A slight move away from my usual blog fodder, but one with good reason, and in the same spirit as my normal posts: celebrating food.
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.
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.