A few days ago, when summarising my promised major ‘grump’, I half promised something about a chocolate cake and onion soup from one of my favourite food blogs. I’ve made the cake; so far I have only bought the onions. My excuse is the ‘snap’ of cold weather – it’s stew and dumplings time, yippee, but more of that later, below.

Some time ago I gave the recipe for what has been my favourite chocolate cake, called Reine de Saba, but this one from My French Heaven promised to be equally delicious and a bit simpler to make.

Stephane's own picture of his cake, a 'grab' from his blog 'My French Heaven'

Stephane’s own picture of his cake, a ‘grab’ from his blog ‘My French Heaven’

I didn’t get it quite right, mainly because Stephane the author said bake it in a “pie pan” and not knowing quite what that meant I used the only square cake tin I have (about 20.5cm square) and it clearly wasn’t big enough, so the cake came out much deeper than in the picture. This meant it didn’t bake in the 20-25 mins suggested and it could probably have benefited from a rather lower oven temperature, which would have given the centre time to cook before the outside overcooked (The Reine de Saba is deliberately left with the centre undercooked).

All the same, even my attempt is a delicious cake (my wife, my partner chocoholic, agrees) and I’ll get it right next time. Stephane suggests you eat it with ice-cream, but this cake merits a superb ice-cream and that, as far as I’m concerned, means home made. No time for that so with a cup of (Yorkshire) tea as I write this I’m eating it alone; as a ‘pudding’ this evening it’ll be with double cream.

I have to admit, when I first thought about writing about this cake I fantasized about winning Stephane’s prize for the blogger bringing most people to his blog – a few days in his “B&B”, which I’m certain really is a French Heaven. But seeing all those foodie bloggers with hundreds, even thousands, of followers I knew that really was just a fantasy.

However, if you don’t know it already, do go to his blog for a real Frenchman (who writes real English!) writing about real French food, with some great photography too (so it was a debate whether to follow him from this blog or from my ‘photography’ blog).

Now to stew and dumplings and another of my favourite food blogs. I was really surprised to find that the author of ‘homemadewithmess‘, writing about stew and dumplings, said she had never made dumplings and didn’t have any suet in the cupboard.

Beef stew and dumplings, my answer to Thursday's frosty weather

Beef stew and dumplings, my answer to Thursday’s frosty weather

If you’re thinking that mixing something as British as stew and dumplings with a French cake is odd, think again. In the UK, if we think suet, we think Atora. This was developed by a Frenchman in Manchester in 1893. It is said that he developed it having seen his wife struggling to cut up blocks of suet; I know the feeling – there was no Atora in Romania when I was there so, to introduce Romanians to the light, fluffy balls which we know as ‘dumplings’, I too struggled to grate lumps of suet from the market.

I’m not going to give a recipe for stew – just brown the meat, add onion, carrot, parsnip, swede, pearl barley and lentils by the handful, cover with stock and cook till the meat is 20 minutes from done before adding the dumplings (in fact, in this one I chucked half a bottle of the beer I was drinking at the time, but it could have been red wine if that’s what I had in my hand – not drinking while cooking is a sin). The basic dumpling recipe is still on the Atora packet – I generally add some sage, fresh-ground black pepper and a handful of rolled oats. This week we had it with steamed Savoy cabbage and the wonderful ‘Anya’ potatoes which I’ve only ever found in Sainsbury’s.

This meal is one of the abiding memories from my childhood. Struggling up the long hill from primary school, perhaps up to my shoulders in snow, opening the door of the one up, one down back-to-back cottage in which we lived, to smell and see a large enamel bowl in the hearth of the cast-iron range, full of stew with big, puffy floating dumplings.

The stew might have been beef or lamb, but most often rabbit as then it was the cheapest. My mother, a war widow with three young boys to feed, often did not know where the next meal was coming from, but it was always there.

Much as I would like it, I cannot make the lamb stew described by homemadewithmess as my wife will not eat lamb, but beef stew with dumplings is one of her favourite meals since I introduced her to it. Romanians, in fact east Europeans in general, do have dumplings but they are a much heavier concoction of semolina and egg – in Romania they’re known as galuste (the ‘u’ and the ‘s’ are other Romanian letters so it’s pronounced gu-loosh-tay).

For what promises to be a heavenly French onion soup, watch this space.

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