Rated: Sweet Tooth Factory’s Salted Caramel Cheesecake.

Cara-swell

Cara-swell

What? A compact yet substantial cube of (vegetarian) Cheesecake, so thick that our fork almost broke in two.

Despite being soft, the Biscuit base still hit the spot – and the overall texture was just what the doctor ordered (sticky, moist and seriously dense).

Tangy and slightly fruity, it’s not your average Salt Caramel flavour – and tastes quite a lot like the oily Artisan du Chocolat variety (as reviewed in the Pud-Hog’s Salt Caramel Test).

Nevertheless, the flavour was great overall – rich and sweet, with only a smidgen of bitterness.

In a word: INTENSE

Where? The Sweet Tooth Factory stall (on a day it appeared at the Southbank, surrounded by clamouring customers)

How Much? £3.50 for a decent-sized square

Rating? 8/10

Well worth seeking out – just bring a good fork (and a ravenous hunger)

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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 Homemade Puddings.

Yes, I have my share of disasters in the kitchen. But sometimes – sometimes – things work out rather well.

Below are this year’s classic home-cooked champions (excluding the Christmas Buns, that is – they arrived too late in the day).

With the exception of Numbers 5 and 8, all the recipes are available on this website – so if you like the sound of them, get into the kitchen and BAKE.

10. Pud-Hog Slob Slop

Mush

It’s hardly the most beautiful of bowlfuls – but is definitely the quickest lump of comfort food I’ve ever made.

Gooey, milky, warm and sweet, all it takes is a microwave and some very basic ingredients.

Customise with a dollop of Jam, Honey or Salted Caramel, and your stomach will greet it with glee.

Get the Pud-Hog Slob Slop recipe here.

9. Yum Rum Balls

Salvation!

Baking gone bad? Don’t throw your cake crumbs away: recycle them into a box full of chocolatey, boozy balls.

Good for presents – even better for personal piggery.

Get the Yum Rum Balls recipe here.

8. Marmite Chocolate Cupcakes

ChocMar3

An invention of supper club hostess MsMarmitelover, I tried these out a few months ago and promptly fell in love with them.

Along with the richness of those moist sponge bases, their indulgent Marmite-flavoured cream and frosting make these more like miniature puddings than cupcakes – have more than one and you’ll probably need to lie down.

Perfect for lovers of salty sweetness (and die-hard Marmite fans).

Get the Chocolate and Marmite Cupcake recipe from MsMarmitelover’s website (it’s the second one down on the page…)

7. Dessert Tortillas

Banana Tortilla

SURELY the next sweet sensation?! A warm, freshly made Tortilla (plain- or Cinnamon-flavoured), stuffed with whatever you fancy.

I ate mine with Chopped Banana, Cinnamon Cream and Brown Sugar and it was AWESOME – quite possibly my favourite breakfast treat of the year.

They even freeze well too…

Get the Dessert Tortilla recipe here.

6. Orange and Dark Chocolate Buns

Finito

As you regular Ogglers know, in the last few months I’ve become rather obsessed with making Buns. These Orange and Dark Chocolate bad boys were my first yeast-based experiment, and boy did they do me proud.

A super soft dough, thick chunks of Dark Chocolate, and the zing of Orange extract…

Who wouldn’t want to shove one in their Bun-hole?

Get the Orange and Dark Chocolate Bun recipe here.

5. Cinnabon Substitute

Cinnabon

This recipe was introduced to me by my pal Mimi after both of us caught the Cinnabon bug.

In an effort to recreate that gooey Cinnamon goodness at home (avoiding the high prices – and at least some of the naughtiness), she found an alternative on the web and brought round the results.

They were truly wonderful: so squishy and well lubricated (both with Cream Cheese and Cinnamon Butter) that they squelched with every bite.

Trust me, folks: if you don’t have a Cinnabon in your vicinity, these are the next best thing.

Get the Cinnabon Substitute recipe from the All Recipes website.

4. White Chocolate and Cranberry Blondie

The beast lies dormant. Don't be fooled.

This could well be stickiest, naughtiest thing I’ve made (nay, eaten) since embarking on this blog. Even when cooked it comes out part-baked, with a strata of White Chocolate syrup beneath its caramel-coloured crust.

Even so, in my humble opinion, it’s the texture that Blondies should be: wet, crisp, and chewy – with added textural variation from the jewel-like Cranberry chunks.

