Freaky Finger Food

I LOVE Halloween and wished everyone I passed this morning a hearty Happy Halloween… I got that dead-silent no-one’s-getting-it cricket-noise response; what a pity we haven’t embraced the whole event the way the Americans have. What’s not to love about having the opportunity to wear a ridiculous costume, and then go demanding sweets from other people? And on top of all of that, you get to make absolutely revolting food like these knobbly severed witch finger biscuits!

These pokey, pointy philanges are completely kitsch (one day I will learn to restrain myself with the amount and shade of “blood”) but somehow they still make people nervous. I served them out of a little trick or treat bucket, and since everybody loves a treat in went the eager paws… and then came the look on the faces… wish I had had a camera on hand for the expressions!

I made these biscuits last Halloween using a recipe from one of the many hundred out there on the net. I didn’t love the result though – very soft and aerated, and they looked like green sea slugs rather than bony fingers. So this year I tried a basic butter recipe from the South African Cookbook, and now I think it must be something I’m doing wrong because I got a very similar result with the first batch (this is the reason for the vague flour quantity) (wait, let’s not call it vague, let’s rename it an “organic approach”). Next year I will try again with the easiest recipe I know – Sonya Biscuits – for easier shaping and better texture. What a pity Halloween only comes once a year!

For lots and lots (80-100?) spooky witches fingers:

250g butter

375g sugar

360g cake flour plus extra – almost double, if I were to make an organic guess

1 tablespoon baking powder

a pinch of salt

2 extra-large eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

a few drops of green gel food colouring

Lots of whole almonds with the skin still on

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and line a cookie sheet (I use a silicon sheet – my new favourite invention).

Cream the butter and sugar together. Maybe I over-creamed it. Is it possible to over-cream? Hmm.

Sift the dry ingredients together, and beat the wet ingredients together. Resist the urge to scramble the green eggs while reciting from the Dr Seuss book. Add the dry then the wet alternately bit by bit to the creamed mixture, then allow the mixture to relax in the fridge for at least an hour. I did this and when I poked at it an hour later, I found that it was very soft and mushy which is not ideal for shaping into fingers. So I added flour bit by bit until I could work with the dough. I was quite cross and hot and bothered and I would have very much liked an hour in the fridge myself.

Pinch off small blobs of dough (really tiny – initially I made the fingers too big, and instead of a first batch of witch fingers I had a batch of Shrek fingers. I couldn’t remember what his fingernails looked like though, so couldn’t just do a quick conversion. So I ate them for supper with coffee). Roll the blob into a ball, then holding your one hand out palm-up, use your other hand to roll it up and down the middle three fingers – this will give it indentations in the right places to look knuckle-y. If an end gets a bit long and wonky, just pinch it off.

Lay the fingers on the baking sheet (if you’re not sure of the size, just bake one or two first to check) and lightly press a whole almond into the end of each, pointy end facing out. Bake for 10-15 minutes (depends on the thickness of the fingers) – they should just barely begin to brown on the edges.

Remove from the tray to cool while you bake the rest.

For the gory blood:

1 room temperature egg white

1 and 3/4 cups icing sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Red gel food colouring

Black gel food colouring – such a small amount that it’s not even a hint, just a subtle suggestion

Using an electric beater, beat the egg whites in a spotlessly clean and fat-free bowl until stiff but not dry. I’d say soft peak is perfect. Gradually add the sugar and lemon juice while beating until a thick but pourable royal icing forms. Add colour until you’re happy with the shade – now keep it covered with cling because it dries quite quickly.

Once the biscuits are done, gently remove the almond “nail”. Put a tiny blob of blood into the cavity, then press the almond back in so that the blood oozes out round the edges. Dip the other end of the finger into the blood, and allow to dry. I cut the ends of the fingers off so that it looked more rough and broken. Also, admittedly, so that I could eat the cut-offs. Oops.

