Tag Archives: baking

Me against the elements

There’s taking things too far and there’s taking things too far. This story falls into the second, more literal category. But at least it has a happy ending:

The well-travelled cake

The well-travelled cake

I was merrily creaming butter and sugar in preparation for this, Nigel Slater’s lush peach and blueberry cake. My wilted peaches, the cake’s raison d’être, sat expectantly on the kitchen surface. They were in urgent need of a botox injection but settling for some oven-based TLC. Then, as I twiddled the oven dials to warm it up to receive my culinary efforts, it became apparent that nothing would get baked that day.

I’m no stranger to temperamental elements going ele-mental, nor to the heartache they can cause the keen cook. I knew then with grim certainty that me and the oven would be out of action for a good two weeks. I would have two weeks to apportion blame, wondering forlornly whether one can cook too much and overwhelm a kitchen appliance, or whether said appliances are primed like bombs to self-destruct at regular (in my case six-month) intervals for the manufacturer’s pecuniary delectation. Now was the time for action. I had two severely compromised peaches whose lives only I could save from being futile. I had to do something.

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My kingdom for an element!

Sadly, what was one death in 2010 has turned into a spate of deaths. Not three weeks after the untimely demise of my sourdough starter for two, the oven developed sympathy pains and has now also given up the ghost.

Luckily for me, that faithful oven showed in near-death the dignity that it had in life, not turning itself off until my courgette and hazelnut cake had reached the safety of fluffy perfection. After performing the obligatory series of female responses to electrical failures of this ilk – opening the oven door and peering inside, turning the oven off and on again, switching it off at the mains, venturing slightly further inside the oven in case I’d missed something first time round – I reached for the instruction manual.

Ha! I’m teasing – of course I didn’t. It’s all Geek to me. Instead, I scoured the internet and managed to pinpoint the problem, a broken element, using the online equivalent of a Dummy’s Guide to Malfunctioning Ovens. Not having the mettle to actually repair the damn thing myself, I then paid somebody to come and ‘diagnose’ the oven. Diagnosis involved me paying a man in a boiler suit thirty-five pounds to agree with me about the element.

So, tonight is the eve of the big repair. I’ve been in cooking exile for more than twelve days, and it’s been as restrictive as a diet – not because I’ve struggled to find things to cook on the hob, but because, like restrictive diets, all I can think about eating is the food I can’t have. The biting frost has left me hankering after a rib-sticker of a casserole followed by a heavy-bottomed English pud. When friends came over for dinner, I salivated before the mirage of a Sunday roast chased down with apple pie. I’ve been comfort feeding the new sourdough starter and gushing to it about the great loaves it will make in the future as it shivers and sulkily kicks its heels on the top shelf of my fridge. The closest I got to baking was when I licked Nigel’s Fig and walnut cake in the Observer Magazine. It’s like being on the wagon and taking an unexpected detour through Glenfiddich.

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Five a day the naughty way

Ever since my turbo-gastro-weekend with the sensitive gluttons, when we indulged in a cake threesome, not 24 hours have passed in which I haven’t thought wistfully of the perfect match that courgettes and hazelnuts make.

Unfortunately, my gastronomic personality in these matters is an unsavoury combination: a handful of stubbornness mixed with a pinch of stinge, simmered with lashings of greed. Because of this, if I can make the same cake as the one we enjoyed in that café and serve myself a larger portion of it at home for half the price, the likelihood of me returning to the Northcote Road is as slim as I was – before the cake, that is.

Unable to wait for the seasons to catch up with me, I got down to the marrow of my nutty summer squash confection this weekend. I added my own touches – a splash of Frangelico here to liven things up (plus a drop or two in the cake), a smothering of full-fat hazelnut frosting there – and voilà. For artistic purposes, I just had to cut an XXL slice:

Courgette and hazelnut cake

Get that five-a-day feelgood factor

Had my concern for your vicarious viewing pleasure not taken over, I would have allowed temptation to have its wicked way with me before, during and after the photo session. Somehow I managed to restrain myself long enough to take this photo, and my patience paid off – the cake was a healthy yet hedonistic treat, and so moist you could hear the fork bite into it. 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