This week, we take a trip all the way straight down the planet, from Europe across the Mediterranean and across the vast continent to South Africa.
It’s a place I’ve never been to, but is high on my wish-list – it looks so stunningly beautiful, from those dusty veldts full of interesting wildlife, to the spectacular coastlines.
There’s a superb winemaking industry there, and a trip through the Paarl or Stellenbosch is highly recommended – beautiful countryside dotted with bijou wineries and acres of fluttering vines.
The food there, too, is very special, from the native dishes (a vast array of one-pot stews and curries, often made with root vegetables and maize) to the top-end restaurant stuff (there are some of the world’s finest dining rooms in the cities of South Africa), all driven by the wealth of fine ingredients close at hand.
The fields are rich and fertile near the coasts, and the seas brimming with fish and crustaceans.
Years of different colonial occupations have had a culinary influence on much of southern Africa, from the Portuguese with their love of peppers, to the French and, in the case of South Africa itself, from Holland, via the Far East.
One of my very favourite dishes, Bobotie, has its origins with the Cape Dutch settlers, and we’ve had a look at it here on these pages before – it’s a wonderful use for lamb mince or even leftovers, gently spiced and baked beneath a wobbly custard made with yoghurt and eggs. A suppertime classic.
No visitor to the country should leave without attending a Braai, the traditional South African barbeque, where all manner of meat, often exotic (Springbok, Impala and Ostrich are all eaten widely) and always including the national sausage, the meaty Boerewors, is grilled over open coals and served with hot sauces and roasted vegetables.
One dish that always makes me chuckle is the famous snack food known as ‘Bunny Chow’, which is essentially a hollowed-out square loaf of bread filled with curry. Sounds definitely like a post-pub treat, that one!
But we’re going to be trying a classic South African dessert today, the famous Malva Pudding.
I’d heard about it from friends who’ve been, but never had it myself until recently, when, of all places, I was served a bowlful on a boat trip chugging along the Suffolk coast.
The boat was run by South Africans, and the menu reflected this. As I swallowed the first mouthful I knew I had to share the recipe with you.
I suppose the closest comparison is the British sticky toffee pudding, as it’s essentially the same recipe without the influence of dates and tea.
But as such it is ever so slightly lighter, and much less cloying. It’s definitely worth having a go at, and you could definitely play about with adding fruit, nuts or almost anything to jazz up the flavours a little.
Do please try the classic straight pudding first, though. The name Malva Pudding refers to the Malvasia wine traditionally drunk as an accompaniment way back when – it’s more commonly known these days as Madeira, specifically Malmsey Madeira, a rich dark fortified wine that you can find with a little research.
I think it’s gilding the lily a touch, given the sweetness of the dessert itself, but it’s up to you entirely.
As for accompaniments, ice-cream and custard are both good, but I prefer the simple contrast of a little splash of ice-cold double cream.
For the pudding:
2 fresh, free-range eggs
175g unrefined golden caster sugar
1 tablespoon melted butter, plus extra for greasing
A large pinch Maldon salt
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
80ml full-cream milk
150g plain flour
1 tablespoon apricot jam
1 teaspoon baking powder
For the sauce:
200ml double cream
85g light muscovado sugar
A splash of vanilla essence
500ml full-cream milk
Heat the oven to 180ï¿½C / Gas 4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and the sugar until pale and fluffy. In a pan, gently warm the butter, jam, vinegar and milk, mixing until smooth.
Add the melted butter mixture to the beaten eggs, and mix well. Finally, fold in the flour and baking powder, plus the pinch of salt, and mix carefully until you have a smooth fluffy batter.
Lightly butter a suitable baking dish, about 30 x 15 cm.
Add the batter to dish and bake it for about 25-30 minutes. As the pudding is cooking, melt the sauce ingredients together in a small pan and keep warm.
When the Malva pudding is cooked, test by running a skewer through it. It should come out clean.
Prick the cake with the skewer a few times and pour over about a third of the sauce.
Return to the oven for 5 minutes, then repeat the process with the other two amounts of the sauce.
By the end, it should be nicely sticky and forming a caramel-y crust around the edges.
Allow the pudding to cool a little before demolishing with your choice of accompaniment.