Offer them round and watch all the men (note: I only ever see the dudes do this) recoil in horror before taking one for politeness’ sake, then coming back for another with a most surprised expression on their faces when they tell you it was good. Pack up the treat bucket and witch hat, and wait it out for a whole nother year before repeating…

 

 

PS: Turns out that I wasn’t too far off the mark with the Shrek fingers – macadamias would have worked well:

 

(you can buy the glove here, if you want a good template, or want to scare small children)

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The Eggs-Files

Wooo woo woo wooo wee woooo… that’s my attempt at the famous series’ theme song, and if you start humming it out loud to yourself right now it will totally set the scene for these evil eggs that would have Scully and Mulder shining a torch up every chicken’s bottom for miles. I imagine that this is what Helena Bonham Carter makes Tim Burton for breakfast every day. Nothing says Halloween quite like a boiled egg covered in shadowy veinous spiderwebs… and out of it would hatch chicken-sized spiders with big knuckly hairy legs that would climb onto your face while you’re sleeping and they would suffocate you and wrap you up in sticky websy things….. *shivers theatrically*. Trust me on this one – do not ever google the words “spider chicken”.

{so I’m not the only one imagining this creature…}

These are a close copy of Martha Stewart’s recipe (thanks Gill for spotting it!) and also similar in principle to the Asian tea-eggs I once had the opportunity to try. In fact, I meant to pop an Earl Grey teabag into the solution to see what the effect would be on the flavour but of course I’ve only just remembered this now and it’ s far too late and I’m far too full to do anything about it. There are only so many eggs one can fit into ones insides (unless you are Cool Hand Luke). I would have used blueberries had they been handy, but black food colouring works just fine if you are not Martha/Nigella/Delia and don’t habitually keep large supplies of frozen everything. Next time I would like to try red for a “bloodshot eyeball” effect.

I have accidentally changed the method (oops) but since it’s worked let’s just call it wonderfully innovative and go with it.

For eerie eggs:

Fresh chicken eggs – I made two but whatever can be put into a pot in a single layer is fine

A few drops of black gel food colouring

Enough water to just cover the eggs

Firstly, if you buy organic free-range eggs they might need a light cleaning. Then, put them in a pot and add just enough ambient-temperature/tap water to cover and add the black food colouring. Bring to the boil (if you are planning to do, say, devilled eggs, or you are a bit OCD, stir the pot every once in a while to keep the eggs moving). Boil for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat.

Remove the eggs from the hot water using a slotted spoon and place on a folded tea towel. Don’t forget, these have just boiled for 10 minutes and eggs have this amazing ability to retain heat so it would be exceptionally dumb to try to remove them from the pot with your hands. It hurts. A lot.

Using the back of a tablespoon, give the egg a nice tap on one side – this will from a perfect webby network of cracks. I turned the egg over and repeated the abuse on the other side but depending on presentation this isn’t really needed. Pour the inky cooking liquid into a small, deep bowl and immerse the eggs in the water. Once it’s cooled down a bit, place the bowl in the fridge until the eggs are completely cool.

I don’t know if Martha’s blueberry method does the same thing, but the black food colouring looked greenish in the water and turned the eggshells magenta – I loved it. Curiouser and curiouser.

Peel the eggs; serve them up with salt and pepper to your unsuspecting victims as if they are perfectly normal, and watch them act out the definition of “trepidation” as they poke at the egg to see what it’s reaction will be…

PS: I recommend that as someone takes a first tentative bite, touch something spidery-feeling to the back of their neck (like those school-project pipe-cleaner). Have someone else with a camera ready to catch a picture of the reaction, and send the photo to me so I can have a cackle.

 

Oktoberfeast: Last One, For Real

This one is not a recipe, so kick your feet up and prepare to absorb some useless but interesting information (were you also one of those kids who remembered, line for line, all the unimportant information in class that WOULD NOT be included in the exams? Then you’re in for a treat).

I randomly check in to my favourite blogs (that’s the list over there to the right) every once in a while and recently popped on over to ediblegeography.com and found this fascinating article on Beer Caves. I’ve heard of caves for cheeses but never for beer, and I was wondering if it was just a new name for Man Caves that men the world over seem to be obsessed with (a whole entire room in a house just to loaf on a couch with a large TV with the smell of fermented old socks pervading the air? they do that already in the lounge, anyway).

