Well, my nine month patisserie school journey has finally come to an end. It fulfilled all kinds of cliches: it’s felt like two seconds and ten years all at once. I have laughed and cried more times than I thought possible. I’ve cut myself, burnt myself, and sliced my hand open on a piping nozzle. Twice. I’ve made some truly hideous cakes; I’ve also made some of which I was hugely proud.
When I began writing about food, I couldn’t conceive of a time where I would be able to, let alone want to, create my own recipes. I clung to cookbooks and columns: the recipes of others were more than support to me, they were the be all and end all of cooking. This shows in my first blog posts, retellings of Nigel Slater’s lemon curd and banana cake, Nigella’s clementine cake, Justin Gellatly’s biscuits. My stories framed by their food.
I know, I know: only two posts ago I was offering up another ice cream recipe, and in fact, this will be my fourth in the last six months. I’ll hold my hands up to it: I’ve become obsessed.
This week at college has been afternoon tea week. The name sounds elegant, serene, and not terribly labour-intensive. It’s the main event in the college calendar to show off to one’s loved ones: an actual afternoon tea, hosted by superior students, to which friends and family are invited to try our wares, all participating in the fiction that they haven’t spent the last six months having our class bakes almost literally rammed down their throats.
This recipe was borne out of necessity, which sounds implausible when I’m talking about excess hot cross buns, but bear with me.
Sam tells me authoritatively that ‘everyone’ at this time of year has spare hot cross buns. I don’t buy that. I could eat toasted hot cross buns until the cows come home, thick with cold butter (the buns, not the cows).
A combination of having a little sister called Madeleine, and our family holidays almost always being in Northern France meant that the holiday souvenirs we inevitably brought back to school were madeleines. We would traipse back to school with packets of supermarket madeleine cakes, unavailable in the UK and so positively exotic in 1994. Slightly compromised from spending two days in a hot car and ferry, those madeleines retained the strange bounce peculiar to European bagged longlife cakes, and a strangely synthetic lemony aroma. They would be gone in moments. Each year we’d bring back more than the previous, and each year, they would disappear instantly.
Baking in my household has been exam focused over the last three weeks, my kitchen filled with whisked sponges and beaten custards, marzipan roses spilling over my dining table. Suppers have been simple and unceremonious: my mum’s thoroughly inauthentic spag bol, eggs in various different guises, and my old failsafe, peanut butter noodles.
I began this week badly, with a roaring hangover, a hangover-induced shame spiral, and eight days until my exams start. Gently rocking on the sofa, trying to remember the proportions needed for a soufflé chaud and not remember my less than decorous behaviour the night before was a tall order.
Wednesday is St David’s Day, and in our household that means one thing: Welsh cakes. Sam and his family are Welsh, and Welsh cakes are a staple all year round for them. Of course this meant that the prospect of trying to pull together a recipe that stood up against those of Sam’s childhood was a daunting one.
When I was little and went out shopping with my Mum – not supermarket shopping, but proper driving-to-Newcastle shopping – we would go to the John Lewis cafe. To eight year old me, this was the height of sophistication, sitting up at the tall stools and slim bars. We tended to go there for tea and cake, and the lemon drizzle cake remains in my memory the best cake I have ever tasted, I’m sure more for its air of glamour than its baking merits. But there was one item that always called to me from the hot food counter: The Welsh rarebit. Even the name sounded exotic.