This week many memories reignite.
Another lifetime ago, childhood flashes, Barbetta’s, a peaceful Mediterranean village, the aroma of yeast, sesame buns and whiffs of vanilla…..
And Mikiel welcomes me and weeps. I am a face from the past and as his memories come alive he squeezes my hands and cries with joy. He is the last of the older generation of a family who own an amazing village bakery, built by Mikiel’s grandad in 1858, a busy hub tucked away in a village corner, contented customers forever flowing through the doors …
I have been gone too long he says, yes thirty one years is too long, a mature face no longer that of a child but the eyes never change he says. Mmm… the eyes …. now gone is the innocence, with more expression as they carry the burden of the real harshness of life. Oh how wonderful it was to be a child in this village and I am drowning in memories of the past and feel emotional as I see him weep.
I spent my very early childhood in the old village south of the island, a very beautiful old village built around an imposing church, a village with people who have a heart of gold. We were outsiders made to feel at home, made to feel part of the close-knit clan. We are outsiders now, even more so, like aliens from space but the doors open, the faces smile and the generosity of spirit is still here. And Barbetta’s wraps me in warmth, a blanket of protection on an unusually cold winter day. Comfort food, kind faces, kind words and more smiles.
Mikiel reminisces and I listen to his anecdotes. He speaks of my parents and his admiration for my father. I promise to come back to see him again very soon. He will not allow me to leave without heaps of his baked goods…..
And my visit prompts me to bake this old fashioned Maltese chocolate pudding that my grandmother used to make and I use Renato’s recipe from his dad … I have cut this very moist cake into slices and sprinkled them with coconut just like my nanna did. And Renato tells me that they will keep moist in an airtight container for two or three weeks …
You will need:
I use a baking tray of 35cm by 25cm x 6 cm deep
1 loaf of bread and you can use up your stale bread
4 spoons cocoa powder
150g butter (melted)
Zest of 1/4 lemon
Zest of1/4 orange
4 drops vanilla extract
25 g sultanas
1/4 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
25g chopped dark chocolate
2 spoons jam, Renato uses strawberry
1 shot gran manier
25g canded peel
75g ground almonds
70g custard powder ( optional )
Milk, enough to bring the mix dropping consistency and more for soaking the bread
Soak the stale bread in milk for at least an hour before and then drain it thoroughly.
Melt the butter and mix everything together in a bowl. I use a mixing bowl with a k beater but add the sultanas at the end by hand.
Prepare a dish 35cm by 25cm and 6cm deep with baking sheet paper and pour in the mixed pudding batter.
Bake at 190 C for about 45 minutes to an hour.
And more childhood memories… Mikiel with his brother Dun Alwig and his dear sister Tereza….
Photography by Ian Noel Pace