The time I decided to bake a cake ... in a saucepan
You know you're turning into an avid Epicurean when both your favourite TV programmes are about cooking. Tuesdays, for example, are a high point in our house since the Great British Bake-Off started again. Last week, we watched in awe as the contestants created some really fabulously impressive looking breads from scratch while this week they tackled puddings with varying degrees of success.
Although both my 16-year-old son and I love cooking – casseroles, stews, roasts, pasta, curries, tagines and that kind of thing – we nevertheless still find actual baking per se a bit daunting.
I can pinpoint that particular mental block to one specific kitchen nightmare; the time I tried to bake my (ex) husband a birthday cake for his 30th. We'd only been together a few weeks and I really wanted to impress him so I decided to attempt a gateau-type cake out of Delia's Complete Cookery Course.
"Attempt" being the operative word.
The attempt failed.
Although I bought all the right ingredients and followed the instructions closely, I didn't think for a moment about the equipment I might need and in my grotty student bedsit there were only the most basic essentials. After I'd carefully weighed, mixed and blended everything together I went to get a cake tin out of the cupboard and – of course – there wasn't one. So I improvised and used a small round saucepan instead.
"This is non-stick ... and the right shape," I thought, "What could possibly go wrong?"
Well, to cut a long story short, the handle melted, dripping great globs of molten plastic into the mixture and giving it the flavour and aroma of a Kwik Fit exhaust department. It wasn't my finest hour.
He ended up getting a plate full of Jaffa Cakes with a candle in each one.
So cakes, breads, buns, pastries, indeed anything that requires baking, became a sticking point.
It didn't help that my second attempt at baking a cake – the family Christmas Cake no less – was an even worse and much more expensive catastrophe. After hours of preparation, using 10 different fruits and nuts all steeped in whiskey, I decided to have a wee tot myself as a reward while it baked.
Naturally, being unused to drinking during the daytime, I then fell asleep on the sofa ... for a few hours ... and only awoke to the acrid fumes when the smoke alarm went off.
But despite all the bad mistakes, bizarrely, I have developed a reputation as a talented master baker back home in England, on account of my absolutely flawless wheaten bread. Now, as you may or may not know, wheaten bread aka brown soda, is something of a regional delicacy of Northern Ireland. You can't get it in England for love nor money but everyone in my family over there really loves it, so I always used to bring a few loaves back in my luggage on every trip.
Then one day as I was shopping in the supermarket I noticed, next to the flour, something called Morton's Wheaten Bread Mix. And the rest, well, is history.
The instructions couldn't be simpler. Just add milk. That's all you do! Seriously! Even I couldn't get that wrong. So, armed with a loaf tin, a pint of milk and a bag of mix, I became a producer of wheaten bread, wheaten scones, wheaten farls, you name it. As long as you just add milk, I've got it down to a fine art. But don't tell anyone.
Of course, nobody over in England knows my secret. You can't buy the bread there, let alone the ready-prepared mix. So I'm always careful to clear away all evidence after my own Great British Bake-Offs. The empty packet usually ends up at the very bottom of the bin (as I don't have a shredder) and nobody is allowed to watch me work my magic either.
I just let them think I'm a culinary genius. It's perfect every time, too.
Which incidentally reminds me of my other favourite TV programme of the season: Breaking Bad.
It's a sort of cookery programme too, about a very secret recipe and a cook who will stop at nothing to keep his friends and family from finding out. Although I'd be surprised if any of the ingredients are available in Tesco Knocknagoney.