Just make sure you have a spoon ready – or things could get very messy.

Get the White Chocolate and Cranberry Blondie recipe here.

3. Raspberry Cheesecake Blondie

Blondie LayersIf No.4 wasn’t exciting enough, how’s about serving your Blondie as part of a Cheesecake?

Overkill, you say?

You couldn’t be more wrong.

This majestic creation consists of three of the tastiest tiers you can imagine: on the bottom, a gooey White Chocolate slab; on the top, a tart Raspberry Cream; and between them, a layer of thick cooked Cheesecake.

Having toned down the levels of sugar involved, the final product was thankfully not oversweet – more a complementary balance of Berries and Chocolate.

Though I say so myself, It looks rather splendid too…

Get the Raspberry Cheesecake Blondie recipe here.

2. Hot Buttered Rum

Golden Delicious

This recent addition to my repertoire blew my mind back in October.

Being my first encounter with sweet buttered drinks, it was destined to make a pretty big impression.

Having entered my world via Choc Tales (a Chocolate and Cocktail event held in Dean Street) its creators (Manhattans Project) were kind enough to keep it there by passing the recipe this way.

If you haven’t yet tried it, you must. Every mouthful is like nectar: a beautiful blend of Rum, Butter, Apple Juice, Golden Syrup and warming Spices.

On Christmas Day, it’ll be my tipple of choice.

Heck. On every day it’ll be my tipple of choice.

Get the Hot Buttered Rum recipe here.

 

1. Peach, Almond and Goat’s Cheese Cheesecake

Regardez... and try not to dribblez

LOOK AT IT.

Isn’t it glorious?!

I still can’t believe this was made with my own fair trotters – but made with my own fair trotters it was.

The Pud-Hog Blog aside, this is by far my proudest creation in the last twelve months, and not just for its snazzy yellow pattern.

Inspired by food from the south of France, its ingredients work in (surprisingly) perfect harmony: the Almond Biscuit bottom, the sweet Goat’s Cheese, White Chocolate and Honey insides, the juicy slivers of Peach adorning the top…

SUPERB.

While Goat’s Cheese is usually not my favourite flavour, in this it works wonders – but I guess you’ll have to try it to believe it.

Light, creamy and full of zing – get the recipe here and feel free to send me the results.

HAPPY HOGGING!

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).

High Chai with Pistachio Rose.

Nice cuppa Chai and a sit down? Don’t mind if I do…

This time last week I was looking forward to something rather tasty. On Saturday, you see, nestled in a swanky garden centre conservatory near Little Venice, was the first ever High Chai event from Pistachio Rose – and I had booked me a place.

The regular Ogglers among you might remember Pistachio Rose from previous posts: one on the tastiest Chocolate Tarts I can ever remember trying, and the other on their exciting range of homemade Chocolate Naans.

With the High Chai consisting of both these treats – and plenty more besides – I was pretty darn sure I was in for a very nice time.

I wasn’t wrong.

From 3pm onwards, we sat with our flutes of Prosecco and were wooed by delicate waves of food and luxury tea.

This certainly wasn’t the usual Pud-Hog-style slob-fest; there was no horizontal gobbling or desperate crammings-in of seconds and thirds (lovers of Za Za Bazaar take note).

Instead, I was on my best behaviour, supping civilly with the rest (or as civilly as I could, at any rate).

Having finished a smallish dish of cooked veg, we were not waiting long before platters of Indian-style goodies arrived on the long shared table.

My word, it was exciting – and hard to know where to start.

Eeny, meeny, miny, mmm…

In the end I went for the Madeleines first, of which there were two types: one containing Rose Water, Cardamom and Pistachio, the other infused with Chai.

Both were extremely flavoursome: small, slightly sticky and bursting with spice.

Better yet in this Pud-Hog’s humble opinion was the Bollywood Blondie: a Barfi-type diamond made with White Chocolate and roasted Peanuts. I love Barfi anyway (the thought of Govinda’s Lentil version always makes me smile) and this one was particularly fragrant.

Though tasting slightly more of Peanut Butter than anything else, it grew on me with every mouthful: something about that slightly doughy texture was very comforting. Talk of adding White Chocolate chunks into the mix almost made my brain short circuit…

Those Shortbread Hearts though – phwoar. Any more exciting and they’d need an age restriction.

Imagine the crispiest, butteriest Shortbread you ever tasted, then flavour it with Sweet Fennel, Anise and Betel Leaf.

