22nd December 2013, Paris
Over these last few days, there have been too many cakes (and non-cakes!) to count, to mention, to describe… There was the waffle (I would call it Belgian, they call it liégeoise) with lines of chocolate embedded in it, oozing slightly, dangerously, temptingly, so that I almost burnt my mouth biting it too quickly. There was the ‘croque’, not the traditional Monsieur with ham, but an amazing concoction of crusty bread, crème fraîche, juicy muchrooms and gruyère cheese, with more bread and toppings heaped on top, the whole thing multiplied by two and wedged onto a tiny saucer-sized plate with two baby pickled onions, two gherkins and two olives on the side, served at the Paris branch of a New York-Parisian bistro (think bare brick walls, a notebook for a menu and mismatched chairs), so delicious that my envious boss finished his own onion soup and ordered a smaller version as a second lunch. And then the tarte tatin that followed, pastry nearly as thin, flaky and buttery, apples nearly as decadently caramel-imbued as when my mum makes it (and she doctors the recipe to make it that good: less apple, more caramel…), with a dollop of slightly tangy crème fraîche on one side. There were skin-on potato wedges topped with melted Raclette cheese, eaten under the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower, and churros, freshly-made by an old man in a denim apron whose customer service technique consisted of grunting “trois ou six?”, the old lick-the-finger bag-separating trick and a muttered ‘bon appetit’ as you left, all in the shadow of the column at the place de la Bastille. There was a brioche roll filled with Nutella ice cream, grilled in a special waffle-type iron to stop the ice cream all melting everywhere, and another roll, this one green and pistachio and white chocolate flavoured. There was, finally, a galette (a buckwheat pancake, whose texture reminded me a little of the Staffordshire oatcakes we occasionally ate for breakfast when I was a child (and for those who only know Scottish oatcakes, these are nothing like the same: think big, flat, crumpet, rather than crispy cracker-biscuit-wafer)), filled with goat’s cheese, tomatoes and a fried egg, just for good measure, and wedged into a makeshift tin-foil envelope. And there was a Lebanese pancake, specially designed for the indecisive, with a spicy tomato sauce on one side, and a herby, oily, sesame seed mixture on the other, wedged together with sheep’s cheese and slapped onto the side of a conical hot plate to cook.
But most importantly, finally, to finish the Parisian leg of my cake journey, there was a pudding. Not my choice of terminology, the boulangerie’s. Now for me, ‘pudding’ means, firstly, dessert (and is still my natural way of referring to such a thing: “What’s for pud?” is something that I have said many a time. I’m not sure I’ve ever asked about “dessert”. And I’ve definitely never used the word “afters”). Secondly, festively, a steamed thing, full of fruit and nuts and other mysterious ingredients, steamed and eaten on Christmas Day with brandy butter (except chez nous, where I make trifle instead). Thirdly, northernly, it is a savoury concoction involving suet and kidneys and muslin bags and things such as this. (Being vegetarian and daughter of a daughter of a daughter of a Lithuanian, I’ve never made one in my life. But I kind of know the theory, and I’ve seen them at the chippy). Nowhere in my understanding of the word ‘pudding’ does it look like this:
When I asked the woman at the boulangerie what it was, she enigmatically informed me that it was “au base du chocolat”. Well, I’d hoped it wasn’t just really ‘well-fired’. So I could’ve chosen a delicate eclair, a sliver of opera cake or an elegantly balanced concoction of macarons and meringue and fresh fruits. But I didn’t, because that isn’t really me. I got my pudding, finished my shopping, walked home, made myself a big mug of hot chocolate and ate it.
So, remember the ‘diplomate’ from a few weeks ago? Turns out a pudding is similar, but involving chocolate as well as bread and custard and fruit and nuts. And this big slab of stodgy cakey goodness was just… yummy. The texture takes a little getting used to, because it doesn’t exactly crumble like normal chocolate cake (I had anticipated something brownie-ish, so was a little surprised to meet resistance when I dug my spoon in), but there were also odd mouthfuls of a raisin or a glacé cherry (we all know I’m a sucker for a glacé cherry) or even a melty bit of chocolate (because there is nothing that cannot be improved by 30 seconds in the microwave, including French pâtisserie). And there was sticky chocolate icing with a cool wiggly pattern like they do on the Great British Bake Off, and which never works when I try it. And it survived being wedged in my back for the journey home. What more can you ask from a cake?
Oh, and I know exactly why there is a kettle in the background of the photo, but I haven’t the foggiest about the orange. All I can say is, don’t ask, it isn’t mine.