Pastry and lemon and sugar oh my.

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Small House #2. I’ve made the butteriest of buttery pastries, it’s chilled in the fridge, I’ve rolled it with – not even the standard wine bottle, but a bottle of posh cranberry cordial. The baking beans are, of course, elsewhere, and so I’ve lined the pastry case with baking parchment and then filled it with flour. It just needs a bit of weight (and it’s Dan Lepard’s idea, and I’ve come to trust him). The oven is hot (the top oven that is: a cheap oven bought on the Holloway road came with so many promises, but delivered a fan oven with a broken thermostat. Our house-warming supermarket curry met a sorry end on account of temperatures rising to well over 300℃. Making do with a tiny oven in both our small houses – keeps with the general theme, I guess). The roast is out and on the table, and with our guest waiting politely to eat I take a shortcut, and don’t bother to move the oven trays around. I’m sure it will cook just fine on the top shelf.

It does. So does the baking parchment.

My beautifully (rustically) prepared pastry case boasts black tips above an (admittedly perfectly cooked) blond base. Burning (alight) leaves of baking parchment are smothered with a Jamie Oliver Special Collection oven glove. My first thought (I now admit) is to save the pastry, not the kitchen. Onto the floor (and the hob, and the top of the washing machine, and my just laundered jeans) goes the charred baking parchment. And all of the flour. But the pastry is saved (note in the photo the little triangles of missing crust? They were the burntest burnt bits).

The others are still waiting to start the non-dramatic, non-fire-inducing, and now not-so-hot roast dinner in front of them. But at least they can look forward, without disappointment, to a Mary Berry tart au citron at the end of the meal. The roast tastes damn good, too (and anyway. On Masterchef – it’s back! – John and Greg are always eating the final contestants’ cold food and not minding too much. It must be a palate thing). The concluding tart delivers on flavour if not on appearance (icing sugar goes a long way but you’ll probably have seen through it). Not supermarket-own smooth, but worth it for the sweet sharp zest that cuts through the cream – the pile of lemon skins indicate not a speck of pulp left unsqueezed.

Puddings involving crisp, short pastry (with no soggy bottoms) and the beautiful sweet-sharpness of lemon-meets-sugar seem to be a theme this Spring (or should we still be calling it Winter? It’s snowing outside). You lucky things, I’m treating you to a double whammy: here’s a photo of this weekend’s Treacle Tart (another one à la Mary Berry – I can hardly blame the pastry fire on her). While it contains a whole pot of Lyle’s Golden Syrup (and amusement as the shocked faces of family and friends watch the spatula scrape every ounce of syrup from the tin), there is enough lemon to give it a wonderful tang. Not to mention plaited lattice work on top. What a beauty. We thought we’d have a hard time finishing it. We didn’t.

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The Bitch is Back. With Lemon Meringue Pie.

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I can imagine that I’ve been causing a lot of anxiety over the past 11 weeks and 2 days (have you been counting too?). “Did she eat all those sweets all by herself and explode?” “Did Queen Victoria’s descendents claim copyright over the name and lead her to go into hiding?” “Did she win the lottery and move into a Large House where things didn’t taste so good anymore?”Almost, but not quite. I did eat a lot of sweets. I did spend a couple of weeks computer free (so sort of in hiding). I’ve never played the lottery, though if I did, and I won, I’m pretty sure my attachment to blog-writing would prevent me from ever moving to a house so big that puddings lost their flavour.

So anxiety is averted. As for the sweets, they were put into little jars (that look like the over-priced Kilner jars you see on BBC baking programmes but really come from IKEA) and wrapped in pink rafia and taken on a road trip around the country, deposited at the houses of various lucky family members. The Christmas break looked something like this: North-SouthEast-SouthWest-SouthEast-North. There were some memorable bakes along the way: the cranberry and orange meringue pie for Christmas Day dessert springs to mind. As does the combination of orange polenta biscuits with dark chocolate mousse (all the way back to Jamie’s first book for that one). But the prospect of deadlines-deadlines-deadlines at the end of January meant that much of the already-dreary month was spent staying in one place, at my desk, trying to write.

I never should have paired the challenges of writing 10,000 words whilst preparing to teach undergraduates for the first time with a new diet. Instead of taking breaks to bake, and blog about baking, and eat baked goods, and share baked goods, and bake again, I took breaks to watch high-calorie (i.e. ‘junk’) television instead. The first season of 24. (I’m resisting the second until I can afford the time to enjoy, rather than feel guilty about, the brain-numbing it entails). The first three seasons of Weeds (yes, Mary Louise Parker). The final season of Damages (what the fuck Glenn). February was supposed to see the return of high quality television (Six Feet Under) and high-calorie baking experiments, starting with a plan for an orange and lemon cheesecake to accompany a reading group discussion of AM Homes’ Music for Torching.

The cheesecake was a disaster. An unphotographable disaster. I would have trusted Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries with my life but this time, as I cursed his name and served scoops of sunken cheese’cake’ adorned with decorative biscuit crumbs in mugs with witty slogans, I had to come to terms with the fact that some of his baking recipes are just a little too willy-nilly for comfort. My confidence was a little bruised and for the rest of the month I allowed myself to be submerged in reading, writing and what felt like a mountain of student essays on Wordsworth (not exactly the ‘contemporary lesbian cinema’ of my comfort zone, you may have realised).

It is March now. And what better way to celebrate the ending of the winter months of doom than by making lemon meringue pie. With the ever-trustworthy and never-willy-nilly Dan Lepard. Even the addition of a potentially-crumbly gluten-free pastry couldn’t topple this one. Look at the picture. I say no more.

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