POW!

All the most beautiful scents of India – in delicious Biscuit form.

Genius.

This is beginning to sound a bit like an advert, isn’t it?

Well, it’s not. It’s cold, hard FACT.

And when I tell you that I would happily be stranded on a desert island with only a box of those Chocolate Tarts to sustain me, I’m afraid you’ll have to believe me. A dessert island, it’d be. And mighty blissful too.

For though everything on that platter was a fine example of excellent High Chai Cakeage, my favourite treat remains those marvellous morsels of Chocolate-stuffed Shortcrust Pastry – the ones I first encountered at Global Feast.

It’s sometimes worrying, revisiting a Cake or Pud that was super delicious the first time round, in case it ends up being a disappointment. But no: if anything, these Tarts had only improved with age.

With their perfect Pastry bases, each filling was firm and yet velvety smooth: Milk Chocolate, Salt, Chilli and Nutmeg; White Chocolate, Sweet Fennel and Anise; Dark Chocolate and Chai.

Finding it near impossible to choose my favourite, I nibbled between the three of them. And although there were boxes in which you could take things away, by the time I was finished not even the crumbs were left.

That wasn’t the end though, Ogglers. There was still the finale to come, and, after a small break to let things go down, out it came:

My kind of post-pudding nightcap

These were ‘Indianised Churros’: slivers of Pistachio Naan plus a Chai-spiced Chocolate Dipping Sauce, along with a warm cup of Chai to help wash it all down.

Just what you need on a dark November afternoon.

The Naan was lightly toasted and super soft, though not much like Churros (being baked, not fried, and not covered in sugar). The dipping sauce was almost like an Austrian Hot Chocolate: extremely sweet and thick, with the added bonus of a lovely Cardamom taste.

I’ll admit, for a while I wished it had come in a larger portion (despite my attempts at being refined, I’d emptied the lot and mopped up the dregs pretty quickly).

And, where other diners had bits and bobs leftover, my instincts were to distract them and clear their plates.

In short, I wanted more: more Blondie, more Shortbread, more Tarts.

But it’s probably good that I didn’t indulge any further. Because then it was time to stand up, and the three hours of eating and drinking finally hit: I had to get home… and I was utterly stuffed.

At £22.50 a head, it certainly wasn’t the cheapest afternoon tea I’ve ever had – but not only was it the most beautiful, it passed the golden rule and filled me up.

As for all those awesome Cakes and sweet treats, they remain up there with the tastiest things I’ve eaten.

All things considered, a very High Chai indeed.

Govinda’s Pure Vegetarian Puds.

The Holy Trinity – Krishna style

It has long been a suspicion of mine that Cake is good for the soul. In Govinda’s of Soho Street, the servers believe this so strongly that the sentiment’s nailed to the wall.

In fact, their claim that their food is ‘spiritually and materially beneficial’ is arguably not a hollow one: Govinda’s is part of a Radha Krishna Temple (home to those excellent drum-beating chanters who regularly liven up Oxford Street). As a result, anything you buy there has been offered to Lord Krishna first – and is therefore ‘blessed and karma-free.’

Now, whatever your thoughts on the concept of karma, there’s one thing I defy you to dispute: their range of Cakes and Desserts is super exciting.

There’s Cheesecake, Gulab Jamun, Indian Sweets, Sponge Cakes, Kheer (Rice Pudding) and then some – all vegetarian or vegan, and all costing £1-3 (a rarity in this part of London).

The other night, deciding to ‘take a piece of mercy’ with me (as the website intiguingly puts it), I opted to take away three different treats, in order to absorb them at the Hog House with my faithful friend Ms Q.

What a crazy assortment they were, Ogglers, with two kinds of Barfi (an Indian Sweet made with Condensed Milk  – one of my favourite Eastern nibbles) and the pinkest, jazziest Sponge Cake I have ever seen.

Both Barfis were quite unusual, but for rather different reasons. The first was Mango flavoured – not bizarre in itself, I’ll grant you. In fact, the strangeness was all in the texture: being soft and moist, yet firm and grainy, it was like eating a square of Sorbet that had refused to melt at room temperature.

A very stubborn Sorbet indeed

Were it not for the inclusion of some desiccated Coconut I might have been quite taken with it. But, as per my usual issues with Coconut, I found myself wishing for less of the soapy flakiness and more of the juicy Fruit.

