Comfort foodYesterday was a grey, cool day, and I was feeling rather low thanks to my chronic illness, which flared up again recently. Mid-afternoon I found myself craving old-fashioned British style comfort food from my childhood. The craving was so strong I could almost smell and taste my grandmother’s wonderful treacle tart, which seemed to hover just the other side of my window glass.
Coming from British background, and with a Scottish grandmother who cooked most of our meals and was a dab hand at perfect light pastry, our food was solid, hearty meat and vegetable dishes, followed by the most delicious cakes and puddings, pies and tarts imaginable.
Shaking myself awake, I considered what comfort food I could have, given that I can’t have treacle tart, for a myriad of reasons connected with the dietary restrictions of my illness. Plus the fact that a whole treacle tart is way too big for one person!
So I went browsing through my recipes, and knowing that I’d be finishing the last of the delicious garlic and rosemary roast lamb - a comfort food I wrote about before – I decided on basic baked egg custard, creamy but not bland, making good use of the oven, which could reheat the lamb and roast vegs under the custards.
Baked egg custard was staple pudding of my late 1950s childhood, and I learnt to cook it by the time I was 10. It’s high in calcium and protein, plus vitamins A, B, C and D, phosphorus and zinc from the eggs. When I had my children, it was a regular pudding, being nourishing and easy for small children to eat, while remaining delicious enough for adults to enjoy. It also went well with home-bottled or canned fruit. Of course that was a pudding for four of us, so in recent years I’ve adapted it to make two single servings.
Here’s my version of the classic Baked Egg CustardFor 4 people:
2 cups milk*
½ cup cream**
3 tablespoons sugar,
1 teaspoon vanilla essence***
nutmeg for sprinkling
*Any milk you prefer; I use soy, it’s a matter of taste, although almond or oat milk might be rather thin-tasting.
** If omitting cream, replace with another ½ cup milk
*** Since we didn’t have vanilla beans back then, I’m happy to keep using proper vanilla extract. If you prefer the pod/seed trick, infuse them in the slightly warmed milk for 10 minutes before adding to the beaten eggs and sugar.
Grease a 4-cup size dish and stand it in a larger baking dish. Beat together the eggs, sugar, cream and vanilla essence, until they are well beaten. Warm the milk to blood heat, and pour into the egg mixture, whisking them all together.
Pour the custard mixture into your dish and top with ground or grated nutmeg. Fresh nutmeg smells divine as you’re grating it, and the ‘megs’ keep in an air-tight jar forever. Carefully pour cold water into the larger baking dish, to bring it halfway up the sides of the inner dish.
Bake in the middle of a 150C (300F) oven for about 40 minutes, or until just set. It’s easy to overcook – take the custard out while still a little wobbly, as it will firm up. If your oven is fan-forced, set the temperature 20 degrees cooler.
Boiled Chocolate CakeStill on comfort food, here’s a rich, most, almost fudgey chocolate cake, still using the basic ingredients of the 1950s and early 1960s, before cake mixes and chocolate chips. It’s a tweaking of one put out decades ago by Cadbury cocoa. Like all my baking, this can be made with gluten-free flour. Just take care when mixing the flour in, as it’s harder to mix through completely than wheat flour.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar, white or raw
¼ cup soft brown sugar
125 gm (4 oz/½ cup) butter
½ cup cocoa
½ teasp bicarb (baking soda)
1½ cups SR flour, or plain (all purpose) flour and 3 teasp baking powder.
2 eggs lightly beaten.
In a large saucepan, place the water, sugars, butter and cocoa. Heat this mixture gently, stirring until the butter and sugar have melted and the whole mixture comes together as a glossy dark brown liquid. Then bring to the boil and simmer for two minutes. Take it off the heat and immediately stir in the bicarb (baking soda). The mixture will froth up, which is why you need a large saucepan to contain the volume. Leave to cool for 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oven and grease a 20cm (8 inch) cake tin. Sift together the flour into a large bowl, beat the eggs.
When the cocoa mixture is cool, alternately stir in the sifted flour and eggs and mix together until blended, but do not beat.
Pour into your greased cake tin, and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer poked in the centre comes out clean.*
Leave cake to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, before turning out onto a cake rack.