When you pop in and out of your homeland once or twice a year, as I do, it’s pretty easy to pick up on trends since you last touched down.
I was in Sydney for a month this past Southern Hemisphere summer, that’s December-January for those of you who have a hard time getting your head around a Christmas spent enjoying surf, sun, and fresh seafood. In the past few days over endless cups of tea or glasses of champagne a few food themes have emerged among my Sydney circle since I was here nine months ago.
The country is wagyu beef crazy. That’s well bred marbled meat to the uninitiated. Even people who don’t normally talk food throw this term around when speaking steak. Reading glasses in snazzy frames are a necessary accessory for diners of a certain age, though a recently-returned food critic blames it on a trend towards dimly lit tables at some of Sydney’s top restaurants.
Veggie patches are sprouting along median strips, including the beach suburbs Clovelly and Coogee. And the TV sensation MasterChef Australia has taken this island nation by storm, inspiring home cooks to spring for kitchen equipment like pasta makers, hunt down obscure ingredients, or get more adventurous behind the stove.
Food fads come and go, but some dishes remain classics. Like sticky date pudding. My sister-in-law Alice whipped up this simply delicious dessert for a recent family gathering. I’m from a large clan: 5 siblings, 14 nieces & nephews (and another on the way). Many of these young adults tower over me now; all have hearty appetites. So we shared warm sticky date pud accompanied by lashings of whipped cream, a scoop of ice cream, and generous drizzles of caramel sauce on a chilly spring evening and all was well in our corner of the world.
Sticky Date Pudding
(Adapted from Alice Henry’s recipe.)
185 grams (6.5 ounces) pitted dates, coarsely chopped
250 mls (8 ounces or one cup) of water
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
60 grams (2 ounces) butter
185 grams (6.5 ounces) sugar
185 grams (6.5 ounces) self-raising flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees F).
2. Grease and flour a baking tin (8-inch square, 2 inch deep) or cake pan.
3. Place dates and water in a medium saucepan and cook on high heat, bring to a boil, until mix resembles jam.
4. Sir in the bicarbonate of soda. Mixture will foam. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly.
5. Beat butter, sugar, and vanilla until pale and creamy.
6. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
7. Fold through dates and flour until all ingredients are well combined.
8. Spoon mixture into prepared cake pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
150 grams (5 ounces) brown sugar
150 ml (5 ounces) of cream
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
1. Place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.
2. Cook, stirring frequently, until sauce comes to a boil.
3. Reduce heat and simmer for another couple of minutes.
4. Cut cake cut into squares or wedges. Drizzle with sauce, and serve with ice cream and/or whipped cream.
Also delish with strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar.
Pudding photo: Alice Henry
Update: My friend on the ground, Jacqui, see comment below, shares a photo of a community garden plot she spotted sprouting in Kirribilli, on Sydney’s north side. Anyone want to chime in with the story behind this movement to grow greens in urban Oz?