"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" William Shakespeare
Today I have been flicking through magazines and cookbooks, mostly looking for ideas for this blog, but also just as a form of relaxation. The book groups are over for the month, the possible holiday is all sorted and the Sunday cooking class (more tomorrow) has passed. So after my virtuous stint in the garden weeding first thing I decided to relax for a time.
And as I passed over virtually all the pictures and recipes for luscious cakes I nevertheless revisited a feeling that has been creeping up on me over the last few weeks. A lust for a slice of cake, or, if not cake, then some other luscious dessert.
The above example is from the latest Woolworths Fresh Ideas magazine and is called Chocolate stout cake - their take on Nigella's Guinness cake I guess, which looks rather less over the top - well it's over the top in a different way. Nigella maintains:
"There is enough sugar - a certain understatement here - to counter any potential bitterness of the Guinness, and although I've eaten versions of this made up like a chocolate sandwich cake, stuffed and slathered in a rich chocolate icing, I think that can take away from its dark majesty."
Woolworths obviously doesn't agree and probably lots of others don't either. In fact I'm not a huge fan of chocolate cake, so perhaps it wasn't a good choice as an example. I digress a bit, but I wanted a somewhat decadent looking cake to head this post.
Why? Well I'm not a really virtuous person there are far too many sins of omission in my life to be able to say I am virtuous, but I do try in a minor way - hence the weeding this morning, the fasting at least once a week in an effort to keep at least reasonably trim - taut and terrific I am not. I also try not to have very much sugar in my diet - the morning teaspoon or so of jam on my crumpet and croissant, the occasional Twirl after dinner, but that's about it really. These things help me to feel just a little bit virtuous. However, because David gets his sweet fix through chocolate in one form or another, I have allowed myself to be tempted of late to an after dinner piece of some kind of chocolate. No more I decreed to myself at the end of last week. And I shan't really miss it. But I do miss cake and dessert.
Prior to COVID, at least twice a month I would indulge in cake at my two book groups. Book groups are not book groups without cake. And you can't have cake on Zoom. Well, of course, you could. We could all eat a piece of cake, and drink a glass of wine whilst discussing the book. Well perhaps not a glass of wine for my morning book group. But we wouldn't all be eating the same cake, so that we could discuss the cake, and swap recipes as well as talk about the book. I don't know if this is just a female thing, though I suspect not. Men have just as sweet a tooth as women - the prime example lives in my house. Indeed cake is such a vital component of book groups that I think some emphasise the cake rather than the book - and who am I to condemn?
No, book groups are definitely not the same on Zoom. If you haven't paid for a Zoom subscription then you only get 40 minutes for free. Well of course we extend that for another 40 minutes, but it's messy - you drop out and have to come back in and so you go through all those technical issues every time, and because time is limited one feels obliged to get stuck into the book straight away - there is no time for gossip, for sharing one's recent doings, and generally catching up with friends. You spend up to ten minutes getting everyone Zoom orientated and then you've only got half an hour left. It doesn't even mean you can have a good discussion.
After all book groups - well all such groups - craft groups, art groups, cycling groups, men's sheds - whatever you like doing - even just meeting with friends - they are all therapeutic. Chatting about this and that with friends over cake and coffee or cake and wine is just so good for us. As long as we don't do it all the time. Calories people.
But now, stuck at home with just one's partner, children or cat there is no real excuse to bake a cake, or make a dessert. And there's never an excuse to just stop and make yourself a coffee to drink with a chocolate biscuit, a scone or a cake.
Every evening we have a virtuous apple after dinner. We have also been buying strawberries of late but I can't quite bring myself to buy any ice cream to go with them. Guilt overtakes me. Which is silly because I pour over cream and sprinkle over expensive muscovado sugar instead. Obviously no better than ice cream. Sometimes I also eat an orange or a mandarin - good for you and very delicious but it's not the same as 'proper' dessert is it? Which begs the question of whether we have an unconfessed need to do something marginally bad for us every now and then. Is it necessary for a feeling of well-being?
As I flicked through those magazines I started to dream of what cake I would make when, indeed if, we ever get back to face to face socialising again. One thing's for sure I shall be really trying to do more face to face socialising with friends than I did before. I shan't just keep it to book group. And I shall make cakes.
