“I like my open-plan kitchen because it is important to me to have the space to be together with my family while I cook. I need room for memories and stories along with the pots and pans,” says Lindiwe Sangweni Siddo, owner/ general manager of the four-star Soweto Hotel. When asked how often such foodie family gatherings occur she observes, “I suspect that I never really cook alone. Quite often I literally cook with my mother and aunts, but even when there is no-one else here I feel their influence and also that of the many generations of female ancestors who cooked before us. And I don’t just mean an emotional presence, although of course that’s part of it; often the feeling stems from the literal transference of kitchen skills, equipment and recipes from one generation of women to another.”
Given her recognition of this alimentary apostolic succession of cooks, it comes as no surprise that when she is asked which culinary tool she can’t live without she produces a Phillips mixer that is so deliciously dated that it definitely qualifies as retro-chic. This is no ordinary blender; like everything in Lindiwe’s kitchen it has a name and a tale to tell. She pats the machine fondly as she says, “This is Phillip Senior. My father bought him for my mother in 1974. And he has seen us through so many cakes and family festivals. He is Phillip Senior because there is now also a Phillip Junior.” Which is just as well because halfway through making Lindiwe’s mother’s pineapple pudding recipe Phillip Senior grinds to an abrupt halt and refuses to beat any more batter. But nothing phases the serenely beautiful Lindiwe who (after reassuring Phillip Senior that she will take him to be repaired) simply transfers the butter and sugar mixture into Phillip Junior and keeps mixing.
Lindiwe was trained at the prestigious Ecole les Roches in Switzerland and she has worked everywhere from the hot kitchen at the √ºber-elegant Zunfthaus Zur Waag in Zurich to the front-of-house management team of the Hyatt Hotel in Washington DC. But for all her international exposure and smart certificates, it is very clear from the way she bakes that her epicurean education started long before she reached the Alpine hotel school. She explains that “my mother was a home economics teacher who baked with me a lot when I was a little girl so I have always felt relatively confident with cakes. Because of my mother I understand the domestic science of baking ‚ of course there is also art involved but on some levels it’s applied chemistry. You need to understand the principles behind what makes it work to do it successfully and without stress.” Not that learning such skills is easy. She laughs as she recollects that “when I was a child I remember I would go to the school where my mother taught and watch her with her pupils. I will never forget all those flopping souffl√©s and crying girls! At home she was very gentle but in a classroom she was a formidable force!”
Lindiwe’s croissant ‚bread’ and butter pudding recipe is a modernised, personalised modification of the one she learnt as a child. She takes out the well-worn copy of The 1955 Students Aid to Domestic Science that her mother taught from in order to remind herself of the broad strokes of the dessert and then fills in her own twists and frills as she goes along.
While tipping sherry-soaked sultanas into one of the many beautifully stencilled enamel bowls that fill almost every shelf in her kitchen she explains that “my husband Salif, who I met when I was studying at Penn State in the US, is originally from Niger, and in his homeland every woman has a collection of such bowls. So my in-laws have made sure that my cupboards are well-stocked.” Slicing the croissants she says, “I think that maybe this change to my mother’s original recipe is influenced by my husband ‚ the croissants that you get in Niger are so, so exquisite.” But then she pauses in the midst of her musings and self-deprecatingly observes that “of course, it could just be me being ridiculously posh or playing with my food. The other day I was in a supermarket in Soweto and some guys started saying ‚tsk tsk’ at me. You know, that terrible noise that sounds like you are calling a cat that men sometimes make at women. So I looked up and I was surprised so I said, “Me?” in English. At which point they said ‚Sandton celebreeety’ with such disappointment, and disdain, in their voices. So perhaps the croissant is just the Sandton celebreeety in me coming out.”