So the gist of it is that there is a huge series of man-made caves beneath the shops and streets of Nottingham (including the creepy ones like burial caves), and how’s this for irony – beneath a nightclub are the Malting Caves where beer was made in the medieval Robin-Hood/Maid Marion times Ok, so I guessed that last part, but that’s what I think of when I hear “Nottingham”. (Oh my goodness, there really is a Robin Hood beer! And a festival! How’s that for beer intuition?). I would happily travel all the way there to go have a look and sample some resurrected medieval beer recipes.

 

Here’s the full article in all it’s super-technical glory.

PS: This is completely arbitrary: one of my favourite things about the article is that one of the participant’s surnames is “Strange-Walker”.

Oktoberfeast: Short, Sweet and to the Pint

Boo-hoo… since Oktober is coming to a close, this will be the last Oktoberfeast recipe for this year: I’m going to miss traipsing around in a steamy beer-infused kitchen.

So this recipe was inspired by one from a gorgeous coffee-table book called African Salad: a portrait of South Africans at home*, by Stan Engelbrecht and Tamsen de Beer – the recipe is for Sprite Scones, and they’re nothing like regular floury scones made from a stiff dough – these ones had just four ingredients (which is why I tried them) which make a batter and are baked in muffin tins. They are YUMMO! Soft and fluffy and slightly sweet, but with more structure to them than fragile little cupcakes and I thought the texture was perfect for standing up to the beer (I did however add extra sugar to make them more cupcake-y and less muffin-y). The beer flavour is subtle but please warn people, or they may think there’s something horribly wrong and fermented going on. Fortunately these are quite ladylike in that they do not cause belching.

These cupcakes are a little confused and sit on the fence between sweet and savoury. They remind me of The Rock in a tutu because they have all this beery masculinity going on, but they’re delicate-looking and sweet. Kind of like – drag-queen cupcakes? No, let’s not go there; those would be scary and bright incandescent cherry-red with enormous false eyelashes on top.

The salted bacon praline embellishment is purely for good looks; it’s absolutely delicious on its own but the intention was not to have a big bacon flavour. I couldn’t stop nibbling on these, they are better than chips. And beautiful – like a pane from a stained glass window in a church full of bacon-worshippers…

For 24 beautiful beer cupcakes:

500g self-raising flour

1 can (330ml) beer – Black Label, you should know this by now

250ml cream

3 tablespoons of sugar

A teeny pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and prepare muffin tins with non-stick spray or use cupcake liners.

Now, you’ve just read through the list of ingredients and you’re pretty happy, right? It gets even better.

To make the batter, mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl, dispense into the prepared muffin tins and bake for about 20 minutes.

No, seriously, that is all. Do not adjust your computer monitor or find a soft cloth to wipe your glasses. The batter just about mixes itself it’s so quick, and there won’t be any lumps. I used a spatula to fold everything in and it took less than a minute.

For the embellishment:

Prepare a buttercream icing using softened butter and lots of icing sugar; make it much stiffer than usual, then add a splash of beer to adjust the consistency (if you add too big a splash, just add some more sugar). I left mine in the piping bag (with a big star nozzle) in the fridge while the cupcakes were baking, to ensure that it wasn’t too floppy for piping.

Then remove the fat from four rashers of back bacon and dry-fry them (losing the fat will let the meat stay flat and neat and tidy). Cut the cooked bacon into small pieces with sharp scissors, then scatter them on a baking-paper-lined baking tray. Slowly heat 1 cup of white sugar and about a cup and half of water while stirring; once all the sugar has dissolved, allow the mixture to boil undisturbed until it just turns a caramel colour – it will take a while but be sure to check, because once it passes the caramel stage it reaches the burnt-beyond-fixing stage (the bubbling will slow down the closer it gets to caramelisation). Try not to have a brain fart when you get to this part – don’t use a black saucepan, this makes it very difficult to see the change in colour *shamefaced*.

As soon as it is a nice golden caramel colour, pour it over the bacon bits then tap the baking tray on the counter a few times to get excessive air bubbles out. Sprinkle the surface with salt. When it’s cooled and set, lift it off the baking paper and hold it up to a light – isn’t that stunning? Then break it into shards, and eat a few of them to check that they really are that delicious. If you’re not using them immediately, store them in a single layer in an airtight container.

Contemplate eating all of it and putting just edible glitter on the cupcakes, and decide that that would be selfish and your teeth will rot as punishment.

