.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, along comes the pudding that Man-Pa ordered:

Cherry Souffle with Cherry Sorbet

Sure, it might not look as fancy as the other two, but let me assure you: this pud here might well be the champ.

You can just about make out the pinkness of it from my photo, and the colour was just as vibrant and gorgeous throughout.

What you won’t get from this photo, however, is the taste. So while we all cross our trotters for edible websites, take it from me: this souffle was superb. Wondrously moist and light, surprisingly large (always a plus point), and totally – unmistakeably – bursting with the fullest cherry flavour you can imagine (outside of a cherry itself, that is).

No longer will I think of souffles as a vehicle made for cheese – or even the occasional spot of dark chocolate. No, sir. Souffle and fruit are a match made in heaven.

Spoons down, I can honestly say that these three desserts dispelled my Michelin-based suspicions: that luxurious joints such as these will always serve small portions, costing more per gram than a white truffle cocktail.

At The Nut Tree at least, the puddings were filling, hearty, and – at £7.50 to £8 a pop – pretty gosh darn reasonable for such a highly-rated place.

Perhaps Pud-Hogs and Michelin Stars are a much better fit than I thought.

As long as they don’t mind me cleaning the plate with my finger…

Sweet Cheese Balls.

In the World of Puds, it’s not often you come across something completely different. But right now, in the corner of the Oxford Covered Market, such a thing is being sold at 40 pence a go.

It’s name? The Bolita.

We were drawn to the stall, Casa Das Bolitas, by the incredible smell: a homely aroma like fresh-baked cheese straws. Only these things weren’t pastry – oh no.

If you’ve led a less sheltered life than I have – or even visited South America – you may be a few steps ahead of me here. For the rest of you, I shall explain: Bolitas are dough balls, made with eggs, milk, cheddar and cassava flour. Gluten free, and hailing from Minas Gerais in Brazil, their website describes them as ‘the most popular Brazilian snack.’ After I’d taken a couple of sniffs, I could well believe it.

Now, before you try and stop me here, yes, I am aware that this is a pudding blog, and that so far I’ve just been going on about cheese. Well, hold your horses, Ogglers. I was just warming up.

You see, although all Bolitas are cheesy, not all Bolitas are savoury.

Mind-blowing, isn’t it?

Cheddar? Plus sugar? It hasn’t always gone well for me as a combo, I admit (that cheesecake from Terre a Terre being a major downer in my history – not to mention the weird Malaysian pancake). Still, I’m not one to poo-poo things I haven’t tried. So when the Man bought a Guava Bolita, I had to have a go.

OK, OK. Fine. I didn’t know it would be cheesy, otherwise I might have steered clear. Jeez! Still, ignorance is bliss, so I hogged down that guava ball sharpish.

Thank goodness I did – turns out it was lovely. The texture won me over more than anything: very hot, very soft, with a big blob of sweet pink jam in the middle. Mmm, guava… I wish I had more guava in my life. So fruity! So gooey! So sweet!

Better still, the balls had been baked, not fried, so that sickly drip of grease I was expecting never came. Imagine a doughnut without the oil, or a just-cooked bun with a delicate crust – that’s the kind of texture I mean. Beautiful.

I wasn’t overjoyed about the cheese though (I think I would have preferred it without), but the Man would hear nothing against it. He liked the salty-sweetness. Besides, my aversion can’t have been that strong: as soon as the first Bolita was finished, I begged him to buy one with chocolate inside. I needed to sink my teeth into that hot fresh dough – regardless of the cheddar – and although we agreed that it wasn’t as good as the guava, it went down just as quickly.

If they’d had any Fudge Bolitas on show, no doubt we’d have tried one too. As it was, the display was mysteriously empty. Someone, it seems, has developed a taste for the things. As the website warns, Bolitas are ‘seriously addictive.’

No wonder they sell them in packs of twenty.

Macaroons at Gatineau.

Fashions come and go in food, but one of the most enduring trends of late has surely been the macaroon. Just to clarify here, by ‘macaroon’ I don’t mean the large and comforting biscuit-type doo-dahs that bakers like Honeybuns make so well, but those tiny multicoloured meringue sandwiches that rich people buy for their afternoon teas. Considering their size they sure ain’t cheap.

For a while, I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. I tried one at last year’s Southbank Chocolate Festival, and found it quite dry and unsatisfying: two short bites and all I had left was a dusty mouth (and a considerably lighter wallet).

