Pudding is made exclusively for your own pleasure. There is absolutely no nutritional benefit to sugar and chocolate, or toffee and cream but so many of us love a bit of pud regardless. The best puddings aren’t glamorous or pretentious. They are simply reliable, they are enjoyed entirely for flavour, they are comfort food its very core. Pudding perks us up, brings us together, creates excitement and has the power to turn even the worst meal around.
Pudding is so damn delicious it bypasses all laws of presentation. The tastiest, most popular puddings embody the haphazard nature in which they are made; the throwing together of sugar butter and flour. Bread and butter pudding, sticky toffee, sponge, drizzle, Eton mess, not to mention spotted dick. Nothing about these names is particularly appealing. But it doesn't matter. Their mere mention entices the memory and tickles the senses with those all too recognisable flavours. Puds have defied their labels, making ‘sticky’, ‘mess’ and ‘sponge’ synonymous with deliciousness. The modest introduction of puddings does not make them any less appealing. Instead it truly lets the flavours sing.
A few months ago, my friends and I discovered a video on YouTube by Aunty Donna, called ‘Always room for Christmas pud’. “I couldn't possibly have any pud” “just a little bit of pud” and “you didn't say there would be… custard” are now almost daily quotes. To outsiders it’s probably quite annoying, but it always gets a laugh.
Chocolate pudding is the least aesthetically pleasing of them all. It’s saucey, gooey, lumpy and brown. It’s goopy in your mouth and if you smile straight after eating it your teeth look decayed. It’s not got the regal flair of a trifle or the delicate intricacy of crepe cakes. It's literally slop. But it's my absolute favourite.
My love of chocolate pudding stretches back probably as far as me eating food. When I was around 6 years old I did a short stint of ballet. I remember there being a regular cake sale that happened in the lobby of the village hall. I’d often leave the hall from ballet and be greeted by the same homemade chocolate cake for sale, in the shape of a hedgehog, with Cadburys buttons for spikes. When my family was in a good mood, they’d buy the cake and it would be the best weekend.
Every time I went out for a family meal, my Grandpa or Dad would joke when we were asked if we wanted the desserts menu. “I bet I know what you’re having…” getting me to say in chorus with them, “chocolate fudge cake!”. This happened almost every time, embarrassing in public and equally embarrassing how predictable I was when it came to pudding.
My Mum has her own recipe for chocolate cake. It's a combination of a Mary Berry recipe and a Be Ro one, from old baking cookbooks from the 90s. It was probably the first thing I ever helped to ‘cook’ and the first recipe I knew well. The not-so-secret ingredient is margarine, not butter and of course the classic ‘beat it until it's fluffy’ or in my mum's case, until it looks like a “fluffy chick”. Inside goes chocolate butter icing and (hopefully raspberry) jam. Years have gone by and hundreds of this same cake have been made for birthdays, Easters, coming home for visits from university. Each time it is moist, fluffy, delicious and most importantly - tastes exactly the same.
There's a memory of chocolate pud from every intersection of my life. The dining hall at school had sponge chocolate puds cut into big cubes with lumpy chocolate sauce that often had that skin on top from being prepped hours in advance, but when it was being served it was always a good day. My favourite shop-bought chocolate pudding has got to be the hot chocolate fudge pudding from M&S. It’s so rich and saucey and just incredible. My mum discovered it more than 10 years ago now but still, on the rare occasions that I’m in an M&S, I always try to hunt it out.
I’ve worked in many pubs and restaurants and there's always a pudding to be jealous of. For some reason carrying out savoury food makes me feel kind of disgusted by it, but I’m always envious when I serve someone pud. One hospitality shift I worked 15 or so hours, we were serving Christmas dinner to this big party and the diners were so full of indulgent mains and booze that they didn’t all have room for pud. There was loads leftover and I was starving, so I ate exclusively chocolate pudding for dinner. This involved a starter of my own plate, and a main of what the guests had left on theirs, rushed, in a corner, ready to run out and collect more dishes. It wasn't a high point for me, but it certainly proves the love for pudding is real (or that hospitality staff should be guaranteed a break and food - but that's another story).
I have my own simple recipe for melt in the middle chocolate puddings. To start with, melt 75g dark chocolate with 100g unsalted butter in a pan on low heat. In a bowl, beat 75g sugar and 2 eggs together, then add 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder and 25g of plain flour (no more else they might taste bready), sieved and beaten. Divide the mixture between 4 evenly sized ramekins and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for 10-12 mins. These timings are crucial. If you have wide, shallow ramekins, 10 mins will create the perfect goo. If you have taller ramekins with thicker sides perhaps 11 mins would be better. Trial and error is also the way when it comes to fudgy gooey melt in the middle puds. Remove from the oven, stand for a few mins, dust with icing sugar and serve. Adjust the measurements for more or less people, or put the remaining puds in the fridge to enjoy cold as a brownie or reheat them in the microwave.