There’s a reason most of us came out in support of ‘Team Nigella’ during her recent Annus Horribilis. Apart from conducting herself with supreme dignity – and looking unflappable while doing it – she has, over the years, become integrally connected to our collective cultural and food psyches with recipes that are achievable, comforting and accepting of our inner gluttons. It sounds bizarre to say that there is something extraordinarily relatable about this domestic goddess who hobnobs with celebs, runs a successful mini-empire and swans around the kitchen with the sexy va va-voom of a 50s screen siren…
But the truth is that we do relate to Nigella because, unlike so many other celebrities (Gwynie, we’re looking at you), she just seems so damn real. Her weight fluctuates; she’s greedy and she knows it; she has endured terrible loss (and not blogged about it for all the world to read); she is bawdy; she has bad hair days; she loves a good chinwag and a sneaky ciggie; she stands at the fridge and eats ice-cream from the container; she doesn’t proclaim to be a ‘perfect’ mother raising ‘perfect’ children, but is filled with love and gratitude and does her best anyway… And because, like us, she knows that at the end of a really, really, really bad day, what you often need more than a shrink, a drink or a sleeping pill, is something to eat that is simple, sweet and comforting.
I’ve lost track of how many of Nigella’s recipes have become personal stand-bys. The marinated, butterflied leg of lamb with garlicky potatoes sends my young family into raptures and, because we’re not really Sunday lunch people, is something I make in the middle of the week as a sort of reward for getting this far. I’ve adapted her lemon linguine (sublime as it is) with the addition of clams, which is by far my ultimate comfort food. Her watermelon, feta and black olive salad was positively revolutionary when first unveiled and, though kitsch, I love it. And as for her garlicky, lemony cannelli bean mash with flash fried steak, I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.
Of all her puddings, and there are many toe-curlingly yum ones, this (in my humble opinion) is her finest. I first had it at a friend’s house – her husband is a fiendishly good baker – and was obsessed by how delicious it was. I’m no baker myself, but this is insanely easy to make and virtually flop-proof. A moreish take on that nursery staple, bread-and-butter pudding, it manages to find the perfect balance of peasant-food austerity and lush decadence. Be sure to use the best quality pain au chocolat because really, what’s the point of petrol station-bought substitutes. The recipe is from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, of course.
3-4 day-old pains au chocolat
500ml milk (full cream, of course)
500ml double cream
3 Tablespoons caster sugar
1 large egg
4 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 160°. Butter an ovenproof dish (with a 1 ½ litre capacity, ideally), cut up the pains au chocolat into rough slices of around a centimetre, and arrange in the dish.
Put the milk and cream into a pan and bring near to boiling point. Whisk the egg, the yolks and sugar in a large bowl or measuring jug. When the milk and cream are nearly boiling, pour over the eggs and sugar, whisking continuously. Add the vanilla and then pour over the slices of pain au chocolat and leave to soak for ten minutes.
Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for around 45 minutes, or until the pudding is softly set. Serves six (or one, depending on how much you need comforting).
How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus), around R380 from leading bookstores or online.