Gache melee

Guernsey Gâche Melée

Gache melee

I know most people go to book group as an excuse to drink wine and possibly read Fifty Shades of Grey, but the one I go to has ended up being much more highbrow than that (we’ve never read Fifty Shades and I had spare bottles of wine after the last one.) It’s introduced me to books and people I didn’t know and taught me a lot along the way. It was constructed from a group of us on Twitter who had all read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and had not entirely positive feelings about it.

On the suggestion of the Guernsey native in the group, we went for something much more authentic and less whimsical and read The Book of Ebenezer Le Page instead. We ate Guernsey’s national dish of bean jar (a recipe I shamelessly appropriated for Slow Cooked) and put the world to rights. Sadly we haven’t found much other literature from the Channel Islands to read since then, but I thought it would be fun to hark back to Guernsey’s charms for this week’s get together and try making gâche melée for dessert.

Almost like a cake made with suet instead of butter, gâche melée is filled with apple and differs from the similarly named gâche which is more like a tea bread like barmbrack or bara brith. Gâche melée is an excellent vehicle for Guernsey’s famous cream and allows non Guernésiais speakers to try and get the pronunciation right as they eat. It should be as close to gosh mel-aah as you can get (which isn’t very in my Belfast accent.) Or you can just keep your mouth too full with its loveliness to say much.

Gâche Melée (serves 6-8)

  • 450g apples
  • 500g self raising flour
  • 400g sugar, divided
  • 200g suet (veggie is fine)
  • 250g milk
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Before I go any further, I should say that every single recipe for Guernsey gâche melée varies from cook to cook and there are arguments about which is authentic so I’ll declare now that mine probably wouldn’t impress a Guern granny who has made millions of them, but my friend did congratulate it and we wolfed it down. I’ve copied the recipe from a postcard sent from Guernsey but added the eggs because I didn’t have enough milk or the inclination to go out and buy any.

Start by peeling and coring your apples. I used Bramleys for mine but I actually think something that cooks quicker would be better as mine were still a bit firm for my liking. I might use a Braeburn in future. There is debate in Guernsey as to whether one should slice or cube the apples. I sliced mine because it’s quicker and I hadn’t realised the controversy until afterwards. Scatter 50g of the sugar over the sliced or cubed apples.

Grease a deep, preferably square, dish or baking tin well with butter. Some Guerns say that ceramic or Pyrex dishes make the bottom of the gâche melée soggy and it must be metal to get the best finish, but I was already using my only square tin so I ignored that gâche melée rule as well.

Put the flour, 300g sugar, suet and salt in a large bowl. Crack the eggs in and add the milk and vanilla, stirring it all together. It will make a firm but sticky dough. Press half of it in your dish, making sure it is fairly evenly into the corners and then lay the apple on it. Cover them with the remaining dough to make a apple and dough sandwich. Sprinkle the remaining 50g sugar over the top. Handle the dough very lightly to stop it becoming heavy during cooking.

Bake immediately at 180°C for 1 hour 30 minutes. The dough will rise so don’t do what I did and shove it onto the top shelf while cooking a lasagne below so the top burns slightly. Allow it room to rise and don’t cover it while it cooks. Check it after 90 minutes with a skewer and give it an extra 15 minutes at 200°C if it looks pale or the apples don’t give nicely in the centre.

Let it cool for about 15 minutes and serve it in hefty slices with a dollop of good rich Guernsey cream. It should have a nice crisp top and soft fluffy texture from the suet. It is also very good eaten completely cold for breakfast the next day if you have any leftovers. In fact, speaking of cold, it’s excellent for fortifying you in this chilly snap too…

Cooked tongue and cheek pudding

Tongue ‘n’ cheek: a hot, steamy, sticky pudding

Tongue and cheek steamed pudding

Regular readers have no doubt picked up on our growing love affair with offal. Over the last three years we’ve embraced cooking and eating the more esoteric, wobbly and less-eaten parts of various animals… mostly successfully. In part this has been driven by our curiosity; in part interest in rediscovering traditional dishes (thanks to championing chefs like Fergus Henderson and Robert Owen Brown), and in part because it’s a cheap and healthy foodstuff. Oh, and we’ve laid a few demons to rest in the process too…

When we were young, our mum used to serve us tongue sandwiches, and I loved them. Despite being a reasonably smart kid, I never made the connection between the name ‘tongue’ and the actual muscle inside an animal’s head; I just assumed it was another odd quirk of the English language. My illusions were shattered when I walked into the kitchen one day to find mum making pressed tongue: setting a boiled ox tongue in jelly, then pressing a plate down with an old-fashioned iron. Suddenly I put two and two together and realised why the slices were round, and curled. Although I was fascinated by the size, texture and feel of the ox tongue, I was also pretty creeped out. Both familiar and alien, one glimpse of the tongue was enough to change my attitude to it as a foodstuff. No longer was it a welcome morsel to find in my packed lunch, now it was a giant freaky cow tongue. I didn’t eat tongue again for over twenty years.

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Steak and Kidney Pudding

I love suet. I know it’s as unfashionable as lard these days, but I love the stuff. A fluffy suet dumpling on top of a rich stew is such a winter treat that I will bear a lot of cold grey days just to have the excuse to embrace this most British of dishes. I also love the rich stickiness of Christmas dishes filled with fruit and suet and welcome sweet suet dishes that are a stunning vehicle for custard. But despite this love, I have never made a proper steamed suet pudding before. The sticky soft texture that is so dinky as dumplings, scares me in larger quantities. I have visions of sheer stodge, something you could kill someone with if handled incorrectly. Add in the traditional filling of kidneys and I feel a moment of blind panic. So it makes perfect sense that I offered to cook one for several friends on Friday night… Read more