You know when you go to a slightly cringey restaurant, and the pudding menu is offered? And a member of your party demurs on the basis that they’re full? ‘Oh but madame, we have an entirely separate stomach when it comes to puddings’ says the waiter. And you giggle and simper and order a molten chocolate pudding? I thought maybe I’d made this up, or it only happened to me, but then a brief google led me to a whole string of articles about how the ‘dessert stomach’ (ie. the ability to suddenly feel like you have room for a little something sweet after a twelve course belt-busting meal’) is not only a restaurant upsell-trick, but a bonafide peer-reviewed physiological phenomenon. Who knew?
Last year was a year of pastry. Of cakes and tortes, of weddings and supper clubs. Of learning how to cook for others, of learning how to put a dish together, of learning what it means to put a dish in front of someone else. It was a year spent in kitchens: church hall kitchens, kitchens we erected in garages, bright, white, professional kitchens.
I whisked sponge after sponge, made litres of custard, bloomed my weight in gelatine, carved grape after grape. I shredded kilos of slow cooked lamb, arranged dozens of salads, stacked tier after tier of wedding cakes.
Over the last week, I’ve found myself making food for the future, rather than for the now. This is partly a product of the season: foraged blackberries and elderberries fill my kitchen and freezer, crying out to be turned into soft-set jams, sweet, fragrant liqueurs, and tart vinegars. But it’s also, I think, a nod to how I’ve been feeling recently. And its certainly a step forward from previous weeks: this feels like the stirrings of hope, of planning, of an anticipation of enjoyment, even if present enjoyment is still a little lacking.
This should be a post about Eton mess gelato. For almost six weeks now, ‘Eton mess gelato’ has been peering at me from my drafts folder, asking to be written. First quietly, and then with an insistence that bordered on whining. Weeks went by, and I didn’t write about Eton mess gelato. In fact, I didn’t write at all. This is not a post about Eton mess gelato.
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.