… yes, I’m sorry to say that whilst not necessarily neglecting my cake-eating over the festive period (OK, OK, so it was an extended festive period!), my poor blog was left lonely and abandoned. Or, if you look at it from another angle, perhaps it too had a great time slobbing around not doing any work. But maybe we should move swiftly on before this gets a bit too anthropomorphic…
Anyway, I have no real excuse, other than that I had to finish watching the first series of The Killing and other such vital tasks. But when faced with the prospect of having to do something actually important, like pack for the five months that I’m spending in South America, baking suddenly became rather fascinating. It was partly that I had no idea when I’d next have the time and facilities to devote a day (or two, as it turned out) to making mini danish pastries, and partly that I just fancied going on a baking spree. So I did.
So, first up, the aforementioned pastries. Everyone loves croissants, but they’re rather a mysterious concoction, made by moustache-twirling Frenchmen and contestants on Bake Off programmes, and these are not exactly the balanced role models that most of us aspire to. That said, I have always fancied giving that flaky pastry a go. They weren’t necessarily a complete success, since instead of loads of layers of pastry and butter, mine seemed to become pastry with blobs of butter speckled through it. (I blame the fridge not being cold enough! Which is obviously not my fault!) And then we kind of weren’t quite ready to shape them when we ended up shaping them, because the dough seemed to take on a life of its own and was bursting out of its tub, meaning that something had to be done. So while we got some very cute little croissants and cinnamon raisin whirls (both of which puffed up nicely) out of our batch, we didn’t actually have any appropriate chocolate for pains au chocolat. So we bashed up some chocolate sprouts (I was up for using white chocolate and raspberry Percy Pigs, but was vetoed on grounds of weirdness!). So they weren’t perfect, but not bad for a first attempt:
So, flushed from that success (what is that even supposed to mean?!), I launched straight into mad baking frenzy number two: macarons. Not macaroons, which are kind of little coconut pyramids and also quite tasty, but utterly different. No, these are the kind of French macaron that you get in expensive shops in Paris and are kind of biscuit-sized but an awful lot tastier. Or, at least, that was the theory. You see, the problem is, you have to start with a meringue base to make them, and I can’t stand meringue. Which means, of course, that I haven’t the foggiest how to make it. Cue lots of confused poking of whipped egg whites and panic after we poured the sugar syrup in and the Magimix made a very weird noise. And then there was the battle with the piping bag (another new implement for me!), which basically involved getting chocolatey mixture everywhere and some less-than-round piped discs. Oh, and we can’t forget the weirdly incomprehensible bits of instruction, like hitting the trays on the table and then leaving the whole thing to rest. I question not, I just do it.
After all that, they actually turned out more or less right. Once again, we had nothing to fill them with, so a bit of Bailey’s was slugged into whipped cream for a bit of improvisation. The recipe had promised me 24 shells, making 12 macarons. We had fifty shells. We ate about 10 and froze the rest (without the filling, obviously!). They’ll probably lie forgotten until I come back in June… But the oddest moment? Erm, that would be when we found ourselves trying to scrape the greaseproof paper that had stuck off. Still, you couldn’t actually taste it, so it all worked out fine in the end.
And then… finally, the largest (and potentially not the faffiest, actually!). It was going to be a special ‘back to Oxford’ (for a couple of days!) cake. Folders were raided, recipes were considered and discarded, ingredients were bought. The mixture was mixed. And then, when I went to put it in the tins, I realised quite how enormous it was. We’re talking big. Huge. I ended up with two sandwich cakes and they were overfull, so a second, mini cake was created. And then, of course, they rose. And once frosted (why does my frosting always end up with a pebbledash effect, rather than smooth waves or anything equally beautifully stylish?), it was simply enormous. Its banana, pineapple, raisin, walnut and cinnamon-filled self just wouldn’t fit in the intended tin. Cardboard boxes were suggested. A plastic mixing bowl was tried. An enormous panettone tin, now used for biscuits, was found. And taking pride of place on my handy train table (me squashed up behind it with a bag on my knees that smelled faintly of my camembert sandwiches until I ate them near Stafford), it made it to Oxford, where it was eaten with gusto. By a lot of people. Having several slices. It really was a bit of a monster, but it tasted goooooooood! 🙂