Monday, September 07, 2009

Bake ye well















I'm writing a chapter of a new guide to Britain, to be published by the people behind the much-excerpted Wild Swimming. Unless there was a posh picnic waiting for me on the far shore of a heated and filtered loch, I would not contemplate swimming in untamed waterways. Happily this book is about food.

Because I used to look after Peak District Life magazine's (very polite) food coverage, I've been assigned the book's Peaks chapter, and I spent Saturday roaming Bakewell and the Hope Valley with my friend Bryony. She drives a car that's already buggered, so she doesn't mind careening down unmade tracks in pursuit of farm-made ice cream, but the real aim of our nice day out was the purchase of as many Bakewell puddings as we could carry.

Dos Hermanos's Simon Majumdar recently trotted north to uncover the mysteries of the Bakewell pudding, and he relates its history here, but suffice to say that in the town it's named after, Mr Kipling's finest do not cut the mustard. Their shortcrust pastry, thick white icing, glace cherry and cakey frangipane are unfamiliar to the bakers of Bakewell, whose pudding is a plainer, uglier affair. It's a shallow round of flaky pastry spread with jam and topped with a kind of sweet, opaque almond custard baked to the colour of eighties Ronseal, and it is the one thing that, judging by the bakery queues, you must not leave Bakewell without.

They can be bought from four major sources in the town: the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, the Bakewell Pudding Parlour, Bloomers bakery and the unhelpfully named Bakewell Tart. All bag up the eggy frisbees in brown paper for takeaway, and if you leave them wrapped for too long, the butter from the pastry spreads and stains. Best to stick them into a low oven to warm through at the earliest possible opportunity. Cut with care - these mothers are flaky - and eat with cream.

A weekend taste test revealed the Old Original's pudding as by far the best, with crisp pastry, just enough jam and a filling with a natural, not synthetic, almond flavour; perfect post-Sunday lunch or, indeed, for Sunday lunch. Food tourism isn't as big as it could be in the Peaks, despite the handsome scenery and some very decent products, and it was gladdening to see all the shops doing a brisk trade in puddings. After all that sweet nutty jamminess, we needed something savoury for tea. Ken Hom's fragrant five spice spare ribs were just the ticket, although Chilli Heatwave Doritos make an acceptable substitute.

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