Before that, though, I had to run the gauntlet that is the Clandestine Cake Club. My word; the biggest yet, we had at least 16 cakes and about 36 people turn up to pack out Primo's in the Corn Exchange. Theme was savoury and "saucy sweet" so I eschewed savoury and came along with a new cake of my own invention; apple and fennel seed crumble cake with toffee sauce. The apple cake was one thing (standard cake mix + 2 chopped apples + crushed fennel seeds + crumble topping sprinkled on before going in the oven); the toffee sauce was a joy of melted butter, cream, milk, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest that I brought along in a jar and warmed through as we were setting up.
The cakes we had were of the usual great home baking quality. Of the savoury cakes my favourite was a basil & parmesan loaf cake that tasted like pesto; brilliant stuff (I had two half-slices). The sweet cakes were great, with a sachertorte and the instantly recognisable Raymond Blanc's lemon tea loaf making an appearance. We had a couple of fruit loaves that were lovely and an apple and cheddar cake that was intriguing, and an interesting marmite and chocolate cake that seemed to polarise opinion. A chocolate and aubergine torte was fun (and not at all auberginey), and the last cake I was capable of trying was an apple & maple syrup cake made with olive oil; lovely, rich and it finished me off.
After much tea I gathered together a small group who were being as nuts as I was and attending both events, and we wandered up to Buns & Roses.
Ok, so B&R isn't your stereotypical WI; the average age sems to be "early thirtysomething", tattoos and interesting piercings are common enough to be almost de rigeur, and these guys go through great amounts of booze, but it is still the organisation that kept the tradition of home baking alove as much as it were able in the age of convenience food and supermarkets. If there is one group of people in less need of a lecture about cake it would be a bunch of artisan patissiers.
My talk kicked off as it has done for a while, by referencing Allie Brosh, and then it was off; from neolithic lake villages in Switzerland, taking in classical civilisations, etymology, middle ages, Chaucer, Alfred Bird, hippies, Belle Lowe (and swearing about Ferran Adria), Lemon Curd and Caramel, personal philosophy, SCIENCE and the future, and how important it is to experiment once you've got the basics down pat. I ended up talking for at least 90 minutes, probably a bit longer (certainly longer than the minidisc recorder was capable of - 75 minutes - which I'm a little annoyed at as I was hoping to podcast it). Marie Antoinette was mentioned, because it's probably her fault that croissants are the universal breakfast item they are today instead of an extinct pastry from a Viennoise baker.
People asked questions. I attempted to answer them.
- Allie Brosh (again)
- Tea & Cake and the associated blog, Teas & Cakes (soon to be incorporated into the main website)
- My basic cake recipe and some of the wittering alongside it is also on T&C (but not the science, and not my "for the love of whatever deity you hold dear, don't open the oven door every ten minutes" shouting.)
- The science comes from a combination of my own experimentation, Belle Lowe and Harold McGee. History partially from Nicola Humble and Andrew Dalby.
- Caramel comes from my blog post about Millionaire's Shortbread; to make caramel sweeties boil the mixture for maybe another three minutes - to the soft crack stage - and add half a teaspoon of sea salt. Leave to cool on a lined baking tray - don't leave it longer than an hour or so, otherwise it'll start to absorb atmospheric moisture and go gooey again - then cut into squares and dip in chocolate.
- The Lemon & Poppyseed cake (including a "I dropped it" story I'd forgotten to tell, with is a shame because I do pathos really well) is also on the blog.
- Bakewell slices are also on the blog.
- The Tea Loaf recipe; blog.
- Lemon curd is not on the blog:
Whisk together 3 eggs, 100g sugar, 3tbsp honey, then zest and juice 3 lemons and whisk thm in too, so it's a nice smooth mixture. Melt 75g butter to foaming in a heavy bottomed saucepan, pour over the whisked together eggs & juice, and stir until well combined. Pour back into the pan and stir over a gentle heat until it thickens, which happens very suddenly. Don't overcook, or it turns into scrambled eggs. Makes enough for a 1lb jamjar. Takes longer to measure out the ingredients than it does to cook.
- I think that's it.
Particular highlights: mentioning Alf Bird inventing a culinary industry by accident because he wanted his wife to be able to enjoy custard and bread, despite being allergic to eggs and yeast, raised an "aww!" from the audience. Someone coming up to me at the end and offering cake to try (great texture and good ganache topping). Being informed that I'd forgotten the most important part of cake making; licking the bowl. Someone audibly slapping their forehead when I was talking about caramels.
I hope that I wasn't patronising, accidentally sexist or offensive, and that everybody took something away with them that was useful. I had a whale of a time talking to the WI, and am grateful for the opportunity to do so.
Next Leeds Clandestine Cake is on April 14th at Harvey Nicks. This one promises to be something else.