The chaps in the shop queue are both wrong and right about Lindiwe Sangweni Siddo. She is deliciously Sandton celebreeety, but she is also so much more than that. It is the celebreeety in her who spreads layers of plum and ginger coulis onto slivers of croissant and stacks them into ruby-red ramekins, but someone much less fancy-shmancy who remarks that “the core ingredient might have hints of Salif but the actual dish reminds me most of my KZN female relatives in times past. It speaks to me of their resourcefulness and ability to make something delicious out of leftovers. Bread and butter pudding is such a good way of using stale bread and yet it is so yummy. We have it on the menu at the hotel and it’s hugely popular ‚ I think it speaks of comfort ‚ everyone had a mother or grandmother who made it with love.” As she pours the cream, egg and milk mixture into all the stacked croissant crevices and adds a liberal sprinkle of cinnamon sugar, she observes that, “In my case I had both ‚ my maternal grandmother was also a domestic science teacher (at the Bonniface Mission in Izingolweni). When I think of how she worked I am filled with admiration. She did amazing things like making jelly with no fridge on the cool floor of a rondavel. There she was with no modern convenience tools making trifle and steamed puddings.” Even while she is honouring her female ancestors she says that she feels “free to modify, modernise and personalise recipes. At the hotel I am always saying to the staff that part of creating a modern Soweto culinary style is to take where we came from and interpret those tastes through the world we live in now. Kasi cuisine is a modern genre with roots in the past and tendrils shooting proudly into the future.”
The connection and commitment to kasi cuisine is striking given that Lindiwe didn’t actually grow up in South Africa. When I remark upon this she says, “My parents moved to Swaziland in 1968 and post-1976 it wasn’t possible for us to come back, not even for funerals. We moved around a lot and ended up in Lusaka, but wherever we were we always felt South African. Exile was always meant to be temporary and coming home was always our goal and our focus. My parents did everything they could to make us feel connected with the home that we were so far away from. That included cooking South African-style food.”
Even though food was an important cultural connector to an unseen homeland, she remembers, “When I left school and I said I wanted to work in the hospitality industry my father was horrified (until then I had planned to be a doctor), but my aunt Lindiwe (after whom I was named) said, ‚Stanley, look at it this way, who is going to run the hotels when we are free?’ He considered and conceded that she was right. So here I am.” There is such wisdom, warmth and confidence in the aunt’s argument ‚ especially given that this conversation took place in Lusaka in the early 1980s when a postapartheid South Africa often seemed very far away. And yet, as the owner of the Soweto Hotel pairs Jam Jar Shiraz 2009 with the prettiest pineapple pudding imaginable, it is perfectly clear that Aunt Lindiwe was so right. There is delicious, victorious abundance in the way in which the sweet spicyness of the wine reaches out to the tartness in the fruit.
She opens a bottle of KWV Lifestyle Late Harvest to serve with the bread and butter pudding but says, “I find that this pudding also pairs very well with a homemade ginger beer, which is of course the ultimate in township welcome tipple.” Of course, Lindiwe’s souffl √©-like croissant and butter pudding comes out of the oven a marvel of bouffant brilliance. The apostolic succession of domestic science teachers alive and dead must surely award her an ebullient ancestral A-plus.
Salif’s Sandton celebreeety croissant and butter pudding
3 large croissants
a hearty dollop of plum coulis or jam of your choice
¬Ω cup sultanas soaked in sherry
2 T unsalted butter
250ml full-cream milk
1. Preheat the oven to 160¬∫C and slice the croissants.
2. Melt the butter and use about one third of it to grease individual ramekins or one medium-sized oven-proof dish. Use the rest to brush croissant slices on both sides.
3. In the ramekins/dish, layer the slices of croissant, spreading a little coulis on each. Sprinkle each layer with sultanas. Fill the container to the top with slices.
4. Whisk the cream, milk and eggs and pour the mixture over the croissant stack. (Make sure the liquid gets into all the crevices and that the top slice is drenched.)
5. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
6. Bake until golden brown and risen like a souffl√© (approximately 45 minutes).
ANGIE’S UPSIDEDOWN PINEAPPLE PUDDING
240g cake flour
160g white sugar
100g unsalted butter
10ml baking powder
a few drops of almond essence
20ml brown sugar
8 tinned pineapple rings (drained)
1 punnet of blackberries
berry coulis, toasted almond flakes and whipped cream for decoration
1. Preheat the oven to 180¬∫C.
2. Cream the butter and sugar until light.
3. Gradually add the eggs and almond essence. (Tip: you can sprinkle a little flour first to avoid the eggs curdling the creamed mixture.)
4. Sift the cake our and baking powder together then alternate, folding in the flour and the milk one third at a time into the creamed butter.
5. Grease eight ramekins or one large ring cake tin and sprinkle the brown sugar at the base of the tin/ramekin.
6. Place a pineapple ring at the base of each mould and put a few berries inside the centre hole. Spoon over the batter and bake until cooked through (approximately 30 minutes).
7. Turn out each ramekin/cake tin onto a serving plate and serve with coulis, almond cakes and cream.