The second Barfi was much more up my alley, with a flavour I have never seen elsewhere: Lentil.

That’s right, Ogglers, LENTIL!

Oh, it was nice. With a far more solid texture than the other one (like a dense block of Fudge, in fact), I thought it was seriously tasty. To my surprise, the Lentil created a lovely mellow flavour, with a smell not unlike White Chocolate.

Slivers of what I think was Nut also added a scrummy dimension, and overall it was slightly like Peanut Butter, only smoother and sort of chalky.

I’ll admit Ms Q wasn’t quite as enthused (she’s not the biggest Barfi fan, in fairness).

Instead, perhaps understandably, her attention was more on the pink layered Cake – a vegan Sponge which was expertly iced with melty Buttercream roses.

No wonder it caught her eye

Though less unusual by UK standards (i.e. rather more normal than sweet Lentil treats), this too was a pretty big hit.

The sponge – vaguely tasting like something that might have been Strawberry or Raspberry flavoured – was amazingly light and moreish, and held together with generous layers of icing (a little too much icing for Ms Q’s tastes – but don’t worry: I mopped up the leftovers for her).

As for the look of the thing: superb. Like a Barbie-style Wedding Cake, or something a Care Bear might make for its Home Ec finals.

My photographs barely do the thing justice, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was great: a feast for the eyes and the stomach.

Not to mention my pud-loving spirit, of course…

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.

Recipe: Gooey Chocolate Spice Cake.

Warning: this goes down easily

Remember my Veggie Marshmallow disaster? And the violent cake punching that followed?

Well, on Monday, it was time to restore the balance, and finally make something great with my failed Mallow Mix.

This time, instead of that gross Cocoa Powder, I knocked up a cake using something that was proven to be tasty: a pot of Christmas Drinking Chocolate from Steenbergs (tested last week in a mug of hot milk – just what the doctor ordered).

The resulting bake was the goo-filled triumph I’d longed for, flavoured with Ginger, Cinnamon, Cloves, Vanilla; all the spices you need as the nights draw in.

Though I do say so myself, the texture was particularly awesome (so much moisture) as well as being pretty darn unusual. It was the Agar Flakes what done it, making the whole thing slightly bouncy; like a Chocolate Blancmange had been spliced with a Sponge.

Ogglers, I urge you to try it.

Serve hot with Crème Fraîche or Vanilla Ice Cream (not to mention a dollop of Salt Caramel Sauce), and ready yourself for a hearty, Hoggish wallowing…

Gooey Chocolate Spice Cake (serves 8)

For munching, not for punching

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 230g sugar
  • 100g softened butter or vegetable spread
  • 40g spiced drinking chocolate (either Steenbergs, or your own blend)
  • 170g plain flour
  • 160g milk (semi-skimmed worked for me)
  • Half tsp baking powder
  • Half tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 3g agar flakes

You will also need a greased 20cm springform cake tin

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees (gas mark 3)
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter/spread and sugar together until creamy
  3. Add the egg yolks and stir
  4. Sift flour, drinking chocolate, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into bowl. Add the agar flakes and beat well, gradually adding the milk as you go, creating a mixture that’s smooth and lump-free
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Then fold this carefully into the chocolate mixture, until all the whites are fully incorporated
  6. Pour gently into your tin (so as not to knock out all the air) and cook in the centre of the oven for approximately 30 minutes. When it’s ready, the top will be firm and risen, with a slight wobble underneath. Without the wobble you won’t get the goo…
  7. Allow to cool slightly and transfer to a wire rack
  8. Serve while warm for a tasty post-dinner (or post-breakfast) treat

Happy Hogging!

The Quest for the Veggie Pop Tart.

A couple of weeks ago, I was trawling through the Twittersphere when a small post got my Hog heart racing. It was from Outsider Tart (maker of such treats as the Mile High Bar) and consisted of only three words: ‘Apple pop tarts‘.

Posted as it was with a photo of some sexy-looking pastries, a volley of frantic messages followed.

I asked the most important question first: were they gelatin-free?

The answer had me applauding the screen: ‘Yes veggie friendly!’ All they contained to set them was the pectin from the fruit.

After further excitable questioning – and a few excitable emails – I was soon invited to try some at the Southbank, where the Outsider Tart have a stall from Friday to Sunday.

Just follow the Dribble-Drip Road

I felt like I was on my way to find the Holy Grail. For ages I’ve moaned about Kellogg’s Pop Tarts (the ones in the blue boxes), and their seemingly pointless inclusion of gelatin, meaning that veggies like me can’t get in on the action.

