I was in the kitchen at home looking for a treat with my tea and discovered a Baci chocolate, the perfect little nibble. It turned out to be not only a tasty treat but also an inspiration; if you’re not familiar, Baci’s are an Italian chocolate (the translation is “kiss”, but they put the Hershey’s version to shame). Each one contains a special message on the subjects of love and friendship. The message this time read:
Friendship brings great happiness with little gestures.
So true – it is the little things that make up the fabric of our lives.
I first discovered Baci’s on my first trip to Europe, discovering the world at the grand old age of eighteen. My first foodie friend, a delectable young woman from South Africa, introduced them to me and I have to say they are still one of my favourite treats. They have a hazelnut filling that is sublime, and for extra excitement there is a whole hazelnut just under the chocolate coating. The messages they contained were exceedingly powerful when read while strolling the streets of Rome, arm in arm with my new friend, dreaming of international romances and happy-ever-after endings.
As I got older, the notion of comfort food became a more common thing with friends. I guess as life progressed, the problems seemed bigger and so a corresponding dose of food was needed to work out a solution. Thankfully, I had a friend who was a master at such things – fruit crisp being one of them. She had the magical touch for just the right amount of crunch and sweetness in the crumb topping, and her inspired combinations of fruit were full of exotic flavours and the cheery taste of summer sunshine. It was just the thing to cheer you up when you were blue, or to spur you on if you were waffling on some big idea…
Cooking together with friends is a wonderful thing to do, and you really know when you have a special connection if you can create magic in the kitchen. I am lucky that both these girlfriends and I have been able to cook together over the years, making some fantastic meals that have been shared with our families over and over as we remember the good times and great flavours. We live in different parts of the world, but as soon as we enter each other’s kitchens, the tea pot goes on and it’s like we just walked in from down the street. I just returned from Calgary where the tea pot is just now cooling off, and I feel rejuvenated as a result.
I don’t have the fruit crisp recipe, as there isn’t one written down (Sue says she just “feels it”) but here is a recipe from South Africa that is a national favourite; I copied it from the piece of airmail paper I still have between the pages of one of my cookbooks. My friend Merle also claimed it never missed with the menfolk (wink wink, nudge nudge as they say in the UK where she now lives, happily married).
Ultra Divine Cape Brandy Pudding
Serves 6-8 people
250 g dates, stoned and chopped finely
5 mL(1 tsp) baking soda
250 mL (1 cup) boiling water
125 g (1/2 cup) butter or margarine
250 ml (1 cup) sugar
500 mL (2 cups) flour
5 mL (1 tsp) baking powder
2 mL (1/2 tsp) salt
250 mL walnuts or pecans, chopped finely
2 eggs, beaten
250 mL (1 cup) sugar
15 mL (1 tbsp) butter
150 mL (1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp) water
5 mL (1 tsp) vanilla extract
125 mL (1/2 cup) brandy (“Yahoo!” she writes)
Divide dates into 2 portions and put into separate bowls. Add baking soda to one and pour boiling water over it; allow to cool.
Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs thoroughly, one by one. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into creamed mixture.
Add dry portion of date and nuts, mixing well to blend.
Stir in baking soda-date mixture – mix thoroughly.
Turn into large dish, and bake at 180C (350F) for 45 minutes or till golden brown on top and knife inserted in centre comes out clean.
Prepare sauce by heating sugar, butter and water together in saucepan 5 minutes. Remove from stove and stir in vanilla and brandy.
Pour sauce over pudding as it comes out of the oven. Serve hot or cold with whipped cream.
(K’s NOTE: I have poured the sauce over each serving too, which also works well.)