which definitely is as exciting as pudding

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Christmas is approaching with all of the endlessly slow then suddenly in-your-face manner of, oh, to pluck an allegory from the air, the Golden Bangkok pre-amble to One Night In Bangkok from the musical Chess, you know the one, you’re like “oh nice, an overture to open the second act, that’s reasonable” and then after a while you’re like “they’re really just … going to repeat that third movement again” and after a while it’s like “look, when will we ever get to hear Murray Head attempting to rap somewhat incongruously in the middle of this sung-through musical?!” and then suddenly there’s a flurry of violins and there he is rhyming “oyster” with “cloister” and then it’s over! With all this in mind, I made up a pudding recipe for Christmas Day.

But first: I have not been feeling entirely like myself lately, I would say in fact pretty definitively that it has been, in fact, what would appear to the casual observer to be something approaching a depressive episode; the casual observer might follow up by saying “but Laura? Why? Everything appeared to being going fairly wonderfully, perhaps more wonderful than you’d ever dared to be possible and full of more possibilities than you could ever dare wonder, how on earth could you be feeling so down?” And I would reply “well that’s more of a fervent observation than a casual observation but I relish the attention nonetheless.” I would then say, “I’ll tell you why it is so, that I’m feeling kind of blank and absent and not inclined to do much other than lie in bed and watch Frasier. I’ll tell you exactly why.”

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The reason is: you just cannot predict when it’s going to happen, no matter how much trust and faith you put into your current situation, no matter how tightly you hold onto that handful of sand, no matter how long the overture to One Night In Bangkok goes on for, sometimes it just surprises you by not being that thing anymore with all the speed and subtlety of a brick thrown into a bowl of jelly. Now, what I am not saying is that you should go through life with your trust dried out and hardened like an old piece of bread just in case you start to feel down. Please, continue to enjoy a moment without suspicion. I’m just saying, sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down. It is what it is. And while it is what it is, I found myself also feeling like, completely furious about it. I went from never better to better never and I didn’t want to cook or write and that was so infuriating to have these two things that are so crucial to my existence not available to me.

But anyway – because (a) it’s Christmas and I would like to bring this jingle-bell curve upwards and (b) because there is more to the story than me being intermittently subdued or incandescent with rage: I came up with a recipe! Which I believe is absolutely a sign of getting better. And now I’m writing about it! Cooking and writing! And indeed, before you get too worried (another thing I’m mad about: now I have to worry people? That’s so far down the list on my preferred forms of attention!) I genuinely am on the up and up and have been doing lots of good good things to augment my festiveness: my best friends Kim and Kate came over and we drank bubbles to toast 2/3 of us finishing work for the year; I’ve been watching Christmas episodes of my favourite television shows; I’ve been listening to the Christmas albums of various Broadway stars; I’ve done my Christmas shopping; I went to my work Christmas party and danced in the sun for roughly yet literally four hours straight and it felt really, really, really good.

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AND there’s this Christmas Sticky Toffee Pudding! Which I made up out of nowhere! And it’s unbelievably delicious! It’s also a pretty straightforward concept: just regular sticky toffee pudding but with some Christmas elements added to make it aggressively seasonal, yet I cannot express how much of a crowd-pleaser it is. By way of illustration: on the day that I made it last week, a friend had come to visit on her way to therapy and we sat there just looking at it and I was like “tbh I’m too depressed to eat, do you want some?” and she was like “honestly I’m too anxious to eat, no thanks.” And so we carried on looking at it. But then, bolstered, united, and probably with a sense of friendly obligation on the part of precisely one of us, we decided to share a slice and agreed that it did indeed taste fantastic! That’s how good it is. So caramelly and butterscotchy and (*checks thesaurus*) caramelly! So dense and rich! So (*checks Nigella*) redolent of Christmas! (Nigella uses that word a lot, that’s the joke.)

Christmas Sticky Toffee Pudding

A recipe by myself

  • 1 cup dates, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup prunes, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup/250ml boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (or neutral vegetable oil)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice (optional tbh)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or similar)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 and 1/3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa

Toffee Sauce

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 3 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk (look for one with 80% or higher coconut extract)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons custard powder (or cornflour) mixed with two tablespoons cold water

Set your oven to 180C/350F and lightly grease an oven dish, you know, one of those standard sized ones that you might bake a pudding or brownies in?

Place the dates, cranberries, prunes, baking soda and water in a large mixing bowl and allow to sit for five minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients, with the flour and cocoa last (and consider sifting them, I reckon) and spatula the lot into the baking dish. Bake for 30-45 minutes – it will depend on your oven – until the centre springs back when you press lightly on it and a knife or skewer inserted comes out clean. Cover the edges with tinfoil if they seem to be browning too much while the centre is still uncooked. Again, depends on your oven.

While the pudding is in the oven, get started on the sauce. Tip the coconut milk, brown sugar, golden syrup, salt, and cinnamon stick into a saucepan and bring to a good solid simmer. Allow to bubble away very gently over a low heat for half an hour, swirling occasionally and scraping down the sides with a spatula if need be. Once the time is up, remove the pan from the heat and discard the cinnamon stick. Stir in the custard/water mixture. When the pudding comes out of the oven, stab it several times with a skewer or knife – whatever you’ve been using to check its done-ness – and pour over roughly a third or so of the sauce. Transfer the rest of the sauce to a jug for people to pour over as they please.

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Obviously cranberries are super Christmassy, I also feel the warmth of cinnamon drifting through the toffee sauce and the intensity of all the spices in the pudding itself offer that let-it-snow cosiness which I somehow feel impelled to conjure up despite the sweatingly intense heat of a New Zealand mid-summer Yule. Now, the prunes, they’re honestly just there because I happened to have some; you could leave them out and up the cranberries, or you could include some raisins or sultanas for a more fruitcake buzz. You could consider a splash of brandy or rum in the sauce, or the cake, or your mouth, to add to the general festivity, and you could also consider not worrying at all about the fact that this recipe happens to be vegan: it tastes fulsome and rewarding and abundant and like pudding should.

This morning I, the prodigal son, the fatted calf, am flying up to stay with my family and spend Christmas with them for the first time in a few years, and I am honestly extremely excited to cook this for everyone, and! To relive the traditions of a Christmas at home: seeing the tree decorations from my childhood, listening to the old Disney and Tin Lids and Bing Crosby albums, being studiously, ruthlessly ignored by the cats. As for you, I hope you also have a wonderful time however you observe the holiday: casually or fervently.

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title from: Sam, a mellow ballad as lethargically slow-moving as toffee sauce from my absolute favourites, Meat Puppets.

music lately:

I started watching this musical TV show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and while I tend to be cautious in terms of receptiveness to parody musical numbers the absolute homework that went into this show is genuinely extraordinary, it’s like, scholarly when it comes to musical references. The title refrain from West Covina, the song the lead character Rebecca sings about deciding on a whim to move cities in the hopes of running into a guy she used to date is really very beautiful. (I also recommend the impeccable Marilyn-ness on The Math of Love Triangles. and I think I also learned some maths from it?)

Mudhoney, Into the Drink. Good energy.

Velvet Underground, Heroin. As utterly bewitching as it is useful as a unit of time to sternly instruct yourself to clean your room for the duration thereof.

Next time: I’m going to try to blog again before the end of the year and also just generally continue hurtling ever upwards on a one-horse open trebuchet!

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