Jane turned the cake out downside up and covered it with whipped cream.
“It’s a great success!” said Mary Poppins. “We won’t call it upside-down cake ever again. It’s name will be Topsy-Turvy!”
– an excerpt from Mary Poppins in the Kitchen by P.L. Travers
I only bake two recipes with any confidence. These are Shrewsbury biscuits and my grandmother’s Eurasian butter cake. I do however love the orderliness of baking. Creaming the butter and sugar to a froth, adding eggs carefully cracked into a tea cup, sifting flour, folding the batter gently like pale golden velvet soft cloth, tipping it into a pre buttered cake tin or rolling teaspoons into flattened balls and then placing the tin with reverence into the shrine of the oven. Mostly I bake the biscuits (an ancient recipe from an English town). My family have come to expect them whenever they visit and I love offering them to friends. Each one decorated with a blanched almond pressed lovingly into the buttery crispness.
Baking requires its own zone and any stress or anxiety disappears when one is in that delicious rhythm. I also enjoy the mess and clutter of it all – the bowl of eggs, the sieve and scales, the wooden spoons, the jars of flour and sugar transforming our modern kitchen into my idea of a 1950s country woman’s domain.
Recently I read The Art of Baking Blind, a debut novel by a terrific new writer, Sarah Vaughan. The book is a delectable narrative in which stories of disappointment, grief, joy, hope and fear blend like butter and sugar with scrumptious descriptions of gingerbread, beef pies, chocolate fondant, Victoria sponge and fresh bread. I gave the book to my daughter, she is a fearless and skilful baker, who inspires me to take risks in the kitchen.
Last year I ventured occasionally from my secure place of Eurasian butter cake and Shrewsbury biscuits. I made an apple tea cake and an iced lemon cake. They turned out beautifully. The kitchen is a good place to start being brave…
A small scrap of prose (by me) – Biscuits and Jonquils
There were jonquils at the market today. Not just the bright yellow ones but snowy ones in bunches stacked in a bucket. Now they sit in a wonky white jug in her kitchen filling the air with a fragrance of hope. She could have gazed at them all morning but it is the first day of Spring and the sun is shining. Sunshine and jonquils – that should have been enough to shake off the mild sense of panic that enveloped her. A portent of doom, but there was no doom except for a small stain on the carpet or the feeling that her computer was being hacked, or the idea that someone had stolen her bank account details when she paid for milk at the IGA yesterday.
And yet there are jonquils and a pair of fairy wrens flitting in the budding branches of a plum tree. There is a bundle of crochet in hectic joyful colours on her coffee table and a crumb scattered plate next to a cup of tea, there is a book waiting expectantly next to her bed and another on the sofa, there is a pot of scarlet cyclamens on the outdoor table and a garden bench bleached soft grey from sun and rain and a tree daubed with cumquats and biscuits waiting to be baked.
© Anita Patel, 2015