I have always had a healthy interest in food (read that as ‘I have always been quite greedy’). As a child, some of my favourite memories involved being allowed to choose a mandarin yoghurt at the end of the Sainsbury’s shop, picking fruit at Pick-Fresh to make jam with my mum and sisters and having chicken cobbler with tiny button mushrooms for tea on chilly days, served with mash and fine green beans (I hated the green beans). But I was never that bothered about baking.
Later on, my favourite treat was to go out for dinner – especially if it was for a chinese which in late eighties Devon, was the height of teenage sophistication. As an adult, going out for dinner is still absolutely my favourite thing, but life gets in the way and with small children, ‘friends over for dinner’ replaces ‘out with friends for dinner’ as the new norm. So you up your culinary skills and rejoice in the fact that Cards Against Humanity is much better played at home anyway. But I could never really be arsed with making a pudding as well, so broken slabs of whatever posh chocolate was on offer were bunged on the table instead.
A few years ago I belonged to an all female supper club, as good friends we were more than happy to be honest about the climbing level of competition and as the weeks went on, I remember wanting to make some lemon Macarons that I had seen Nick Nairn wow the Masterchef judges with.
31 batches of Macarons I made. 31 BATCHES. Each one as terrible as the last but in a slightly different way. One month later, after buying three books on macarons, countless bits of kit, trialling french vs italian meringue, googling the meaning of tant pour tant (nope – if I had to, so do you) and feverishly monitoring oven thermometers, I served perfect lemon Macarons with popping candy shells to my supper club guests – who had the decency to look exactly as impressed as I had hoped they would.
And I haven’t stopped baking since. I discovered the therapeutic qualities of precisely following a recipe, tweaking, adjusting it and eventually make it your own. I learned that choux pastry is an absolute doddle but looks really impressive at the end, that Friands are utterly delicious and Clafoutis is not. I also learned that I never want to decorate a cake using fondant again. It doesn’t always end well, but that’s ok (all the swearing might understandably cause bystanders to think otherwise), baking has become a way of giving myself time to slow down and not think about anything other than the task in hand, which to me is absolute bliss.