"Where there is cake, there is hope. And there is always cake." Dean Koontz
Well no there isn't Mr. Koontz. I am currently without it and I don't think I should have it too often. And for the really poor, there is definitely no cake. That's the whole point of that quote that Marie Antoinette is supposed to have said (she didn't - it was somebody else) "if they have no bread let them eat cake". Obviously the poor cannot afford to either buy cake or make it.
I however, am lucky and privileged. So what did I find? Well I didn't do an extensive search online or a browse of my bookshelves, I just flicked through the three old magazines waiting for me to comment upon, and the latest Coles and Woolworths magazines. And here are some that I dream perhaps of making someday.
The first one has two pictures and a quote: "it's like Provence in a cake." It's from Yotam Ottolenghi and it's called Apricot, walnut and lavender cake. My kind of cake I have to say but it won't be made any time soon as apricots are not in season. He suggests plums instead, but they aren't in season either. Mind you at the rate we are going with COVID we won't be having any face to face book group sessions this year I think - so maybe at Christmas. Apricots are a Christmas thing here. It came from an old delicious. magazine which I think was promoting his book Plenty More. So maybe it's in that.
Then there was Matt Preston's Olive oil and passionfruit bundt cakes and Valli Little's Turkish delight pavlova. Now I hope that somebody makes the second one for me because I just cannot make pavlova, and I don't have any mini bundt cake tins, nor do I know where you could get them, so maybe they won't happen either. I shall have to look online for the cake tins, because they do look divine.
The main problem of making cake in the current COVID lockdown though is that there is only David to share it with. A cake is just too big for both of us, though maybe you could halve the quantities of those bundt cakes. Now there's an incentive to find the tins.
So what about some kind of dessert instead. One of the magazines - The Gourmet Traveller had a section on apple and pear desserts, and I have to say that these mostly looked wonderful and actually not too hard. Couldn't find the recipes online, but just to show you - there were Pears in pastry, Glazed pears with clove scented mascarpone, Apple pumpernickel dessert and Rosemary, pear and polenta crumble. We made some baked pears with the grandchildren on Sunday and they were certainly a treat and possible in small enough quantities for two as well. I think the pears in pastry are far too tricky for me, but I could try all the others.
Today David came back from his shopping expedition to replenish his supply of muffins - he doesn't like the ones I make - with some Granny Smith apples, and did indeed wistfully mention apple crumble. So maybe that's all I shall do. Which is very unadventurous. And yet, always so warming in every sense of the word. I'm not offering a recipe here. Even my grandchildren know how to make an apple crumble. The picture is of Jamie Oliver's go at it. Or, whilst we are still on comfort food and when we next have an oversupply of bread - preferably fruit bread - in the fridge, I could make another Marmalade bread pudding. The last one I made was gorgeous.
But really dessert is not the same as cake, although both are, and indeed should be, very occasional treats. Maybe I should treat ourselves to some kind of dessert once a week.
Really what I need though is something to eat with a cup of coffee in the afternoon on those days when COVID gets you down. The low point of the day. The Coles magazine had Cheat's almond croissants from one of it's Cooking club members - Mona Jud which could be a possibility. You don't make the croissants, just the almond mixture that you put in the middle. And I've just remembered Nigella's cheat chocolate croissants too - watch her make them - they're great. Better than the ones you buy in the supermarket. Show your kids and grandkids how to make them and have them for breakfast.
So they might do - or I could just make some really old-fashioned Sultana scones à la Australian Women's Weekly. I'm not a fan of muffins - they're too stodgy, or perhaps I should look up those rock cakes I talked about a few weeks ago.
It is interesting that I have this current craving for cake or something sweet. Normally my book groups and occasional dinners with the family must satisfy the craving. It must be on of those side-effects of COVID lockdowns. I do hope that those with less self-control don't overindulge in sweet things and add to the obesity problem. It might be one of those unintended results of lockdown.
"Remember, no matter what life throws at us, we can always bake a cake!" Sarah Ban Breathnach
Which is not quite true. Those with nothing or almost nothing cannot. Bread and butter pudding people - that's the answer.