When I made this pudding on O night, I thought at the time that I was being highly original and inventive in combining salty black olives with chocolate. Then, one fateful day, a few weeks later, I was leafing through David Everitt-Matthias' Dessert: recipes from le champignon sauvage and discovered, to my horror, a recipe for bitter chocolate and black olive tarts with fennel ice cream. I must have subliminally stolen this idea and, to my shame, passed it off as my own creation. OK, so I didn't make chocolate tarts, I made chocolate fondants and I made olive oil ice cream without a bulb of fennel in sight. BUT, I did, for some strange reason, decide that it would be prettier to bake the fondants in individual fluted tart tins - something I had never done before and something which, in hindsight, seems an odd choice of vessel for a fondant.
Of course, it's hugely unlikely that any of us are entirely original, and the creation of new recipes inevitably leads to all sorts of culinary kleptomania. This is especially true, if, like me, a cook book is as likely to be resting on your bedside table as a novel. In actual fact, there's something rather wonderful in knowing that all the endless cookbooks, food blogs and magazine recipes I read do, on some level, get absorbed. It's reassuring to know that they end up somewhere and that my brain doesn't just throw them in the recycling once my stomach's stopped rumbling.
Salty treats mixed with chocolate have become modern classics, from Paul A. Young's famous salted caramel chocolates to Reese's peanut butter cups and, more recently, Vosges Haut-Chocolat introduced us to chocolate and bacon bars. It makes sense to think olive and chocolate would be just as much of a hit, but my black olive and chocolate fondants weren't a unanimous success on O night, by any means. Olly and Dolly loved them and although I won't make olives an everyday addition to my chocolate fondants from here on in, I really enjoyed their salty fruitiness against the bitter cocoa rich chocolate. Richard, in contrast, declared this pudding to be "a real Alphabet Soup low point". In fairness, Richard is really not a fan of black olives full stop. Though, stoical to the end, this didn't prevent him from finishing his plate and scraping it clean with his pudding fork.
The olive oil ice cream, on the other hand, was a hit with the whole table. It was smooth, creamy and vanilla-rich, with a subtle but pleasing undercurrent of aromatic fruitiness. It goes without saying that it is essential to use a good and fruity extra virgin olive oil for this ice cream. If you go cheap and functional with the EVOO, the flavour of your ice cream will certainly suffer for your scrimping.
Olive oil ice cream
4 egg yolks
4 oz/ 100 g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways
12 fl.oz/ 350 ml double cream
About 8 tbsp good quality fruity extra virgin olive oil
First make a custard by placing the cream in a saucepan. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod and chuck in the pan, along with the pod. Gently bring to the boil. In the meantime. whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until pale and creamy and pop a sieve over the bowl ready.
Once the cream has come to the boil, pour it through the sieve over the eggs to strain off the vanilla pod and any woody bits that have come off it in the cream. whisk the eggs, sugar and cream together and pour back into the saucepan. Place the saucepan over a gentle heat and whisk constantly until the custard thickens enough so that it can coat the back of a spoon and if you draw a line through the custard with your finger, the line remains. Immediately pour it into a cold jug and pop a bit of cling film over the top to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool.
Once cold, stir the olive oil into the custard and taste, add a little more oil if you think it needs it and pop the jug into the fridge to chill.
If using an ice cream machine, follow the manufacturer's instructions, otherwise, pour the mixture into a tupperware box, pop the lid on and transfer to the freezer. Whisk the mixture thoroughly every half hour or so for the first 2 hours of freezing to prevent ice crystals forming and then leave to set completely.
Olive and chocolate fondants
75g pitted black olives
175g caster sugar
100ml of water
25g unsalted butter
100g good quality dark chocolate (I used Divine)
100g salted butter, cut into small squares.
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
75g plain flour
25g cocoa, plus extra for dusting
Place the water and 75g of caster sugar in a saucepan over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and once the syrup is boiling add the olives, reduce the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool. Once cool, chop the olives and pop them back in the syrup and pop them in the fridge until needed.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)
Melt the 25g unsalted butter and brush the insides of four individual tart tins. Use a tea strainer to sift cocoa over each tin, until they are well covered. Tap the excess cocoa out of the tins and place on a baking tray.
Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Once melted, take off the heat and stir until thoroughly combined. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes.
Whisk together the eggs and egg yolks with the remaining 100g caster sugar until thick, pale and mousse like. This can take a little time so get your electric hand whisk out if you have one.
Pour the butter and chocolate mixture into the sugar and eggs and stir thoroughly. Sift over the flour and cocoa and fold in. Finally, drain the olives of their syrup, and mix them into the chocolate batter.
Divide the batter between your tart tins, filling them almost to the top, and pop them in the oven for 6-7 minutes*. Pop the tart tins on a wire rack to cool for a few minutes before unmoulding and plating up. Take the ice cream out of the freezer ten minutes before you're ready to serve so it is soft enough to scoop. Place alongside the olive and chocolate fondant and dust the top of the fondant with cocoa before serving.
*You can use ramekins if you prefer, but increase the cooking time to 10-12 minutes.