These sensational little savoury puddings are just about the most versatile recipe you will ever lay your grubby mittens on. They are probably unlike anything you have ever tried before, so to give you an idea of just how lip-smackingly scrumptious they are, let me give you a very loose comparison. Imagine a bread and butter pudding. Now instead of sweetness, picture the same texture, but laden with the savoury flavours of bay leaves and heavenly bubbling, melting cheese. Let’s take it further. Instead of sitting flat in a baking dish, like regular bread and butter puddings, these ones are baked individually in little cups, just like souffles. And it doesn’t stop there. Unlike soufflés, these puddings are turned out of their moulds, so they end up free-standing on the plate in all their wobbly, yummy, cheesy glory.
I still remember when I first came across these fab puddings, and in all honesty, I was initially less than impressed. It was about 10 years ago, and I was fairly new to commercial cookery. I had just started a new job, and the chef (who is still to this day a dear friend) gave me this recipe to prepare. It really isn’t the place of a newly employed chef to say “...Umm, yeah, well – don’t you think these pudolas are a little damn out there boss?...”, so I bit my tongue and ploughed on ahead. I learned 2 lessons that day. Firstly, even though these puddings appear complex to prepare, they are actually pretty damn easy. Secondly, I was wrong. They aren’t wacky at all, they are simply delicious.
Let me back up my opening statement about how versatile these babies are. Don’t like cauliflower? I can’t see why not – but hey, no problem. Instead, why don’t you use spinach or asparagus or broccoli or mushrooms... zucchini, fennel, chard, green beans, sugar snap peas... the list just goes on and on. Want another flavour besides bay leaves? Try thyme, parsley, tarragon, basil, sorrel, chervil, oregano or marjoram. And although this recipe is vegetarian, if you just can’t live without even a little meat, try making up half the vegetable weight in sliced and sauteed bacon, or prosciutto, or pancetta, coppa, chorizo. The only limit is your larder and your imagination. We used to use sourdough bread, but any good quality bakery loaf will work just as well. Only please, don't use spongy white supermarket sliced gack - the texture just won't be the same.
Back in the day when we were serving this at the restaurant I was working at, it sat alongside a medium-rare roasted loin of lamb. It was a sensational partnership. You could serve these puddings along side all sorts of meat or poultry, but at the same time they would also make a sensational vegetarian starter, partnered simply with some balsamic dressed rocket leaves.
Pour the cream and milk into a small, heavy-based saucepan. Add the onion halves, bay leaves and peppercorns and set over low heat. Allow this mixture to slowly heat up, without letting it boil. The longer you do this, the more flavour you will extract – which can only be a good thing.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cut the cauliflower into small florets – about the size of your thumbnail. Add to the boiling water and cook for 60 seconds – no more. Drain and immediately plunge into cold water to stop them cooking any further.
Preheat your oven to 180 °C (360 °F). Place the eggs and yolks into a large, heatproof mixing bowl. Strain the hot cream mixture into a jug and discard the solids. While the cream is still piping hot, pour onto the eggs and immediately start whisking so the eggs don’t curdle. When the mix is well combined, add the cheese, drained cauliflower and enough diced bread to thicken the mix up. You don’t want to add so much that it turns thick and gluggy. On the other hand, if you add too little, the puddings wont set properly. Try 375 ml (1 1/2 cups), and add more if necessary. Remember – not gluggy, and not liquid – but just in between. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.
Select 6 dariole moulds of roughly 200 – 250 ml (3/4 – 1 cup) capacity. Seeing as the puddings will be turned out before serving, you could use heatproof teacups or something similar instead – be creative. Grease the moulds thoroughly with butter, vegetable oil or a non-stick cooking spray. Then grease them again. These babies can stick, so be thorough here. Using a ladle, stir the mixture very well, then ladle the mix into the moulds, filling right to the top. If you have some mix left, make up a few more moulds to keep for later.
Place a tea towel into the base of a large baking dish. Place the puddings on the towel and pour hot water into the dish, coming up to half way up the sides of the moulds. Place in the oven and cook for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow the pudding to cool for 5 minutes. You can now either tip them out and serve immediately, or allow them to cool entirely – in their moulds, then cover and store in the fridge for up to 3 days. When it comes time to serve, heat the pudding in a 180 °C oven for 15 minutes.
Turning the puddings out can be a little tricky, as you want the top that stuck out of the darioles to be the side uppermost on the plate as well. Thus you can’t just simply invert them onto the plate. You will need a rigid spatula, or fish slice, laid flat on a work bench. Tip the puddings onto the spatula, then carefully flip them back over onto the serving plates. The cooked (browned) side should be uppermost once again. Serve forth immediately, and make room for the accolades.