Whatever happened to puddings?
Nobody seems to make them at home anymore. You remember the old staples of course. Chunky comforting bread and butter pudding, made every time there was an avalanche of bread in the refrigerator. Obstinately unfashionable cheesecake from the days before people even knew what ricotta was, smothered in lashings of condensed milk on an unsteady base of crumbly Krackjack biscuits. And that never-fail chocolate biscuit pudding, a tower of Marie biscuits softened in milk, all layered with a gooey cream of decadently over-sweetened chocolate.
Now, desserts seem to be all about the swank-factor. If it’s not ridiculously difficult to make, involving hours of back breaking labour in the kitchen, it better have exotic ingredients. And exotic in the times of New York-today-Tokyo-tomorrow world is not an easy requirement to fill. At the very least it requires something along the lines of semi-naked tribal people gathering under the moonlight and singing to the mountains as they process/ pluck/grow the ingredients. (Also difficult in this day and age. You’ll need to confiscate their BlackBerries for one. And I don’t mean the ones you use to stuff an old-fashioned piecrust.) So how do you keep up with the Joneses in such competitive times?
Return to the good old days, of course. When puddings were made with whatever was in your larder. When cakes were expected to be more tasty than pretty. And portions didn’t come accompanied by calorie counts and hysterical health warnings. The main difference really seems to be the fuss involved.
Suddenly baking is seen as an occupation for just chefs. People who can easily whip up an elaborate meal for an entire family go into a tizzy at the prospect of making dessert. So it’s either outsourced to a caterer or bought from a bakery/restaurant/hotel. The thing is, a pudding is actually far easier than making a chicken curry, or biriyani or payasam. Anything you make at home is likely to taste better than what you buy, even if it’s just thanks to the superior ingredients you’re likely to use. Besides, you don’t have to worry about desserts necessarily being elaborate, hip or wickedly lavish. That’s a current trend that’s likely to die a natural death. Just like tightly permed hair, hot pink tights and those hideously uncomfortable, vertigo-enhancing platform heels.
I went to a boarding school in Ooty where pudding was the natural ending to every supper, and they managed to dish out a different pudding every day of the week for hundreds of hungry students. Admittedly not all were great. There was the ghastly Grape Mould, which arrived warm and frighteningly purple. The exasperatingly healthy Blancmange, made from all the extra milk delivered. And a dry sponge cake, dribbled with thick jaggery. But their trifle pudding, a delicious jumble of cake, jelly, fruits and custard was clearly the hot favourite. Ironically, it was also probably the easiest to make.
That’s really the best thing about puddings. Often, the most memorable ones require very little work, and yet look astonishingly impressive when they’re done. Think of a fruit filled melon. Or a chocolate fondue. Or even bits of cheese and pineapple chunks stuck into a big, unpeeled pineapple. Homemade puddings don’t even need to be exceptionally pretty, because everyone loves culinary nostalgia. Besides, your biggest fans are likely to be children. And it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find a child that draws himself up snottily and demands chilli-tinged chocolate mousse, specifically from Ghana, when he’s handed a still-warm pastry shell, laden with tangy, golden, sweet lemon curd.