No chocolate, no smile.

Some people are just great bakers.  I am not one of them.  It’s an effort for me and I have to concentrate to achieve anything approaching average or good.  This only makes me more eager to try new recipes and get better each time.

It can be disheartening when N’s good friend comes round with a gorgeous coffee and walnut cake and says, “Oh, I just threw it together before I came round.”  You “threw it together”?  I’d have spent the best part of an afternoon trying to make it and would probably have thrown it in the bin at the end.

Well, fear not!  The recipe that I’m sharing with you today is one that anybody could follow for a successful outcome.  I know this to be true because I managed to get a tasty result without any gnashing of teeth or pulling of hair.  This chocolate pudding is fool-proof and packs plenty of chocolate too.

I know what you’re thinking: Why a chocolate pudding when it is spring in England?  Honestly?  I’ll tell you why.  A week or so ago, I went for a meal with colleagues and was outraged to find that the set menu we had booked for did not contain a chocolate option for pudding.  To clarify, the puddings on offer contained not one ounce of chocolate between them.  There was souffle, sorbet and the like, but no chocolate.  There was more fruit than anything else and you know how I feel about fruit rearing its healthy head in a pudding menu.  Disgraceful!  I was sick to the stomach, but not sick enough to put me off my starter and main.  Jamais!

To be fair, I don’t always want a chocolate-based pudding after a meal, but I feel it is only fair to have the option.  Feeling disappointed, I returned home and decided to make a chocolate pudding that was quite traditional, but easy to make.  Steamed puddings were not in my repertoire, but now that I’ve had a go, I will definitely be making more!  What follows is my recipe for a chocolate pudding that is uncomplicated and satisfying.  The texture is pretty is dense, but I won’t apologise for that.  It’s a pudding that will stick to your ribs and finish your meal with a chocolate thud.  Hurrah!

What’s your favourite pudding?

Chocolate pudding with Bailey’s chocolate sauce

100g melted butter

100g melted dark chocolate

100g caster sugar

3 eggs

75g plain flour

50g cocoa powder

(For the sauce)

100g dark chocolate

50g butter

5 tblspoons water

50ml Bailey’s Irish Cream Liqueur

1 tblspoon caster sugar

This recipe will make four steamed puddings.  Begin by putting the eggs and caster sugar into a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water.  You’ll need to whisk the eggs and sugar for about ten minutes until they are light and frothy.  It’s not fun, but it’s good exercise.

Once this is done, take the bowl off the heat and gently fold in the cocoa powder and the flour with a spatula or wooden spoon.  Once combined, do the same with the melted butter.  Repeat with the melted chocolate until you have a luscious, dark liquid that is begging to be steamed into pudding glory.

Grease the inside of four pudding pots with a little butter and pour in the chocolate mixture.  Cover the puddings with foil and seal tightly around the edges.  You could use baking paper and string for this, but I didn’t and the results were good.

Pop the pudding pots into a big pan on the hob and pour in hot water.  The hot water should reach just over halfway up the sides of the pudding pots.  Keep the water simmering and steam the puddings for about forty minutes.  You can do this with the lid on the pan, but be careful not to let the water bubble up and into the puddings.  Alternatively, you can simmer the water without a lid on and just top up the water as it evaporates.

The puddings will rise up (and take over the world) and become firm on top when they are done.

To make the sauce, put everything except the Bailey’s into a small pan and melt together.  Stir the sauce, take it off the heat and then stir in the Bailey’s.  If you prefer not to have alcohol in the sauce, simply omit the Bailey’s and you’ll have a very nice chocolate treat to pour over your puddings.  You could use a liqueur of your choice.  I served mine with the sauce poured over and some coffee beans for decoration.

These steamed chocolate puddings are cute, but be careful.  I had stomach ache after finishing a second pudding.  Perhaps it’s best to eat just one.  Hmmm…an interesting idea.  I’ll certainly consider it.

Hip to be square…once in a while.

A dumping ground for leftovers and a chef’s favourite for Monday night specials, soup can be a disappointment if made without love.  Call me sentimental (at your own risk), but no amount of butter can make up for soup that has been made without love.

This has nothing to do with speed, however.  Making soup need not be a lengthy or laboured process.  It should be a fun and essentially satisfying experience.  It should begin with simple, fresh ingredients and end in a bowl that provides sustenance and a little of the season’s best.

I’ve mentioned my sinful tampering with perfectly good recipes, but today I wanted to show that I too can create something simple and honest.  A bowl of something that is proud of the ingredients it contains.  A spoonful of something that doesn’t need dressing up.  A mouthful of something that tastes exactly as you’d expect.  I’m serious!

The nights are drawing in.  The temperature is falling.  Salads just aren’t called for.  The season of soup has begun.  My love of chestnut mushrooms means it is time for me to share my version of a classic soup.  No twists and no surprises.  Just bags of flavour.

Classic cream of mushroom soup.

500g chestnut mushrooms (sliced)

1 pint chicken stock

quarter of a pint of semi-skimmed milk

40g butter

2 tblspoons plain flour

tonnes of black pepper

sea salt

a little double cream to serve

First of all, you’ll notice that there’s no onion, no garlic and no alcohol in the ingredients list.  This soup tastes of one thing and one thing only- mushrooms.  It’s creamy, it’s tasty and it needs no craziness.

Melt the butter in a soup pan and fry the sliced mushrooms on a high heat until they begin to brown.  At this point I like to grind lots and lots of black pepper over the mushrooms.  You can do this to taste.  I like a lot.  Don’t add salt yet.  If your butter is burning, add a drop of olive oil.

Next, add the flour and coat the mushrooms.  Cook it for a couple of minutes and then pour in the stock and milk.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for a few minutes.  You may need to whisk the soup to get rid of the lumps of flour.

Take the soup off the heat and blend with a hand blender.  Don’t make the soup too smooth; it’s nice to have the texture of the mushrooms.  Place the soup back on the heat and add salt if necessary to taste.

Ladle into bowls and pour some double cream in to serve.