One company, Nature’s Path, did a pretty nice version we got from the States. Could I find them in England though? Could I heck.

Finally, it was time to right that wrong.

David Muniz (one half of the Davids that run this beauteous bakery) greeted me with a box of his handmade Pear variety, which were filled with a fruity purée (plus a cheeky spot of whisky).

No need for this dubious ‘Baked with Real Fruit’ malarkey (the Kellogg’s way of marketing, to make it seem like fruit makes more than the slightest appearance). With these tarts there was no question: you could see the seam of real Pear Jam.

David urged me to try one right there so, happily, I obliged.

Cold, it was not quite what I’d expected: much fatter than the Kellogg’s kind; more like a thick stamp of Garibaldi.

A.K.A. the Garibulky

‘Have them hot with a dusting of icing sugar,’ said David, handing me another one for later. So I popped it in my knapsack and scurried away through the rain.

After dinner I prepared myself, nervous that it might not float my boat. I’d given this Tart a big build-up, after all: there were high expectations to be met.

But first I had to cook it.

David had warned me it might be too fat for the toaster, so discounting the microwave (in case it softened the pastry), I settled on using the grill to crisp things up.

Within minutes an amazing smell was wafting through the Hog House: a warm and buttery sweetness that stopped me in my tracks.

Then, as the Pop Tart started to brown, I whisked it out and coated it with sifted icing sugar.

The result was peary, pastry bliss.

Like a maniac I burst into giggles, dancing on top of my perch with each mouthful.

It was perfect. So, so good.

Thanks to the grill, the outside was crisp and the middle was warm, creating a medley of light crunch and goo. The sound of the bite alone gave me the shivers.

No longer did the pastry feel thick or heavy: it had been transformed by the heat into something both fresh and comforting.

Light spices broke through the biscuity taste, making the Pear filling zing. By this point I was zinging too.

I know I exaggerate sometimes, but I’m a Pud-Hog and this is no place for restraint. Besides, let’s be honest: this moment would change everything.

Instead of feeling deprived, or importing anaemic Pastries from the States, I could now just dash to Outsider Tart and spend my money on something a million times better. There was even a Brown Sugar Cinnamon version that David had told me he made.

Holy moly!

HOLY MOLY!

Even now I can’t believe my luck: enormous vegetarian Pop Tarts? For £2.50 each? In London?

Listen closely and you’ll hear a tune. Do you know it? It’s Pop Goes the Pud-Hog!

In Praise of Veggie Percy.

Here he is: everyone’s favourite pig (after the Pud-Hog, of course)

What’s pink, round, vegetarian, and lurks in the confectionery aisle?

That’s right, Ogglers: me!

I’m not alone in that respect, however. In Marks and Spencer, nestled with his brethren, lives a very special fellow who shares those attributes: the green-eared Percy Pig.

Understandably, I feel a certain kinship with the guy; a love that expands as he settles beneath my molars.

Oh my! I think, as his juiciness spills down my tongue. What a very delicious sacrifice you make!

Thankfully there are lots of little Percys in a bag – nobody wants to erase a whole race, least of all myself.

Then again, they ain’t half addictive: that sweet-smelling face contains real fruit juice, and bursts with the flavour of grapes and cherries (his ear is supposed to be apple, as if the rest wasn’t fruity enough).

Veggie Percy’s texture is awesome too: very squishy and light (though he tends to get stuck on the teeth now and then – a soppy goodbye hug, perhaps? What a lovely chap).

Apparently they make him out of Pea Protein, which is A-OK with me. The alternative – containing Beef or Pork Gelatin – seems frankly rather pointless in comparison.

After all, what child would look at that smiling chewy face, and rejoice to think they were eating part of a real ex-Percy’s corpse? The kind of child who dissects live insects for fun, I expect. Not the kind of child who needs more sugar to fuel their deeds.

Ah me. What a shame to think that such children exist – and that they can choose the inferior non-veggie Percys – stocked beside him on the shelves of M&S.

Listen to me, Ogglers. This ode is getting ranty (it’s not the first time this subject has troubled me, I admit).

Still, this remains a positive post at heart. I love Veggie Percy. I just wish the other sweets followed his lead.

Gelatin sucks. Big time. And when it comes to confectionery, that should only be something I say about my mouth.