Pipe the icing onto the cooled cupcakes (because they’ve got lumpy tops, I sliced off a thin layer to make them flat and easier to decorate), and decorate with the salted bacon praline just before serving. Try not to steal the praline off someone else’s cupcake while they’re not looking.

*I was given the book as a much-appreciated gift – it’s absolutely beautiful and you need to get a copy immediately. Alternatively, you can come over and flip through the one on my coffee table. I may even make those scones on page 54.

Oktoberfeast: Flex Them Mussels

Such a yummy combination – firm, well-defined, toned mussels in a deeply delicious beer and cream sauce. Doesn’t that sound like something that should grace the cover of a Mills & Boon?

I came across this recipe many, many years ago in the YOU Magazine – and I’m not ashamed to say that back then it was my absolute favourite read, full of nosy stories and recipes submitted by us regular folk. Since then it has become (in my opinion) significantly more like a magazine that I won’t name, but will say that it’s title rhymes with Meeple.

{the photograph that started it all}

I had never tasted mussels cooked this way but something about the photograph alongside the recipe appealed to me – looking at it, I could practically smell the sea breeze and hear the seagulls screeching; it was like being apparated to The Brass Bell in Kalk Bay. Or maybe I was just homesick when I saw it.

I was a little nervous about cooking mussels for the first time because I thought that a) they would be overcooked, leaving my poor unfortunate friends chomping manfully away on salty lumps of vulcanised rubber, or b) they would be undercooked and we would all end up in the ICU with Listeria monocytogenes marching around our innards.

{left, left, left-right-left}

Fortunately my love for beer and for mussels (the open shells look like butterflies!) overcame my paranoia, and although they are not nearly as photogenic as what appeared in the YOU, they are absolutely delicious. For a brief moment after the first sip, I thought that the beer and cream were somehow discordant (oooh, big word) but then the moment passed and all was right with the world. The bitterness of the beer gives a nice edge to what could otherwise have been an overwhelmingly cow-y creaminess, the mussels were perfectly cooked, and it made the perfect vehicle for getting more beer bread *angel song* into the diet… I will definitely try this again with prawns and chilli, or perhaps experiment with other herbs (the herbs looked great but they weren’t exactly asserting themselves in the flavour department… completely my fault because I used parsley by accident, instead of thyme).

 

For the marginally adapted version of the YOU’s beer and garlic mussels: 

(enough for 4 people. 3 people, if I’m one of them and there is beer bread handy)

2 tablespoons of butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

100ml finely chopped fresh herbs – I used chives and flat-leaf parsley, the YOU says to try chives and thyme

salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

1 can of beer (330ml)

500g open-shelled mussels

250ml cream

Melt the butter and fry the onion until translucent; add the garlic and fry for another minute making sure the garlic doesn’t burn.

Add the herbs, seasoning, beer and mussels; cover with a lid and cook until the mussels are done – 3 minutes. Stop inhaling the alcoholic vapours with a silly grin on your face, you will only end up overcooking the mussels.

Remove the mussels and set aside – don’t worry if some of the onion and other bits and bobs are stuck to the mussels. Add the cream to the beer concoction, bring to a simmer and reduce by half – the YOU says 5 minutes but I hung around for absolutely ages and it never quite got to half.

Pour the sauce over the mussels and serve with large quantities of beer bread (I prefer mine – the shame! – unbuttered since the sauce is so rich, but do whatever you like) and crunchy stir-fried Spring green things. Exclaim over the perfectly-cooked juicy mussels, then mop up the alcoholic soupy-ness of the sauce with far too much bread. Save the mussel shells for thorough cleaning and recycling as spoons or fancy canape-holders another time.

Afterwards, while someone else does the dishes, try The Waves by Virginia Woolf for a bit of coastal poeticalness. I haven’t yet finished it: it’s a good book for dipping into and the recurring wavy bits are very pretty and not too taxing on the grey matter, which makes it ideal for that space between a large meal and an afternoon nap.

“There was a star riding through clouds one night, & I said to the star, ‘Consume me’.”
― Virginia WoolfThe Waves

(I think that’s what my bowl of beer mussels was saying. So I obliged, of course).

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish Cupcakes

If you did a snorty nerd-giggle when you saw the name of this post then you must be a fellow Douglas Adams fan – Yay!! We should form a local branch of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, and have a special handshake!