But then I went to Gatineau.

Ah, Gatineau. Oxford’s best kept secret. A small French-style patisserie in Summertown, with a drool-inducing selection of conserves, confectionery and pastries made fresh on the premises. Apricot pebbles with a white chocolate filling? Pain au chocolat et amandes? Esprit de Carmague jam, made out of apples and butterscotch? My jaw drops every time I pay a visit. The smell of it all is incredible.

But the macaroons… now they were a revelation.

At £1.50 a piece (a piece being about an inch across), we’d probably never have bought them if it weren’t for a tray of samples that was left on the counter one day. Now both the Man and I are converts – so much so that we can no longer go to Oxford without bringing macaroons home.

These, I suspect, are what macaroons are supposed to be like: not dry and dusty, but crisp, chewy, thick and meltingly soft – more like truffles than biscuits, bound together with a substantial – almost caramel-like – filling. The flavours are incredible too: strong and distinctive (exactly what I was championing yesterday, in fact).Anyway, I’m sure you can imagine my delight when, at the weekend – no longer able to restrain himself – the Man bought a wide selection from Gatineau for an Easter tasting session. Into our mouths went morsels of pistachio, salt caramel, raspberry, lemon, chocolate, strawberry, and raspberry/chocolate. It was, quite frankly, intense (and so bright that I should have worn sunglasses). The only thing we really missed was passion fruit: a favourite from trips past, which was accidentally replaced by the salt caramel. Hardly a mishap to cry about… and reason, if any were needed, to return.

Of course, my original macaroon-misgivings still hold true: as puddings go, they’re among the smallest and priciest of the bunch. Still, on the tasty scale they’re a five-star hit. And if someone else is buying… well, how is a Hog to say no?

 

Let’s talk about Millionaire’s Shortbread…

… for this is what I ate, post-lunch, at G&D’s, a popular ice cream hang-out in Oxford.

My goodness, folks: if you haven’t had a slice warmed-up and served with a dollop of the good stuff, then you haven’t lived. An oozing seam of caramel, hot milk chocolate slithering on to the plate… YES. You’ve got to be quick though: leave it too long and the ice cream DESTROYS the melting effect.

For a while back in my teendom I was a major connoisseur of the Millionaire’s Shortbread. You know how it is (or maybe you don’t): fixating on a particular cake, and being compelled to try it everywhere you go (before the shortbread, it was lemon cake). Spurred on by a like-minded boyfriend, I sampled a lot of the things. A LOT. And most were hugely disappointing.

Failing Millionaire’s Shortbread Makers: take heed! Stop skimping on the chocolate, for starters. And don’t even think of insulting us with chocolate substitutes. You’re fooling no-one. Stuff more caramel in there: MORE. And make it gooey, I say. With the crispest, most buttery base you can muster. Only then will you pleasure my tastebuds.

Anyhoo, I’ve been diverted. Back to puddings. There was stewed rhubarb after dinner (yum, yum). And a swanky HESTON BLUMENTHAL MINCE PIE…

With a pine sugar dusting for the top, and a cast of mouth-watering fillers (including lemon curd and rosewater), naturally my expectations were set to stun. Alas, Monsieur Blumenthal, despite all your spectacular ingredients, your mince pie tasted… just like a mince pie. Add some dry ice next time, and maybe I’ll be more impressed.

The Pud-Hog Blog Begins.

Hello, everyone.

Let’s not beat around the bush. Yesterday I had the most delicious bowl of semi-frozen Christmas Pudding ice cream.  It was home- and hand-made, filled with chewy Christmas fruits, fresh breadcrumbs, chopped nuts and enough double cream to paralyse a cow. I enjoyed it immensely and have decided that ice cream should never be frozen – not all the way, at least. Instead, like the portion I had, it ought to be snatched from the freezer before it’s gone solid: balls of ice cream with cold creamy sauce.  So gooey. So good. Thank you, Man Pa, for sharing your ice cream skills…

Because everyone likes to read about puddings (unless they’re hungry, and they don’t have a pudding to fill the gap), this record of my conquests starts now. I will not dwell on puddings past (so no mention of the Chocolate Pumpkin cheesecake I had at Thanksgiving… *sigh*). There just isn’t time. Instead, this hungry blogger will be eating in the moment: a year’s worth of sweet treats, desserts, and more half-frozen ice creams.

My mouth is already watering.