Tuesday, 24 April 2018


In Normandy every Sunday morning in accordance with ancient tradition the fearless men of the Calvados region gather with their forks and hope to hunt the wild and menacing teurgoule.

OK, I'm lying. Teurgoule is indeed a speciality of the Calvados area but, let's not beat around the Normandy bush, it's a type of rice pudding.

There are a number of stories about the origin of this simple speciality but I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable or gullible to say if they're true or not. So let's just say that this is a very slowly cooked rice pudding that's usually flavoured with cinnamon. That may seem a bit of an incongruous flavour for northern France but once upon a time spices, including cinnamon, would come ashore at Honfleur and the other ports along the Normandy coast. As for the strange name, there are plenty of explanations and it's often translated as “twisted mouth” but, since it has more of a patois or slang origin, I think that “mangled mug” might be better. The implication seems to be that you'll be gobsmacked at how nice it tastes once you try it.

Traditionally this dish should be made in an earthenware bowl but a good, old-fashioned British pudding basin will work just fine. It needs to have a capacity of a little over 1 litre but, ideally, not much more than 1 litre.
As with so many traditional and regional French dishes, I’m pleased to say that the teurgoule has a confrerie to preserve and promote it and this is pretty close to the approved and official recipe. To be honest, I'm not that fond of cinnamon and I replace it with vanilla powder (my apologies to the members of the confrerie).

I'd expect this to serve 4 people but I know that there are some blighters who can't stop eating this pudding once they start so it's best to have plenty.

75 g short grain (pudding) rice
90 g golden caster sugar (actually, pure white is more usual but I prefer golden)
1 tsp ground cinnamon or vanilla powder
Pinch of salt
1 litre whole milk

Preheat the oven to 150⁰C. Mix the rice, sugar, salt and cinnamon or vanilla together and place in the bottom of your chosen dish or basin. Pour the milk gently over the rice mixture, being careful to avoid disturbing it too much. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes.

Turn the oven temperature down to 110⁰C and continue cooking for 4 - 4½ hours. (Yes, it  really does take that long). When the teurgoule is ready the top will have become dark brown and look slightly alien but the mixture underneath will still have a bit of a wobble if you tip the bowl. The teurgoule will thicken a little as it cools.

Allow the teurgoule to cool and, if you're not eating it immediately, store in the fridge. Either way, I thinks it's best served at or close to room temperature but serve it hot or very cold if that's what you fancy - it will taste good at all temperatures. There always seems to be disagreement in Britain between lovers and haters of rice pudding skin. Teurgoule is cooked for so long that the skin resembles leather in my opinion. I may well serve up the skin but that's largely to prove that it's been cooked authentically. I expect everyone to push it aside and refuse to eat it.
The confrerie will tell you that teurgoule should be eaten alongside fallue and I'm certainly not going to argue with that. Fallue is hard to find outside of Calvados and a decent brioche will do in its place (I'm in so much trouble with the confrerie for saying that). If I don't get too distracted, I may get around to a post about fallue shortly.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018


To end my very short series of "the Italian recipes that I really had to write down sooner or later" I'm offering something to finish the meal. This chestnut cake is based on a truly venerable recipe dating back as far as the 16th century but many variations have been turning up recently in glossy cookbooks. Unfortunately, the authors frequently disagree on just how the castagnaccio should look and taste. So when I got hold of some chestnut flour (it was French not Italian, but that's life) I just had to try playing around with it for myself and I've decided that this relatively dense version works best for me.

This is a remarkably easy dish to put together. In fact, the most difficult thing seems to be choosing which flavourings and additions you might fancy. I'd suggest that raisins are essential. I soaked mine in sloe gin, which isn't remotely Italian but works really well. Another alcohol, Earl Grey tea or even water will do the job if you prefer. Pine nuts are important too, but you could add other chopped nuts such as walnuts or hazelnuts as well. Orange zest is good but in this case I used an olive oil flavoured with orange instead. A little rosemary is often sprinkled over the top of the cake, but I know that Gennaro Contaldo adds some dark chocolate to his castagnaccio and a little of that grated on top is an interesting alternative. (Actually, I used chocolate on some parts of the cake in the picture and rosemary on others). Finally, you may want to vary the amount of sugar given here, partly because you may prefer a sweeter cake (or even a less sweet, earthier taste) but also because chestnut flours seem to vary quite a lot in sweetness.

Before I get on to the recipe, though, I must in all honesty admit that in my opinion you really have to be a fan of chestnuts to eat a lot of it. It has a very distinctive flavour. After eating a number of castagnaccio variations in a short period, I don't think I could look at another chestnut for some time. But if you are a chestnut fan, this will definitely satisfy all your chestnut cravings.
Most people make this in a round cake tin (or a pizza pan) but I used a 32 x 18 cm brownie tray, which makes it easy to divide up into small dessert portions. I find this is quite filling and so it should serve 12 or 14 people.

45 g raisins
Sloe gin (or whatever takes your fancy) for soaking the raisins
340 g chestnut flour (as fresh as possible – chestnut flours don't keep very well)
60 g golden caster sugar (or more if you prefer a sweeter cake; see the text above)
750 ml water at room temperature
50 ml extra-virgin olive oil (or a mixture of orange and plain olive oil)
40 g pine nuts
A few fresh rosemary leaves and/or a little coarsely grated dark chocolate
Zest of ½ orange (optional if you use orange olive oil)

Soak the raisins in sloe gin or your chosen liquid for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare the baking tray by greasing it thoroughly with butter or olive oil.

Mix together the chestnut flour and sugar in a large bowl.  Combine the water and olive oil in a jug. Gradually pour the water and oil onto the flour and sugar mixture while stirring. As the mixture begins to thin, switch to a whisk and whisk enthusiastically while continuing to add the liquid. You need to make sure there are no lumps. The mixture might seem to be too liquid for sensible cake making, but think of it as a batter rather than a standard cake mix. Stir in the orange zest, if you're using it. Pour into the baking tray. Don't worry if the tray seems a little shallow since this won't rise like a more conventional cake.

Drain the raisins. Scatter the pine nuts and raisins over the mixture in a reasonably even but random way. Finally, sprinkle the rosemary or chocolate over the top. Bake the castagnaccio for 45 minutes but cover it with foil after 15 or 20 minutes if it's browning quickly. It's difficult to know when the castagnaccio is cooked to perfection – the conventional cake test with a knife point or tester can be misleading. It needs to feel springy rather than sloppy to the touch and should look cracked on the top.

The finished cake can be served slightly warm or at room temperature with a little ricotta or fromage frais but it also works well with a harder cheese – ideally one with a sharp rather than an earthy flavour. It may not be traditional but I think it's also very good alongside a little ice cream. A small glass of dessert wine wouldn't be out of place either. Castagnaccio will keep well for a few days in an airtight container.