When I was young I read several books featuring Pippi Longstocking, a redheaded Swedish girl who lived by herself (well, with a horse and a monkey) and had amazing adventures with her neighbors, Tommy and Annika. The series was lighthearted, more than a little silly, and featured several descriptions of tasty-sounding Swedish food. Case in point:
“Now shut your eyes while I set the table,” said Pippi. Tommy and Annika squeezed their eyes as tightly shut as possible. They heard Pippi opening the basket and rattling paper.
“One, two, nineteen, now you may look,” said Pippi at last. They looked, and they squealed with delight when they saw all the good things Pippi had spread on the bare rock. There were good sandwiches with meatballs and ham, a whole pile of sugared pancakes, several little brown sausages, and three pineapple puddings. For, you see, Pippi had learned cooking from the cook on her father’s ship.
When I was trying to come up with ideas for a new fictional dish to try out, pineapple puddings came to mind. It took some thinking to figure out how I wanted to approach the dish– clearly these were individual puddings, rather than one big bowl of pudding, and the fact that they were served as picnic food (and in Sweden, where “pudding” doesn’t necessarily mean a thickened dairy dessert) made me think that they weren’t the standard pudding you get in the U.S. When I’d thought about it at all, I’d pictured the puddings as baked in individual ramekins and being somewhat firm, kind of like a particularly dense flan. Since they were transportable, though, they probably didn’t need refrigeration, or at least weren’t served chilled.
So after making the eggnog I had a pint of whole milk leftover, and since we never drink whole milk (and since I have an aversion to throwing perfectly good food away), I had to think of something to make with it. I thought pudding might be nice– it’s one of the only things I use whole milk for– but I was out of eggs and didn’t have enough chocolate in the house for a really good chocolate pudding, so I turned to a tried-and-true source of recipes and found (drumroll please) butterscotch pudding.
It sounded fabulous– the warm, toasty notes of dark brown sugar, combined with the sweet creaminess of pudding– and looked simple to make. In reality I experienced a few problems, probably because I didn’t trust the recipe enough.
I grew up reading a lot of classic kids’ stories by British authors, and one thing that it took me some time to adjust to was how the characters would eat “pudding.” Remember, to an American kid, pudding means “thickened dairy-based concoction, usually flavored with chocolate or vanilla, often served in individual cups.” But these British puddings were clearly not the puddings of my childhood. For starters, “pudding” appeared to be an all-purpose word for dessert in general, so kids in the books would ask “what’s for pudding,” much in the same way people in certain areas of the U.S. might ask “what kind of Coke do you want?” to refer to flavors of sweetened carbonated beverages. In other contexts, puddings were described as “steaming hot” and being served in “slices,” which didn’t jibe with my idea of pudding at all. The most commonly-referenced type was plum pudding, served at Christmas, and get this– it was often set on fire???
Anyway, while the idea of a flaming dessert was of course intriguing, I never gave it much thought until recently, when I was challenged by a friend to make “Christmas pudding” this year. How could I say no?
With all the plump, juicy berries available in all the grocery stores lately, I’ve been eating them out of hand on a daily basis. I hate to cook them– it seems like such a waste of fresh produce– but I knew I wanted to do something special to really showcase the berries. Enter the fruit tart.
This tart is easy to make, but will make you look like a superstar. The graham crust (not crackers, but it’s got the same flavor profile) is a step above the usual pate sucree, and the flavors of brown sugar and honey really complement the other components of the tart. It also requires no rolling, bakes up nice and crisp without shrinking, and looks great. The filling tastes complex but couldn’t be simpler, and the trick of glazing the berries makes the dessert look professional. You’ll have people wondering if you actually made it yourself!