The first rule of Pudding Club: you must always talk about Pudding Club. Every smallest event in life must be compared to something that took place at Pudding Club, little allusions to Pudding Club must be inserted into the most improbable conversational settings and you must forever bang on about Pudding Club to your friends so that eventually they won’t be able to take it any longer and will undertake the pilgrimage and be evangelised willingly, and one day, given enough time, resources and meticulous organisation Pudding Club will take over the world in an inspired act of urban terrorism, perhaps hijacking millions of bank accounts and blowing up a few skyscrapers in downtown New York. Perhaps not, we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime Pudding Club continues to meet once monthly at Cuthbert’s Bakehouse, concentrating on less ambitious goals of instant gratification, lavishly indulging their addiction to refined sugar and plotting gradual, creeping world domination through the love of good puds.
When I first moved to Liverpool I was unsure how to go about meeting new people outside the rigid bounds of forced socialisation at university. I found a climbing partner on the internet and took up knitting so that I could go to knitting circle. Knitting circle meets up at Cuthbert’s Bakehouse, a new-ish kid on the block among Liverpool’s numerous cafes and delis. On Thursday 8th March I attended Cuthbert’s Pudding Club with my climbing partner, thus neatly closing the circle of the handful of people I know and places I frequent.
Pudding Club is an event for people who seriously love cake. The premise is somewhat surreal, indulging the childish fantasy to be able to eat cake before dinner or skip the tedium of dinner altogether to get straight to business (i.e. cake). I am a salt fiend. I enjoy eating dinner more than anything and my idea of great dessert is a cheese platter. Which is a compromising step away from my ideal dessert, charcuterie platter. I have over the years learned how to deal with the blank stares and scratching of heads which ensues when I propose such a course of action at dinner parties. No wonder the following exchange took place:
‘But you don’t even like pudding, what’s wrong with you!’ cried my friends incredulously when I, excitedly, outlined my plans.
‘I am now an investigative journalist you see, I have to go. What is a small personal sacrifice compared to the enlightenment I will provide!’ And so, with an open mind, I plunged myself into the unknown.
I did feel like a bit of a prat when, after being unable to pay for our tickets in advance or even put down a deposit and turning up late for the event I produced my camera and my friend kindly provided a notepad to furiously scribble down my impressions. This embarrassment must be excused as my brain alone would not have been able to contain the connection between the visual imagery and the wealth of flavours and textures I experienced that night.
The idea is simple. For a fixed fee (£15) you are fed six different puddings plus ‘finale’ (more pudding) and receive a complimentary glass of wine. We attended the second, French-themed installment, which meant all courses and drinks served that night had a connection, however tenuous, to the greatest tradition in baking. Drinks such as French wines, kir royal and crème de cassis were served to complement the French theme. To spice things up score sheets were handed out and punters are invited to rate the puddings a mark out of 5 and provide constructive criticism interspersed with amusing, sour or downright bitchy comments. Like the X Factor, only a bit nicer. My main worry was that by second course I would be K.O.d, however this worry was dispelled by reasonably small portions and enough time to catch my breath between courses. I am told portion sizes have decreased since the first Pudding Club. Still I was thankful to have skipped tea that day.
The first course, Month Blanc, arrived at the same time as my complimentary glass of decent French house wine. Our guess turned out correct and Mont Blanc did consist of a meringue with some chestnut puree and a spritz of whipped cream and a fairly unnecessary glacée cherry perched on top. I enjoyed the marriage of flavours in the crispy sweet meringue and fresh, flavourful puree, but was loath to give out marks yet lest I overshoot.
Mont Blanc was followed by ice apple souflée which was, unfortunately, by and large a letdown. More of a sorbet than a souflée, and a rather nice sorbet at that, the promising combination of the flavours of caramelised apple, cider and crème fraîche ended up being suppressed by an overwhelming lemon flavour. The presentation of the sorbet in a little flower pot produced giggles initially (‘It looks like a little pint of lager’), however soon we realised that the portion was too large for us to enjoy this course completely. I did not dislike it so I did not award the lowest mark, however our expectations were not met.
Cuthbert’s promptly turned the situation around with the next course of citron crêpe cake. My friend loves crêpes and the only thing that could possibly top a crêpe on her list of culinary delights is a stack of crêpes. Which was, incidentally, what we were served now, along with a fruit salad and a scoop of mint ice cream. It was the little things that grabbed us here: the zingy lemon butter holding together the individual sheets in this elaborate gateau, the freshness of the ice cream. ‘What is the meaning of the mark 5, perfect or the best of the night?’ we wondered to ourselves.
Do we have to be forcefully brought down from heights of culinary greatness by a decidedly unexciting course to follow it? The lavender crème brulée – burnt cream – that followed again failed to deliver on its potential. The cream was lovely, not overwhelmingly sweet, however the lavender flavour was less then subtle – and the crust more than desirably, and quite literally, brulée.
The champagne jelly we were served next was a revelation to me. Alice, the lady who masterminded the menu, described this course thus: ‘We like champagne therefore we put it in a jelly’. I don’t like champagne, I don’t like jelly but I liked this. I thoroughly enjoyed the pleasant bitterness of the jelly combined with the syllabub cream, and I decided to steal the idea of frosted grapes for a tea party of mine.
By now I was quite worried what would follow this great course, but croquembouche cupcake broke the spell. Here we had a tasty but completely unnecessary cupcake topped with a stack of delightful homemade profiteroles – a far cry from my sole previous experience of profiterole which was a giant beast of a cream ball, defrosted and still slightly icy in the centre, served in halls of residence in my first year of university at our slightly rubbish Christmas meal.
I am palpitating and I feel a bit sick. Will I be able to sleep, I wonder to myself.
We are now given Napoleon coffee: a shot of espresso with some brandy topped with whipped cream. Perhaps we looked like we were not buzzing enough from all the sugar circulating in our veins, and coffee was deemed necessary. Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger, and I finished someone else’s as well.
The grand finale, along with the declaration of the winner, came in the form of chocolate and rosewater macaroons. I have never had a good macaroon in my life, believe me I have tried. The gooiness of these little cakes completely blew me away. The hotly tipped citron crêpe cake was announced as the winner of the night and, after we pilfered the macaroon pyramid (‘One for each of my housemates!’), we headed home.
Verdict: yes. I would go again. For the food, for the fun, for the atmosphere, for the people we met. The best kind of a club is one united by a common love of food, be it savoury or sweet. I’m in.
It is always a good idea to prepare yourself carefully in anticipation of any kind of extreme. To fortify yourself against the forces of nature. To dress well in the winter. To take physical excercise ahead of opulent feasting. That is what common sense tells me anyway. I fully intended to go for an intense climbing session before pudding club and only stopped feeling like a failure when I realised that no amount of excercise would have offset this kind of excess. Lesson learned: when life gives you cake eat it (metaphorically or literally). Pudding Club is only on once a month anyway.