This is not the kind of thing one normally wakes up thinking.
Hmm, today I think I’ll go waste my money buying all sorts of ingredients which aren’t already lurking in my over-stocked dry store cupboards, and then I’ll spend way longer than necessary mixing them all together, and then – when I go to put them into my pre-heated oven with the desire that alchemy will transform said ingredients into a moist, warm, almond-dense appley cake over which I’ll pour my very posh home made ginger crème fraiche as friends applaud in wide-eyed, sugar-hungry anticipation – then I’ll notice that my ‘pre-heated’ oven is cool, and so I’ll fiddle with oven knobs until the fickle on-off light comes on and then I’ll wait another age and then I’ll put my cake-to-be into the now-hot oven, and then I’ll go do something else while this thing of potential beauty burns.
No, definitely not the kind of plan that normally has me bounding out of bed, of a Sunday morning, after a Saturday night.
I should explain: my oven is a relic of a previous period of recession. When I moved into my current rented property, there were many things that clinched the deal. A city-centre location. A balcony from which sun spills onto my desk, and from where I can follow the progress of the neighbourhood birds having their own little soap opera episodes in the garden below.
The oven was always going to be a problem, but was one I was prepared to swallow in the overall balance of things I could live with. Somehow I thought that it was a matter of us just getting to know eachother. And having successfully heated several things in said oven over recent months, I decided it was time to coax a cake from it.
Well, I got to know my oven alright. And I can tell you now, it’s a no-good freak of an oven, turning from nonchalantly cool (at 300ºF – yes, Farenheit, that’s how much of a throw-back we’re talking) to vindictively hot (at 305ºF) with no more than a blink of a red light.
And so, I burnt the first cake I’ve cooked in my happy home. What a way to spend a hungover Sunday.
On a happier note, I did also make salt cod croquettes to bring to a friend’s house for dinner. Now, if truth be known, Jamie Oliver had made not one 30 Minute Dinner but a whole week of school-nights worth of dinners in the time that it took me to burn one cake and roll four sausage-rolls of salt cod croquette mix. And I’m sure I should have bought some cheap salt to layer under and over the cod fillets rather than wasting my precious Maldon. And there was a moment when I let the milk – in which the now salted and rinsed and soaked cod fillets were supposed to be poaching – boil over in a fishy, milky mess that bubbled on the hot plate lurking under the electric rings of my relic. And then when I tasted the now-cooked flaky salt cod there was another moment when I thought I’d have to dump the lot because it was still so darn salty.
But I persevered, and rinsed it again, and then mixed it with a little puréed potato and a lot of fine herbs and lemon juice and Dijon mustard. And when it tasted good, I made it look good too by rolling it up into cling-wrapped sausages and rolling them really tight and popping them in the fridge to firm up. And by the time I had cut them into bite-sized bits and peeled off the cling and panéed them (that means tossing consecutively in flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs) and deep-fried them, and served them up with Bar 8 tomato ketchup and Ard Bia red onion marmalade, I had almost forgotten my burnt cake. By the time we were tucking into a baked ham with mashed potato, cabbage and parsley sauce, I cared even less. And by the time we were rejoicing in another relic of 80′s Ireland – the unbeatable creamy-crispy contrast of Vienetta, which we gave an extra-Italiano twist by pouring over some very strong fresh coffee for an affogato-esque pudding – me and the burnt cake had made our peace. Sort of.
What I love about cooking is that most things can be saved if you catch the problem in time.
What intimidates me about baking is that you don’t know something needs saving until it is well and truly lost.
Well, I may have lost this particular face-off with the spectre of domesticity that baking represents, but one thing’s for sure. It’s game on. Watch out oven, I’ve got your measure now.