This recipe, based on a basic savoury muffin recipe, was inspired by this past week being (wait for it, fell0w-Adams-fan)… Week 42 of 2012, and we all know the significance behind the number 42, don’t we? *conspiratorial wink-wink nudge-nudge*.

For future reference, I’m filing this recipe under “Anti-Cupcakes” – a concept I’ve been having lots of fun with over the last few years but sadly have not documented well. Anti-Cupcakes are not angry rebellious mohawked facial-tattooed cupcakes, no indeed, they are simply savoury cupcakes that look as pretty as the sweet kind. Just because you don’t have a sweet tooth doesn’t mean you should only ever get the ugly things – you know how it is, dried out sandwich triangles with the corners curling up, soggy, oil-filled spring-rolls, greasy platters of monochromatic pies and Unidentified Fried Objects and a bedraggled stalk of parsley to somehow make it look more appealing. Observe:

Versus:

So anyway, back to Douglas Adams – once you’re absolutely sure that you have your towel on your person (for it’s immense psychological value) head on to the kitchen for full retro thrust and ten degrees starboard. Or something….

For 12 Hitchiker’s Haddock Anti-Cupcakes:

225g of cake flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

Big pinch of salt

75g butter, melted and cooled + a little extra for frying

1 egg

1/2 onion, chopped finely

1 teaspoon  garlic, chopped even more finely

200ml milk

250g haddock fillets

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease muffin tins; while the oven is firing up, fry the onion in the extra butter until translucent. Add the garlic and fry for another minute, then add the milk and the haddock.

If possible, remember to defrost the haddock. I forgot this part and had to improvise a little. If you are a hoopy frood and did the necessary defrostification, then simmer the fillets in the milk for 15 minutes or until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily.

Mix the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl and make a well in the centre; mix the egg and butter together, then add the milk from the fish (it doesn’t matter if the onion and garlic fall in too, they’re all going to end up in a cupcake anyway). Remove the skin from the cooked fish if you forgot that it could have been done while still frozen, then roughly flake the fish.

Pour the liquid ingredients and the fish into the well, and using a spatula mix through gently until ONLY JUST BARELY MIXED. A few lumps and bumps are fine – they will work there way out in the warmth of the oven, and if you insist on beating it to smoothness you will not have cupcakes but fish-flavoured bouncy balls.

Decant the batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

While the cupcakes are cooling, prepare the “icing”:

Bake 2 large potatoes until soft and fluffy on the inside; when they’re cool enough to handle, remove the skins and mash the insides with a big handful of sharp white cheddar, a big dollop or two of butter, and a pinch of salt. If it’s too thick to go through a piping bag, add a splash of milk.

When it’s cooled, pop it into a piping bag with a star-shaped nozzle fitted, and pipe onto the tops of the cooled cupcakes; decorate with cooked green peas and edible glitter for awesome anti-cupcakes – prepare for people to treat them with suspicion but they will completely get over it after the first bite. If you’re amongst other Adams-fans, you could try getting away with saying that they are Babelfish cupcakes but then you should expect that several people will try desperately to stuff a cupcake into their ear.

Go dig out the trilogy of five books in the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy while the cupcakes are doing time in the oven, then settle yourself in for the Long Dark Teatime of the Soul. Whatever you do, just remember:

Oktoberfeast: Well-Bred Bread

There is nothing yummier in this world than freshly baked carbs, and there’s just no better freshly baked carb than a freshly baked *cue angel music* Beer Bread.

Beer Bread has all the yeasty richness of a regular homebaked bread, but without all the effort of having to get the water temperature just right or wrestling an enormous wodge of dough into submission, or having to find a warm spot on a cold day to coax the yeasty-beasties into doing acrobatics while waiting all those weeks (ok hours) for it to rise. This  bread totally kicks regular shop-bought bread’s butt – once you have tasted it, you will sanctimoniously turn your nose up at the uniformly tasteless white cheap-mattress-foam lumps that they sell on shop shelves.

