Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Amarula, and Other Weighty Topics

In the U.S., it is a generally accepted rule that you do not talk to a woman about her weight – unless, that is, you plan to enthuse over how many pounds she has shed. One would never think of telling a woman that she has gained weight, and would cautiously avoid the pitfall of asking a woman if she is pregnant – only to find out that she is not.

The same social mores do not apply in Africa.

“You look as if you have put on some weight! Your mom must have cooked all your favorite foods while you were home.”

“Your face is looking nice and round, are you expecting?

“You’ve gained weight since I last saw you – now you are becoming an African woman!”

Over the past 20 months in Zimbabwe, I have been on the receiving end of numerous permutations of the three quotes above – each said to me by a well-intentioned friend or colleague. You see, here in Africa, the standard of beauty is not to be skinny as a beanpole, but plump as a peach.

The logical, rational part of my brain reassures me that such comments are actually compliments on a continent where extra weight means that you are able to purchase plenty of food for your family. In fact, the women who run a craft collective where my husband volunteers recently boasted that, due to the success of their initiative, they had become “fat and fatter.” I’ve also noticed that remarking on a woman’s weight gain – real or not – after a holiday is a cultural courtesy, similar to the way people in the States would tell co-workers that they appear well-rested upon returning from a vacation.

I can’t wait to hear what people say when I come back from the Christmas break having gorged myself on Amarula bread and butter pudding with cinnamon custard.

Amarula is a cream liqueur produced in South Africa. It is made by sweetening and fermenting the fruit of the marula tree, maturing this spirit in an oak cask for two years, and then blending it with cream. The result is rich, silky and lightly fruity. A much less time-consuming process goes on in rural Zimbabwean villages, where marula fruit is fermented to make a potent homebrew. Alcohol isn’t the only use for marula – one local company turns the fruit into a dark, thick jam. And, humans aren’t the only mammals who enjoy marula – it is also a favorite food for elephants. (In fact, a common myth says that the fruit makes elephants drunk. Scientific research, however, has proven otherwise.)

Amarula bread and butter pudding is not a dessert for the faint-hearted, nor for the dieting, as butter, cream and sugar all appear in substantial quantities. It is a warm, comforting dessert – perfect for casual holiday gatherings – with a taste and texture reminiscent of French toast. If you don’t have Amarula, you can easily substitute Bailey’s or Kahlua.

Enjoy! And, if you eat too much pudding, hop on a plane to Africa. I’m sure you’ll receive many compliments.

Amarula Bread and Butter Pudding with Cinnamon Custard
Adapted from the Amarula website and Food and Home Entertaining, May 2001
Serves 10-12

50 grams / 3½ tablespoons butter, well-softened
8 slices of soft bread with a soft crust, sliced in half diagonally
50 grams / 1/3 cup raisins, soaked in warm water and drained
500 millilitres / 2 cups milk
375 ml / 1½ cups double cream
5 millilitres / 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large eggs
200 grams / 1 cup castor sugar
125 millilitres / ½ cup Amarula

500 millilitres / 2 cups milk
2 cinnamon sticks
45 millilitres / 3 tablespoons castor sugar, or to taste
3 egg yolks
15 millilitres / 1 tablespoon cornflour

Icing sugar, for dusting

Use a little of the butter to grease a large, shallow, ovenproof dish. Use the rest to butter both sides of each piece of bread, and lay these pieces evenly in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle the raisins over the bread.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, cream and vanilla extract to a boil. (Watch the pot when it is getting close to a boil to avoid it bubbling over!) Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and castor sugar. Gradually add the milk-cream mixture to the bowl, stirring constantly. (It helps to have a friend/spouse pour while you stir, or vice versa.) Stir in the Amarula.

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (360°F). Pour the Amarula mixture over the bread and allow it to soak for 15 minutes. Bake the pudding for about 40 minutes, or until it is golden and set, with just a slight wobble in the middle. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

To prepare the custard, pour the milk into a small saucepan, add the cinnamon sticks, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent a film from forming. Remove the cinnamon sticks and take the pan off the heat. Whisk together the castor sugar and egg yolks, and then whisk them into the milk. Continue stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Mix the cornflour with a little water (about 1 teaspoon) to make a paste, and add it to the custard. Return the pan to the heat and cook over a low heat until the custard has thickened.

Serve the Amarula bread and butter pudding warm, with a dusting of icing sugar and a spoonful of cinnamon custard.

Note: Our electricity went out (for the third time in three days) while I was cooking the custard, so it is not pictured. And, Mark only had a chance to take one nighttime photo of the dish under lights. Alas, power cuts are one of the less appealing things about life in Zimbabwe!


Maureen said...

hahahaha...I remember those comments when our family lived in West Africa. It does taking some getting used to. They are right in a way. On a continent that has more than it's share of set backs due to famine, locust invasions, war...having enough to feed one's family is cause to celebrate.

andrea said...

oh, god, must leap on that plane right now, even before tasting all that amarula stuff! You know what? I live in Rio, just the oposite...
love your text! greetings from Rio.

Carolyn said...

Hi Maureen,

I like how you put it - having enough to feed your family IS a cause to celebrate. Something to think about over the holidays!

Hi Andrea -

In case you ever do hop on that plane – you are welcome in Zimbabwe anytime! And I've seen those Brazilian bathing suits – no wonder Rio idolizes skinny over plump….

I’ve had so many Brazilian visitors to my blog recently – all due to this post: Thing is, I don’t speak Portuguese and have no idea what it says! Can you (or any other Portuguese speakers) help me?

Best wishes for the holidays!

Anonymous said...

Hi Carolyn, another visitor from Brazil because of the post on Mixirica. Have you figured out what the post says? She actually translated your quotes about weight and she says she was enchanted with your post. And that those compliments look like a grandma thing (here), but are common in the African continent. Hope it helped. Nice recipes you have!

farmgirl said...

Really enjoyed reading this--thanks for the smile. You have a delightful writing voice, and I'm looking forward to delving into your archives and learning more about your life in Africa. Found you through the Food Blog Awards. Congratulations on your nomination! : )