Tuesday, 26 February 2013

February 26th - Lambchop's getaway and Say it with cake

Dear Nigel,

A friend's brother has died and I just can't find the right words to say to him. Empathise, yes, - I lost my own brother four years ago and the pain still cuts at times. But what words can you use unless you've known the deceased personally? The only thing I can think of is to make cake. A hastily bought card seems cheap and insincere somehow . Maybe this is why we bake. Here is where we blend in our goodwill and wishes, sprinkle with tears and smiles - all part of the ingredients. The cake will have to be dense and moist - no airy fairy cake - sustaining and wholesome, perhaps a banana and pecan cake or a malt bread tea loaf.

In the end I opt for a  Banana and date loaf from the wonderful Lucy Young ( Mary Berry's sidekick, who deserves to be far better known). I steer clear of iced cakes for this is not a celebration cake.

There is deep fog in the Dale today as I drive through in Archie ( - sounds like a line from Postman Pat). This grim weather has put us all in a baking mood. I pick up the ingredients for the biscuits the children and I are making after school. We are baking Raspberry and chocolate fork biscuits from a lovely new book by Miranda Gore Browne ( a Great British Bake Off finalist) called simply 'Biscuit'. I have heard glowing endorsements about this book from friends, and I am always on the look out for new ideas and a twist on old favourites. This book seems to have a comprehensive selection of both. I am particularly interested in her 'Rhubarb crumble biscuits' (with raw young rhubarb and orange zest added directly into the biscuit dough),- and very seasonal at the moment; and the 'Langues de chat with milk chocolate ganache', as I'm a sucker for a fine, rich ganache filling.

Had an interesting cartoon moment as I walked through the village to pick the children up from the Honker bus. A small flock of sheep had escaped from somewhere and were wandering down the lane - six white straggly things and a small brown one trying to keep up. They were wandering into the pretty cottage gardens and grazing on all things green. Not much interest in the gardens at present apart from little clumps of green and white snowdrops bent over like mint imperials stuck on spears of angelica. Coming back again with the children we are greeted by the comic sight of three good-looking butchers in striped aprons all waving their arms around and chasing the sheep up and down the pathways. They weren't actually waving meat cleavers about - but might as well have been. Don't know if the sheep were escapees from the butchery, but today is Tuesday and killing is only done on a Monday. That's when the local farmers all come through with their small livestock trailers loaded up with the week's offerings. It was a scene reminiscent of a Helen Oxenbury Nursery Rhyme book.

You and I have a little catching up to do, and I start with your baking foray a week ago. As you plainly point out: 'I suspect the world doesn't need another cupcake recipe',and so you are setting about making 'something with a little more heart and soul.' I think we are definitely singing from the same hymn sheet, or whatever, here. The cakes you are making are 'little apricot and oat cakes (page 75) - cakes with 'backbone...(and) an interesting texture, which comes from rolled oats and dried apricots. It's as near as I can get to giving you a cupcake recipe.' (Now why doesn't that surprise me!) By page 79 these cakes have morphed into 'An apricot crumble cake'. I love the way recipes twist and change and pop-up again in a different form elsewhere. It makes them seem more real. They leap out of the page at you and onto your imaginary plate. There is no suggestion anywhere that this or that has been tried and tested many times over and amended  in a large impersonal cookery school. The recipes come out of the food and inclination. Much like home.

You are squeezing lemons for a lemon tart. As you say, a lemon at room temperature yields more juice than a refrigerated one. I agree. I often warm mine for a few seconds in the microwave and this has really good results too. Like you, I appreciate the tactile qualities and shape of my traditional wooden lemon reamer. Fishing out the pips never bothers me either. I note that you have added the zest and juice of a small blood orange to your traditional tarte au citron recipe and wonder what kind of frisson this is going to make - a kind of St.Clements? almost. As this is one of my favourite puddings (or do I really have to call it a desert?), I  will go looking for blood oranges when I'm next out. They should still be around at the moment, I think.

Now, here's an answer to an age old complaint of mine: why pastry shrinks in the tin. I always thought it was me stretching it too far and rolling too thinly, but according to you it is the amount of water you add to the pastry that does it. 'The less water you add, the better - too much will cause your pastry case to shrink as it bakes.'

I think we are probably introverts, you and I. We like our own space, the sound of silence echoing. You love 'the sound of snow falling in a forest'. I love the half hour before the dawn, the sigh after a storm and the next five minutes after someone's turned the tele off.

You make quiet food. Pared back, gentle, calming food. Food to contemplate, that won't shout for attention. Tonight it is 'Bulgur and bacon'- a pilaf of 'homely grains and juicy nuggets of mushroom'. It is the kind of simple dish that appeals to me for supper.


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