It’s salty but sweet at the same time, it’s got that whole farmbread vibe going with it’s close texture and nubbly top crust, it can be enjoyed hot, cold, with indecent quantities of butter, with cheese, with jam, as a dipping/mopping implement, toasted, french-breaded, toasted-sandwiched, bread-puddinged, enjoyed with a fox, in a box, in a train, or in a plane, on the plain, in Spain, in a boat, with a goat, while writing a note, and paddling in a moat… you get my drift.

PLU-US if all of that wasn’t quite enough to convince you – it has just 3 ingredients (4 if you count the butter, which is really just a bit of edible cosmetics) and since no-one buys a single can of beer there will be at least five cold one’s waiting for you to enjoy with your *moment of reverent silence* *bows head* Beer Bread.

For one perfect loaf:

3 cups of self-raising flour

3 tablespoons of sugar

1 can (330ml) of a solidly-built beer (Black Label, in other words)

melted butter for moisturisation purposes

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a small loaf-tin. Mix the flour and sugar together, followed by the beer  – it will froth up and you will be tempted to climb into the bowl to submerge yourself, but exercise restraint here.

Mix it lightly with a wooden spoon to combine; you may need to get in there briefly with your (clean) hands but you don’t actually need to beat it or knead it or otherwise inflict pain on it. Loosely shape it into a loaf-y kind of thing and tip it out into the prepared pan. I try to smooth the top out a bit with the back of a wooden spoon, to make for easier slicing later on, but to be honest it’s going to go all crazy on you anyway like GHD’d hair on one of those rainy days in Cape Town… so just accept that it’s never going to be one of those battery-farmed-bread shapes and pop it in the oven for an hour. This gives you plenty of time to start working on the rest of those beers, but remember at the halfway mark to remove the loaf and baste the top liberally with melted butter. Not strictly necessary but it does make it look so much more visually appealing.

When it’s done, turn it out of the tin and allow to cool for as long as you can hold yourself back.

I recommend making two in one go – one for ripping apart and unleashing the savage beer-bread-beast, the other for the following day because it will calm down overnight and be far easier to slice neatly.

{butter bing butter boom}

Either way, cut a hefty slice… the kind of hefty that could comfortably stop a badly-parked Boeing from rolling down a hill. If you find that the bread knife is not complying, lose it and just rip a large crusty chunk off with your bare (clean) hands. Slather it in butter. It’s perfectly ok if there is more butter than bread. It’s like one of those laws of physics but better – the amount of butter on a bit of bread is in direct proportion to its unbearable yumminess.

Fresh Bread + More Butter = More Yummy

{duh}

PS: Assuming there are leftovers, pop it in the toaster the next morning!! Just don’t go drinking those 5 beers at that time of day, see.

Beauty Lies in the Hands of the Beer Holder

It has just dawned on me that October is happening, why didn’t anyone say anything? It’s one of my most favourite months of the year! It’s like the festive season – but less plump guy in red suit, more beer:

Get your beer paraphernalia ready, put on your pants with beer-belly-friendly elasticised waistband, and watch this space for some Oktoberfestiveness!

PS: Seriously though, go check those links. These people are taking the love of beer to a whole nother level.

Five Things: Bite-Sized Bling

{my mother’s bead necklace and pretty pulses}

Often we find similarities or make connections between things that may, at first glance, appear to be completely unrelated; lately I find that more and more these coincidental similarities involve food. It’s like … Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon – but with perhaps less Kevin and more bacon or other edibleness.

{Gill’s bead (bean?) necklace with pomegranate rubies}

{wooden bracelet and mixed nuts – the almonds will return for an encore in a future post}

{i heart my chunky bracelet and sweeties with soppy messages on}

{my gran’s tigers-eye bracelet with sultanas – in my gran’s  silver butter dish given as a wedding gift 51 years ago*}

*to my gran, not to me.

 

 

 

 

Dessert From The Desert

When I posted earlier today (faux couscous) I noticed the date for the first time – 6 October. Immediately I realised that all my Arabian dessert stars were aligned – this is because:

1. 6 October is a city in Egypt

2. I tasted an awesome Egyptian version of bread-and-butter pudding 2 days ago in Dubai

3. 6 October is a date. I like to tell people that “I had a date in Dubai” – it makes my social life sound very exotic and high-end, when really I was just stuffing myself with dates from the display in the hotel foyer every time the concierge turned his back.

