As a young girl, I lived on one of the busiest streets of Mumbai, but I often inhabited a parallel world across the seas, where I roamed freely along hills and dales and skipped along cobbled village paths, lined with stone cottages whose doorways were framed by wild roses.
Even though I grew up eating the most delicious Gujarati food cooked in a kitchen supervised by my grandmother, I was willing to give up the paper-thin rotlis, soft dhokla, and crisp ghughras for scones and clotted cream, jam roly-poly, and warm sticky toffee pudding. My fantasies were, of course, inspired by Enid Blyton. Her books were my refuge from the reality of endlessly boring school days. I longed to escape to the enchanted world ofThe Magic Faraway Tree, the adventurous world of the Famous Five and Secret Seven, and the exciting boarding school world of Malory Towers and St. Clare’s.
I played no sports, had only a brother for a playmate and watched no TV, which in the Doordarshan days consisted mainly of programmes like Amchi Mati, Amchi Mansa (Our Land, Our People). Instead I read, all day and all night, if I could. Reading made me very happy but also hungry, particularly for warm sticky toffee pudding.
Imagine my excitement, 35 years later, when I found myself in the Cotswolds, a region in southwest England known for its unsurpassed beauty. The gently rolling hills and glades were the perfect setting for picnics with jam tarts, cucumber sandwiches, and lemonade. And warm sticky toffee pudding.
One morning when “the sky was as blue as cornflowers and the sun shone between the trees and the shadows lay long and dewy on the grass”, to cog a line from Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree, I set off with my husband and two teenaged daughters from Lower Slaughter Manor, which stood stately and golden in the village of Lower Slaughter. But good things don’t last forever so the sky turned grey and the rain started pelting down. Then, we arrived at The Cotswold Food Store & Café in the sleepy village of Moreton. It was a food shop selling local produce: cheeses, fruits, and vegetables. It had a small café serving freshly cooked regional specialities. When I looked at the menu, everything became perfect again. There was Frobisher’s Bumbleberry juice, Nurses Cottage Elderflower pressé and, warm sticky toffee pudding.
The Cotswold Food Store’s sticky toffee pudding was an elegant, grown-up version of my childhood fantasy. It was strongly flavoured with crystallised ginger, which provided a spicy kick to the sweetness of the dates, and was soaked with a buttery, caramel toffee sauce. It wasn’t stodgy or cloying. As if this wasn’t enough, it was served with a jug of clotted cream—the colour of buttercups and too thick to pour. I don’t remember the rest of visit to the café; I’d been transported to another world.
Eventually, I returned to reality and Mumbai, where I began craving warm sticky toffee pudding. I emailed the café asking how they made the dish, only to be informed that they used a secret recipe developed at the famous Sharrow Bay Hotel in the Lake District. Google threw up an unbelievable number of recipes. All my favourite chefs and food writers—Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Felicity Cloake and David Lebovitz—had their own twists on the method. There were so many variations, I decided to create my own. I adapted David Lebovitz’s recipe, cut some of the sugar, added more ginger in all forms: crystallised, freshly grated, and powdered. I also added a big splash of bourbon to the toffee sauce. I’m sure Enid Blyton wouldn’t mind. The whole house smelt of good cheer and Christmas while the pudding was baking.
When it was ready, I brought out a large bowl, poured in a deep pool of the warm toffee sauce, placed a generous island of the steaming pudding on top and rushed to my room to eat it in peace, in bed with a good book in hand. One spoonful and I spiralled back in time to the magical storybook world of my childhood.
Appeared in the February 2013 issue as “Dessert Fantasies”.