Thursday 5 May 2016

Apple charlotte puddings

It was warm, so the cream slid off. You wouldn't want it looking perfect would you.
This won't make it into FoodGawker that's for sure.

I sit here, happily disconcerted by the May sun. The back doors pushed fully open, listening to the morose thrum of the too close North Circular and maybe a distant lawn mower - the first this year. The warm, busy, London silence normally reserved for Wimbledon. Any moment now there'll be a grunt and a thwack and some polite applause. Fifteen - love. Wasn't it winter only a week ago? That can be the only reason why I served a big, sticky pudding to Katie and her party.

Early spring can be tricky for desserts. There's no fruit to speak of other than perennial lemons, oranges and apples. I've wanted to make apple charlottes for a while. It's basically bread and butter pudding turned in on itself. Crisp and golden, buttery bread cases filled with a plump glut of sweet/sour fruit. This is classic British stodge, like suet puddings, jam roly-poly and spotted dick. Just had to check that spelling. Why isn't it rolly-polly? Tsk. English orthography eh?

Once at a restaurant in Southwold with Belinda, when the boys were young, Etien was scanning the menu when he shrieked with laughter and pointed, beaming with happy astonishment. Spotted Dick. He simply wouldn't accept that this was a bona fide English pudding. He insisted that it was some mistake or joke, even when assured by the waitress. He giggled for hours. He still does.

First lets look at the initial letter. Should that be a capital 'C'? That depends on which history you believe. Was it named after Queen Charlotte, wife of George II, patron of apple growers (apparently) or was it a French or even Russian creation, or maybe a corruption of an earlier Jewish dish named Schaleth, Schalet or Schalat? It is one of those dishes often found prefixed as 'quintessentially British', as so often things are that are rarely eaten here.

I tried out a few recipes before serving to guests, as is my custom. I learned a few things:

  • Apples when cooked, even Bramleys need a perk of acidity to keep us interested. So I added lemon juice and zest.
  • Good, artisan bread, such as Holtwhites, my baker of choice is not regular enough in its consistency. I had to eschew the good stuff and go with Waitrose medium cut white. I know, the horror.
  • A lot of recipes use ceramic moulds such as ramekins to bake the puddings but I fancy a metal container gives a crisper result.
  • A combination of both well stewed and slightly poached apples gives a pleasing mix of chunks and goo.
  • Keep them small. The one above is a 175ml pudding. Any larger and even your family will struggle when you add the inevitable creams and custard.

Apple charlotte puddings
Serves 8

Peel three large Bramley apples, decore and cut into bite size chunks. Place in a heavy bottomed pan with four and a half tablespoons of sugar and 25g of butter. Add the juice of a lemon and all the zest, pared into strips that can be removed at the end. Add a handful (to taste) of golden sultanas and a pinch of clove powder.

Cook, covered, on a very low heat until the pieces are softened - about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to stop sticking but not so often that you mulch the apples.

Remove half and continue to cook until the remainder is pulpy. Perhaps another ten minutes. Combine chunks and pulp. Taste for sweetness. You may need more sugar, apples vary greatly in tartness. You can now add a glug of apple liqueur or calvados.

Butter well eight moulds. these should be around 175ml size. About the size of a muffin.

Using plain, sliced white bread, cut a template to fit your moulds. This will be a small round, a strip, or strips to line the sides and a larger round to cap the lot. Having little cake/cookie/scone cutters helps a lot here.

Butter all the pieces well and dredge well with caster sugar.

Line the moulds with the bread.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Brim the moulds with the apple pulp and place on the bread caps. Bake for at least 30 minutes. These are not especially time sensitive. Once the bread is golden and crispy, the puds will slide out of the moulds easily. Honestly. If the first isn't gold enough, slide it back in and go another five minutes.

They will sit happily, upturned in their tins for 15 mins.

If it's winter, custard will work well. If Spring, maybe an ice-cream. I made a vanilla and served it with an apple crisp and some fennel seed granola.

Katie wasn't too impressed with my puds. I sought her opinion and she gave it. A little heavy, she thought. Her friends were of a range of opinions. I agree with her though. This is probably one best enjoyed in the depth of dark midwinter.

Katie and friends, now recovered from a heavy charlotte.

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