When I realised all of this I rushed out to get the ingredients for Om Ali, which is this divine Egyptian dessert I encountered in Dubai. One of the many lovely people I had the opportunity to meet there had explained to me that Om Ali means “mother of Ali”, and that there are lots of stories behind the name. Some of them are as simple as saying that it was someone’s son’s favourite dessert. Then there are some elaborate and dramatic stories – this one is my favourite because it sounds like magic lamps and men in little red fez hats and ladies in Princess Jasmine outfits with concealed jeweled daggers are involved:

This dish, Om Ali (Mother of Ali) has some unsavoury history.
Om Ali was the wife of a ruler from the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt called Ezz El-Din Aybek.
Her rival Shagaret El Dorr was the second wife of that ruler. After his death, Shagaret El Dorr arranged for
Om Ali to be murdered, and to celebrate, she requested from her cooks to come up with the most
delicious dessert they can think of to distribute to throughout Egypt. The successful recipe was a special
pastry with milk and honey, that was named Om Ali. A gold coin was added to each plate & distributed in
the streets of Egypt.
Shagaret El Dorr ruled Egypt for some time in the name of her husband, and  later died in a conspiracy
too. This dish to date is still known as Om Ali.

Whatever the real origin, it’s super yummy – it’s like bread-and-butter pudding given an Arabian Nights makeover with nuts and raisins and spices. I found lots of recipes and used them to make my own approximation of what I had tasted. The quantities are very rough since I mostly grabbed handfuls of this and that, which I figured is okay because I bet you anything the mother of Ali did not have a set of measuring cups in ancient Egypt.

I was going to cheat and replace the pastry with torn-up croissants but it seemed better to go with authenticity first time round – maybe next time, because there will definitely be a next time.

Also, I think that some chopped dates would be good too – but I didn’t want to open up the 1kg pack of Saudi dates I got for my mom because I know that the whole lot would be gone before the week is over.

For one large dish of Om Ali:

400g puff pastry, thawed (it should really be 500g but the shop only had 400g rolls)

about 2 cups of roughly chopped nuts – I used slivered almonds and raw cashews that I broke up in my hands

about a cup of dessicated unsweetened coconut

about a cup of golden sultanas

1/4 cup white sugar

3 cups of milk

1/2 cup of white sugar

about 200ml cream

1/4 cup white sugar

A pinch of cinnamon

Righty-o. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Unroll the puff pastry onto a greased baking sheet and bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until it’s puffed up and golden and beautiful. I would have had photo’s – if I had remembered to put the memory card into the camera beforehand. Sigh.

While the pastry is puffing up, heat the milk and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan; bring to the boil then remove from the heat.

Also, whip the cream and 1/4 cup sugar together until it forms stiff peaks. Use a sufficiently large bowl; I had a brain-fart and put it in a tiny bowl, and of course the more you whip the bigger it gets. It occurred to me only when the entire kitchen was covered in sticky cream polka-dots that perhaps it would be best to transfer it to a larger bowl. Sigh #2.

By now, the pastry is done and the milk has come to the boil. Rip the pastry up into bite-sized chunks with your hands, then mix it with the nuts, raisins, coconut and sugar; pour the lot into a greased baking dish. Pour the hot milk mixture over the pastry – it will absorb almost instantly. Spread the cream over the top and sprinkle with cinnamon, then pop it into the oven for 10 minutes. At the end, switch the grill on to brown the top a little.

When it’s got a nice tan, remove it from the oven. When I ate it there were no garnishes or toppings but I imagine it would benefit from a blob of vanilla ice-cream and a sprinkling of pomegranate rubies. Definitely serve accompanied by a gold chocolate coin, in a little tribute to the Om Ali in the story.

Now – go wild with the eyeliner, put on your harem-pants and walk like an Ee-gyptian while you dish this one up while it’s still warm.

In stealth-Nigella-mode, retrieve the leftovers from the fridge later on and warm ever so gently in the microwave, then immerse yourself in both the pudding and the one thousand and one stories by Scheherezade in Arabian Nights.

07 October 2012 – since I had the props (a bag from Egypt, a belly dancers outfit from Morocco and a sword from – well the plastic sword is from the Crazy Store locally) here’s one last photo for your viewing pleasure: