My life is punctuated by books.
Is it possible for silly little bunny-shaped biscuits with fluffy tails to be elegant? Probably not. But I’m confident that this is the closest we’ll ever get.
I am irreparably clumsy and lacking in artistic talent in and out of the kitchen. Since I started baking, this has really irritated me. When I’m cooking comforting, hearty meals, it’s not really a problem; no one ever expects an oxtail stew to look like anything other than an oxtail stew. But sweet bakes are a different kettle of fish. These biscuits are my secret weapon. If you can scatter glitter over pritt stick, you can make these biscuits look utterly charming.
My mother never taught me how to make a white sauce. I recognise that in the grand scheme of grief and mourning and the death of a parent, this does not at first sight appear to be a problem worth griping about, but bear with me.
Reader, I will be frank with you: in many ways, this bread is the antithesis of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books that littered libraries when I was a child. But please don’t let that stop you.
For the uninitiated, these were books – inevitably ghost stories or quest books (the format never really suited Noel Streatfield or Dick King-Smith) – that would force you at the end of the page or chapter to nail your colours to the mast and follow a particular path, offering you two plot choices, and two associated page numbers. It made you implicit in the plot, in the conclusion. Inexplicably, these books were achingly cool. I had very bad instinct with these books; within three plot choices I was dead, the treasure was lost, the story ended prematurely. My choices failed me.
A confession, to begin with – appropriate, given the season. This is not a story of how I stopped worrying. It wouldn’t take a psychiatrist to determine that, in the last two years, I have used baking as a crutch, or a crude therapy. I have written previously about how pastries and breads and curds have helped me in times of mourning and misery and panic. I have been grounded by baking. But for a long time, I was scared of bread.
My intention to medicate all autumnal malaises and maladies with appropriate food has been… stalled somewhat.
I put my back out making meringues. Or rather, I thought I had put my back out making meringues. Last Sunday, I was making meringues and something very odd happened to my back and it hurt a lot.
There are some things which you bake, make or cook which are deeply calming, the very process of their creation, let alone their consumption, is enough to salve the stresses of the day. Pureeing roasted squash for soup is pretty satisfying, or chopping a host of bramley apples for crumble. That’s not quite what this recipe is, but that’s ok because that’s not its purpose, and it’s not always what you need. Sometimes what you need is something that is going to pep you up when you need it most. Something you can whip up in the evening, and take with you to see you through a particularly gloomy wednesday. And that is where I introduce you to my chocolate coated butter almond toffee brittle.
Suet pastry is a lovely pastry. It’s filled with flavour, it’s comforting, it’s softer than shortcrust, and far quicker and easier to make than flakey pastry or even rough puff pastry.
It is in fact incredible easy, I promise. You can read the recipe below, but in terms of ‘method’ you’ll just be shaking some pre-cut suet into some flour, and then mixing some water into it. That’s pretty much it.
Autumn is a funny old time. Throughout the rest of the year, I spend much of my time telling anyone who will listen (and many who won’t) that I adore Autumn, that it is my favourite time and, at some stage, will probably launch into an enthusiastic rendition of ‘Autumn Days when the Grass is Jewelled’. And yet.
I am not a very creative or inspired person.
A while ago, before we moved in together, Sam came round and made millionaire shortbread to take into work/class on his birthday (which OUTRAGED my housemate: ‘What is this FUCKERY? Why should one have to provide one’s own cakes on one’s BIRTHDAY?’). Anyway, he made too much caramel, and left it in my fridge. I peered at it this morning and said sagely ‘ah! I shall seek out a suitable recipe to use THAT up’, then went back to bed. But I didn’t. Which is why, when my case finished early, I found myself in Bedford M&S buying the other requisite ingredients for, well, millionaire’s shortbread.