One of my favourite food stories ever is the one of Proust’s Madeleines. It’s a story that I think resonates with so many people because there is something about revisiting the perfume or a bite of a special, sweet treat that you had a child, when you are an adult. Something magical.
Like the narrator in Proust’s Swann’s Way, a madeleine dipped in tea immediately produced a flood of memories that eventually filled seven volumes: “No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me.”
Well, this week an extremely pretty cookbook landed in my hands — Kate Doran’s (perhaps you know her as The Little Loaf) Homemade Memories, and it is like an entire recipe book of Proust’s madeleines, where she has recreated the classic treats from her own childhood (the same ones I’m sure many will share a love for), including homemade versions of shop-bought treats too. It’s a lovely collection of over 100 recipes that you will want to hold near and dear to you, to share with and delight friends, family and little ones. That’s 100 recipes that have the potential to create new, Proust-like memories that last a lifetime.
There is something so incredibly wholesome about knowing what goes into and making your own treats. I am really drawn to the thought of making homemade marshmallows, vanilla extract and I now cannot get peanut butter ice cream (or the peanut butter and jam arctic roll) out of my mind – even though I would probably never buy any of these things myself from a shop. And, thanks to an idea Kate mentions in her book, I am definitely going to start a tradition, as Kate did as a child, of getting my daughter to make her own birthday cake – starting this year, when she turns three!
The recipe that I knew I had to make first was a recipe for caramelised rice pudding pots: little pots of soft, creamy pudding hiding a blob of jam and layered with a crisp, caramelised top. I didn’t grow up eating rice pudding – it’s a relatively new discovery for me, actually really since living in Italy. Tuscans love rice pudding in their pastries. Florentines do wonderful shortcrust pastries and caramelised puff pastry pockets, both filled with rice pudding, and in Tuscany’s north in Carrara they make an exquisite torta di riso, a custard-like cake filled with rice. They’re not exactly like the creamy pots of rice pudding that you have to eat with a spoon but they are very close cousins. But I did, especially on trips to Japan as a child, love ordering crème caramel in a restaurant as a treat, and when I took my first bite of this delicious dessert, my first impression was how it reminded me of crème caramel or crème brulee, with its burnt caramel top.
It’s a wonderful combination of sweet, homemade fruit jam (I used my homemade sour cherry jam), silky, not-too-sweet pudding and that deliciously bitter, burnt sugar crunch from the caramel.
A note on the adaption of Kate’s recipe below: My oven has died and while I’m waiting for it to be replaced, I’m having to do without (perhaps this is a blessing in the hot summer). So although the original recipe calls for baking these puddings in their ramekins, I cooked the entire rice pudding on the stove top and I also made the caramel on the stove top too (not having a blow torch or being able to use my poor oven’s grill function). The only other slight changes I made were on ingredients that I couldn’t get exactly here in Italy – double cream is hard to come by; I used single pouring cream instead. I also used arborio rice, which I have heard isn’t the best choice for rice pudding as it can be too starchy and result in a stodgy pudding, but perhaps here these two ingredients helped each other out. The result was not stodgy at all but wonderfully creamy and silky – and perhaps an important thing to mention is the rice mixture should still be quite liquid and the whole thing very fluid by the time the rice is cooked.
Caramelised Rice Pudding Pots
Method slightly adapted for the stove top from Kate Doran’s Homemade Memories, published by Orion.
Makes 4 pots
- 4 tablespoons of jam (I used homemade sour cherry jam)
- 800 ml milk
- 120 grams short-grain pudding rice (I used arborio)
- seeds of half a vanilla pod
- 2 egg yolks
- 150 ml double cream (I used single cream)
- 6 tablespoons caster sugar
- pinch salt
Spoon a tablespoon of jam each into the bottoms of four ramekins about 175ml in capacity.
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, rice, vanilla seeds and pod. Bring to a simmer over low-medium heat and cook, stirring regularly to prevent catching, for 15–20 minutes or until the rice is soft.
While the rice is cooking, whisk together the egg yolks, cream, 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the salt.
Pour in the cream and egg mixture and add to the rice, stirring continuously until combined. Cook for a few minutes or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon and a line drawn through it with your finger holds its shape.
Remove from the heat and divide evenly between your prepared ramekins, making sure to distribute the rice and liquid equally. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. If you want to serve these later, they will keep in the fridge for 2–3 days.
When ready to serve, sprinkle each pot evenly with 1 tablespoon of caster sugar. Use a blowtorch to caramelise the sugar until golden brown – you could also do this under a very hot grill – then leave to stand for a few minutes before serving. (To do this without a blowtorch or a grill, place the 4 tablespoons of sugar in a small, clean and dry saucepan and place over low heat. Watch it carefully, not touching it, until it begins to melt and caramelise. Give the pan a gentle shake and keep it over the low heat until all the sugar has melted and is a deep golden brown. Pour over the tops of the puddings and let cool for a few minutes then serve).