I think Rachel Khoo has a thing for prunes, and I’m not complaining. As someone who has a general aversion to dried fruit in baking, I make an exception for prunes. Some recipes which I have recently attempted with much success from her latest cookbook, My Little French Kitchen, include the Kugelhopf with Prunes & Armagnac and Prune & Custard Tartlets. And now I have these Semolina Burnt Creams with Prunes to add to the list.
I have yet to meet someone who shares my soft spot for rice pudding or semolina pudding. It seems that most people’s reaction to either is in part due to some childhood trauma when they were served a cold and gluggy rendition of this dessert. My husband shudders at the mere sight of rice pudding as it reminds him of a too-frequently appearing dessert in his childhood, an economical dish which my mother-in-law made almost weekly as a way of using up milk which was about to go off in the grocery store where she worked. In fact, when she wasn’t making rice pudding, she was making rice pudding cake. I tried the latter on our last visit to Brittany and absolutely loved it, although my husband has forbidden me from ever making it.
I, too, was a victim of mass-produced and flavourless rice pudding as a child, but boarding school food was never that great anyway. But where my schoolmates would go pale at the sight of rice pudding in their dessert bowl, I strangely enjoyed it. There is something comforting about a bowl of sweetened and creamy rice, especially when it is served warm. I don’t think semolina pudding is as well-known in Australia, but it is made using a similar method for rice pudding and the bonus is that it is much quicker to cook.
I absolutely love Rachel Khoo’s French makeover for semolina pudding. Here, she has added plump sweet prunes to the mixture with a crisp and caramelised golden topping to give you a reminder of crème brûlée. Her recipe converted my husband at the first mouthful, and I’m sure a brûlée topping could do the same for many other desserts.
This is an instant comfort dessert, one which I could sit down to any night. Thankfully, with only 4 ingredients, most of which you would already have in your fridge and pantry, you can make this pudding at a mere moment’s notice.
When it comes to caramelising the sugar, a blowtorch is best for this job. And the bigger the blowtorch, the better. I find the little blowtorches sold in kitchenware stores to be too small – it takes far too long to caramelise the sugar and, by which time, you will have warmed (or even cooked) the pudding underneath. Larger blowtorches will scorch the sugar more quickly and more evenly, so try to find a professional-sized blowtorch or even have a look at your local hardware store. But always place the ramekins on a metal tray before torching them, otherwise you may burn your kitchen bench top! If in doubt, use your blowtorch outside on the footpath.
This dessert is best eaten the day it is made.