I am currently engaged in a baking hiatus. Not through choice, I’ll add, those who know me or are aware of my frequent baking escapades would understand I must be ill or have a very good excuse as to why I can’t bake. I’ve been, rather pathetically, attempting to fill this gaping hole through desperate Pinterest stalking. It’s not succeeding unfortunately, instead merely making me resentful and hungry.
My baking days have come to an abrupt end because I presently don’t have use of an oven. A minor, yet understandable, set back.
The oven in my flat is stuck on the grill setting and due to the missing dial or knob there is no way to turn it back. Thus, I’m now accustomed to staring at cake rather than making one.
So, when my friend Tony suggested we bake a cake together at his house, I jumped at the chance. I needed to fulfil those warming, stodgy cravings of which I have been deprived. We planned our baking date over a month in advance and every time I glanced in my diary a little shiver of excitement took hold of me: sugar… cinnamon… weighing ingredients… licking raw batter off the spoon!
At last, the long-awaited night arrived and, like a drug addict with withdrawal symptoms, I marched to Tony’s house, laden down with all the equipment to fuel my addiction: weighing scales, a cake tin, baking parchment.
Before this evening, Tony had never baked before. Hearing this I laughed merrily before realising he was serious. He has always lived an active life full of sport or busy days at uni or the office. Me, returning home from work, ready for the sofa and a cup of tea would then spontaneously spend the entire evening rolling out brioche dough to stuff with chocolate. We clearly have different priorities. Baking is intrinsic to my life, from just filling little pastry cases with mincemeat at Christmas or watching my mum whisk butter and sugar with electric beaters when I was young. (I wasn’t allowed to use the electric beaters.) For someone who had never baked before, however, Tony was a natural and arguably one of Britain’s finest undiscovered bakers (his words, not mine), even coming up with an inventive use of the potato masher to purée the bananas. Together, we weighed and mixed the ingredients for Ruby Tandoh’s Cinnamon Banana Tea Loaf, and as he stirred the mixture Tony exclaimed, ‘I’m really enjoying baking!’ As it baked and filled the room with sweet banana scent we gobbled down pizza and wine, essential to any social baking session. Once risen and springy to touch the loaf was left to cool before it was coated in thickly spread salted caramel sauce.
Friends and family are here for me at this time of need as I battle this baking abstinence. Fiona, like Tony, has suggested baking sessions to ease the pain. After work I would arrive at her flat laden down with stale croissants from the bakery, a jar of Nutella and we would proceed to make chocolatey bread and butter pudding, sandwiching the croissants with dollops of nutty chocolatey spread and coating in creamy custard. Not only that, after a walk in the crisp cold on Hampstead Heath last Sunday, we eagerly bought the ingredients for a crumble; two large Bramley apples, a punnet of plums and some hazelnuts, along with a tin of Ambrosia custard, utterly devilish and sublime simply eaten out the tin with a spoon.
Mixing the wedges of apple and pitted plums with sugar and cinnamon we coated the fruit in a thick layer of crumble mix and roasted hazelnuts, even doubling the recipe for an extra stodgy layer of topping. It baked in the oven until golden, syrupy and bubbling and Fiona scooped out steaming helpings, the fruit soft and dyed crimson from plum juice. Crunchy from the hazelnuts and creamy from the custard pool surrounding the crumble like a smooth sea around an island, the baked dessert was like a dream come true for this deprived baker.