I have been quiet of late. Which may be seen as inadvisable bearing in mind I’ve just started a blog that I hope will ascend me to heights of adulation and adoration. Starting this blog had a strange, not totally unexpected consequence: people found out my mother had died.
What I did not expect was the kindness and vocal generosity of so many people. People who I hadn’t spoken to since school or university. People who had experienced similar or — often — far worse events than I had. It was completely wonderful, and totally heartbreaking. My mother’s friends found my blog (hi Deb! Hi Sue!). My father was sent a link to my blog. Old flames contacted me. It was… bizarre. And I was grateful for every single missive. But then I froze. I couldn’t work out how to reply to any of these people. Death of a loved one is like the antidote to suffering top trumps. I positively wanted to underplay the all-consuming grief and panic I felt. So, I didn’t reply. And then it felt terribly rude to write a blogpost without replying to these gentle, kind extensions of solidarity and sympathy. I cried. Quite a lot.
When lovely friends asked me where my next blog post was, I fobbed them off, pretending to be terribly busy and important with work; when my boyfriend pestered me about it, I got tetchy, and rolled my eyes a lot (and then meekly baked cakes as a silent way of expressing my apology, like a particularly beautiful, intelligent, if ungainly, cat bringing you a half-eaten sparrow). But really I just couldn’t bring myself to write more about my wonderful, funny, clever, Mother who now only lived in my computer, on my blog. Which was pretty bloody stupid.
So, I sit here, in my mother’s garden, listening to Kirsty MacColl, smoking a cigarette, drinking a beer, and thinking ‘Olivia, is this really what mummy would have wanted?’. And the superficial answer is yes: there are probably fewer places my Mother was happy than in her garden, sitting as I am now. But I don’t think she’d be impressed by my wet-blanket-ed-ness. Or the cat that now lives in her house. But mostly the poor-flower-image I’ve been cultivating in the last couple of weeks. She’d have told me to pull myself together and that it may be summer, but unless I want to get pneumonia like Katie in What Katie Did, I should dry my bloody hair. I’ll settle for one of the two.
Here’s the deal: some of the posts I write will be about my baking journey and how I learned to love myself, and accept my mother’s death through macarons and millefeuille etc*. Some will just be about baking, because that’s what I do now. One will be about the time my housemate and I tried to make cakepops and created inedible, angry, orange bears. Some will be part of the small repertoire that my mother gave me that I determined I had to revive when I couldn’t turn to her to make them anymore. But some will just be recipes. Little easy things that I had a crack at, tiny little jewels of quiet triumph and distraction. These you will find here: BiteSighs. But before that, I couldn’t bake. So, let’s journey back.
Prior to my recent foray into baking etc, I had one cake that I could bake: Moist Clementine Cake. Come hell, highwater, birthday or bakesale, I made the same cake. It is IMPOSSIBLE to screw it up. It is also gluten and dairy free, lasts for ages, creates no waste because you use the entire clems (peel and all), has a brilliant orange colour and is mad-delish.
Because this was my go-to bake before I learnt how to, you know, actually bake, I have zero photographs of it. I am so sorry. This will not happen in the future. You can see photographs of Nigella’s version here. I searched my photographs for anything I could even half legitimately use to break this entry up. This is the only photograph of an orange on my ENTIRE PHONE.
I know, I’m a goddess of cakey proportions.
OBVIOUSLY, with credentials like those (bar the intolerance-factor, which is out of character) it’s a Nigella recipe. The small downside is that you have to boil citrus fruit for two hours which creates the most bizarrely disgusting smell. But YOU MUST SUFFER FOR YOUR CAKE. Good things come to those who bake. Or wait. Or something. Just make it, ok. Thank me later, with your mouth full of moist cake crumbs, whilst eligible men paw at you, begging to know your secret, and sizing up your ring finger for their now urgent visit to Tiffany’s.
[I have been informed that my insisting on referring to it by what I consider to be its full title — Moist Clementine Cake — is somewhat offputting, and may account for the fact that my offer of baking is rarely taken up when someone invites me to a BBQ and I immediately call them and screech ‘SHALL I BAKE YOU MY MOIST CLEMENTINE CAKE?’ to which they tend to reply ‘oh gee thanks Livvy but actually I’m just serving soft fruit for pudding’*.
There are three options here:
1. Simply don’t ring and ask. Turn up with the cake and THEN screech in the host’s face ‘I BROUGHT YOU MY MOIST CLEMENTINE CAKE. IT IS MOIST AND DELICIOUS. THAT IS NOT A EUPHEMISM’
2. Come up with a different name for it. I don’t know. DAMP clementine cake? Just be BORING and call it ‘Clementine Cake’. OH MY GOD CALL IT INCLEMENT CLEMENTINE CAKE. I’m a genius.
3. Stick to the script. Moist Clementine Cake. LOUD AND PROUD. LOUD AND PROUD AND MOIST].
Anyway. It goes like this:
Moist Clementine Cake
Makes: About ten decadent slices
Takes: 2 hours 5 minutes prep (but the 2 hours you can leave it to do it’s thang)
Bakes: 1 hour
- 375 grams clementines (about six)
- 6 large eggs
- 225 grams caster sugar
- 250 grams ground almonds
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Bung the clems whole in a large pan filled with cold water. Boil and continue boiling for two hours. It will smell AWFUL. I’m SORRY. Keep an eye on them every so often, you want the clems covered by water, so make sure too much water doesn’t evaporate. Divn’t fret if the clementines split. It makes no difference.
- Drain. Halve. Get rid of pips. Put them in food processor and blitz till smooth (definitely possible with a stick blender or juicer; never tried it by hand, but if you have more patience and knife skills that I do, I’m sure it’s not a problem).
- Preheat oven to 190 degrees.
- Butter and line your 21 cm tin. YAWN.
- Add other ingredients to mixer, if using. Or beat the eggs, and then add everything else to mixture. I do it by hand because nobody loves me enough to buy me a magimix or KitchenAid. Also because I am easily pleased and I like adding the orange pulp last and seeing it slowly turn the colour of burnt sienna. MAGICAL.
- Pour into tin. Bake for an hour. THAT’S IT (although keep an eye on it whilst in the oven, and if it starts to go too brown, bung some tin foil on it). Clean skewer means its done yadda yadda. Cool.
- TA DAH.
The Icing on the Cake
I tend to do a lemon drizzly icing, which I normally colour a lurid lemon yellow, partly because — like Mary Berry says — it’s nice to see what’s on the inside on the outside, and partly because it looks kitsch and who doesn’t love kitsch? Lemon juice, icing sugar, bit of water, lots of food colouring. Pour it on so it slipslops down the sides in an attractive yet nonchalant manner.
*The one advantage of my silence is that I’ve been spending all my spare time actually baking. I’ve learn how to make proper millefuille from scratch, souffles are my collective bitches, I’ve mastered a gateau Breton, and today saw my first quasi-successful macarons. All are visible on my instagram, but will be blogged about very soon, now that I’ve got my act together.
**I don’t care how good your main course is, soft fruit is NEVER an acceptable pudding. For the love of GOD.
Postscript: this cake somehow won me the Crouch End Bake Off. Despite it coming out so burnt that I had to shave it, and it prompting Sam to ask if it may not be better just to donate the money to charity rather than submit it. It won. On which basis, I conclude that it is unfuckupable even when you do actually fuck it up.