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Tastes Like Heaven

July 5, 2011

Apollo was so overwhemed by the sexy chocolate pudding that he whipped all his clothes off in appreciation.

There are a small number of ingredients in this word that have an ambrosia-like quality (I do refer here to the favoured nourishment of Ancient Greek deities, as opposed to the ready-made rice pudding of the same name). These are ingredients that have somehow gone beyond the merely tasty and achieved the status of “luxury”.

You recognise these nectars-of-the-gods because when you add them to a recipe, it goes from being simply yummy and satisfying to achieving mouth-orgasm status. Suddenly the food becomes a really special experience.

Usually these things are expensive.

Truffles are the obvious one – I’ve been lucky enough to taste an actual truffle, and if you haven’t yet had that pleasure yourself I urge you to seek it out just once, because I totally understand why people who can afford it are willing to pay so much for them. A truffle is basically a mushroom, but to call it a mushroom is a bit like calling The Beatles a boy band. It’s difficult to describe the taste of truffles because it’s almost not a taste at all, and more like an intense earthy warmth that spreads around your mouth and back through your head and gives you a bit of a thrill in your stomach that make sit difficult not to say “mmmmggrrrmphh ymmm” out loud. It’s kind of what I imagine autumn would taste like – a little like a deeply flavoured nut but with some kind of spell on it. If you don’t know any millionaires, or anyone who works at a company that sells luxury foodstuffs, then you can kind of get the idea by buying a bottle of truffle oil and adding it to plain boiled pasta or to a simple risotto (It’s very rich – so go easy!)

Bizarrely, the next nectar on my mental list can be bought so cheaply it seems like it must be a con. But you can buy a bottle of rosewater from an Indian grocer for around 80p.

Rosewater is the only flavour (apart from maybe really good chocolate) that I could call Divine with an almost straight face. There’s just something so delicate and innocent about it. When I have a square of Turkish Delight flavoured with real rosewater I always want to place it as gently as possible on my tongue and breathe in the flavour as if it might break if I treat it too roughly. Truffles are all complex, intoxicating and femme fatale sexy. Rosewater is more like an angel’s wing fluttering across your taste buds.

It has a sweet but light scent, which to me evokes the idea of buying it in beautiful bottles from Venetian spice merchants. (Apparently during the 14th Century, when marzipan – or marchpane – was first made in Venice, a lot of rosewater was used together with the almonds and sugar and the streets where it was made had a beautiful sweet, flowery smell.) The scent of rosewater gets stronger when it heats up, so baking with it will make your house smell amazing. On non-baking days you can pour a bit into an aromatherapy burner for a similar effect.

Another dimension added to this luxury is that it feels amazing on your skin. You can use it as a toner after cleansing and your skin will feel so baby soft you won’t be able to stop touching it. You can actually cover your whole body in it if you’re so inclined. I would recommend doing this by candlelight so that you feel you are being anointed for some kind of archaic religious ritual. (I find this idea curiously sexy, but maybe that’s just me.)

Anyway, bizarre fantasies aside, what you really want to do with rosewater is eat it. Or drink it. I recently had the pleasure of attending a food fair in London and buying a glass of rosewater lemonade: possibly one of the most gorgeous drinks I have had the pleasure of tasting (including alcoholic ones). I plan at some point to make some homemade lemonade using copious amounts of rosewater, and I hope you do too, but in the meantime you could always add a bit to shop-bought lemonade. I’ve also had a rosewater martini from Milgi on City Road (a Cardiff establishment well worth a visit for the generally excellent cocktails, food, and life drawing sessions in the yurt ). For a slightly more labour intensive approach, try adding a bit of rosewater to a smoothie.

You also want to make it your secret ingredient when baking. A generous helping of rosewater will turn any ordinary cake recipe (especially if it also contains almonds) into something really special, and no-one will be quite able to place what you’ve done. It’ll be great in a classic sponge (also try baking rose petals and flaked almonds into the mix), and fabulous added to a rhubarb crumble – as a rule, it goes well with anything that’s pink. The recipe here, however, is for a saucy chocolate pudding – just because I think the naughtiness of the chocolate is a great juxtaposition to the innocence of the rosewater.

Virtue & Sin Pudding


300ml milk or soya milk

100g chocolate (the darker the better, you want at least 70% cocoa solids to get the richness that makes this work)

Vanilla essence (as much as you like)

150g sugar (light muscovado is good)

100g butter or margarine (I use Vitalite for this!)

150g self-raising flour

5-6 tbsp cocoa powder (depending how chocolaty you want to go!)

200ml boiling water

100ml rosewater


–          Put the milk in a pan, and heat gently. As it heats, break the chocolate into the pan and stir as it melts. Once it’s all melted, take off the heat and add your vanilla essence.

–          Beat the butter, and 100g of the sugar in a bowl until fluffy (use an electric whisk if you can, it makes the whole thing ten times easier).

–          Sift the flour and about 2tbsp of cocoa powder into the bow, and then add the chocolaty milk. Beat again, until it’s lovely and smooth then pour into a greased oven proof dish.

–          Make the sauce by mixing together the remaining cocoa powder and sugar. Add the rosewater and mix in, and then the boiling water – mix to a thick paste (the texture should be similar to PVA glue).

–          Pour the sauce over the top of the pudding but don’t mix it in. It will look like an insane amount of sauce at this stage but don’t worry and do add it all. The idea is that it sinks through the pudding during baking to give it that lovely chocolate pud gooey-ness and spread the rose flavour through the whole pudding.

–          Bake at around 180ºC / Gas 4 for 40-50 minutes – when it’s done it’ll look more or less dry on top, and spring back when you press your finger gently on the surface. Although, to be honest, with this it’s not the end of the word if it’s served slightly underdone as a lot of people enjoy a really gooey pudding.


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