For this month's Bake Club, we were challenged to make something nostalgic. "Maybe the first thing you baked? A favourite from childhood? Whatever it is, bake it and bring it and tell us the story." The trouble was, I had too much choice and I am chronically indecisive. Not the best combination. So I turned to Mum for help.
I've mentioned before on here what a great cook Mum is - she really was my first teacher, inspiration, and mentor in the kitchen. But where she really, really shines is baking. She is one of those wonderfully gifted intuitive bakers. As much as it is drummed into us that baking is a science; follow the rules, you'll be ok - and indeed, this is how I bake - Mum goes by instinct. Her tablespoons are older than me, and I don't doubt certainly aren't the strict 15ml measure that I use these days. She can look at a mix that I'm messing up and instinctively know what I've done wrong, and how to fix it. She can knock up the best batch of scones that you've ever tasted as soon as look at you. In fact, one of the strongest, most prevalent memories of my childhood is coming home and seeing a batch of scones cooling on the kitchen counter, with Mum saying "Oh, this milk was going off so I wanted to use it up" (did you know that sour milk makes the best scones?). We were wonderfully, wonderfully spoiled on the baking front. There is a family story that happened after I went off to University and was living on cheese toasties (super cheap, you see) - our neighbour gave Mum some bags overflowing with windfall apples, so Mum set to, making apple crumbles and apple pies and apple sauce. My brother, still at school and unaware of the joys of student cooking that lay in front of him, one night said "sorry Mum, I'm just really fed up with homemade apple pie". This story was relayed to me in my weekly phone call, and I wept into my cheese toastie at the thought of that apple pie.
So you may understand that, with such a wealth of baking memories behind me, it was more than a little difficult to pick just one that represented nostalgia. I turned, as so many times before when faced with a kitchen dilemma, to the one person who knows best. Mum's reply:
"Definitely the honey cake was a popular one, as was apple pie or apple crumble. Also Bakewell Tart and things like Rice Krispie squares. I also used to make chocolate éclairs quite often and coffee cream cake (with walnuts if I had any in the cupboard). There was also a fruit loaf that was made by soaking the dried fruit in a cup of tea!"
(It might tell you a lot about both Mum and me that my next message from her simply read "Bread and Butter Pudding xxx")
Now all of these stood out, but one that had very strong nostalgia factor was Bakewell Tart. It was associated with tea times with visitors. Special times. We had a French exchange student staying with us once when I was quite young, a shy girl called Delphine, and this was the one thing that we found that she absolutely loved to eat, so I think Mum made it just about every day for her. The recipe comes from the same place as the Hot Cross Buns - the McDougall Flour cook book, that, like the tablespoons, has been round longer than I have. I had to multiply the recipe a couple of times to fit my pie dish, and the weights are in ounces, so this is as close to the original as I could get. It is truly a thing of wonder - the almond sponge is light and airy, the pastry crisp, and the combination of jam and lemon curd is a match made in heaven. Please, please try this.
I made this in a hurry so my pastry skills were patchy and not up to Mum's standards. Nevertheless, it tasted of happiness and childhood.
This is for Mum.
Adapted from McDougall's Basic Baking
For the pastry:
3oz cold butter
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 egg yolk
For the filling:
2-3 tablespoons jam
2-3 tablespoons lemon curd (optional - but it does taste wonderful)
1oz self raising flour
2oz ground almonds
4oz caster sugar
Make the pastry. If you are a gifted baker like Mum, rub the butter and sugar into the flour, mix in the egg yolk, and add just enough orange juice to bind. If, like me, you need some help, blitz the flour and butter in a processor then, with the motor running, drop in the egg yolk and just enough orange juice to bind.
Theoretically you should leave it to rest in the fridge for an hour. I suspect Mum wouldn't do this and would still get great results. I was time-bound and impatient so just carried on and the pastry was fine. Needed a bit of patchwork, but it's a filled tart, so no biggie.
Preheat your oven to 190C.
Grease an 8" pie plate. Line it with the rolled-out pastry. Trim the pastry so no excess hangs over the edges. Spread the jam on the base of the pastry, to cover it generously.
Then do the same with the lemon curd.
The recipe now reads "Prepare the rest of the ingredients by Method 2 (see page 17)", to which Mum adds,
"Page 17 is missing - probably fell down the back of my kitchen drawer years ago (my booklet goes from page 12 to page 29 but fortunately for us the Hot Cross Buns are on page 32)."However, Mum assures me, the method referred to is to cream the butter and sugar, beat in the egg, then beat in the flour and ground almonds. Spread this mixture over the jam and lemon curd.
Bake for 40 minutes - check after 30 to see if the top is getting too brown - if so, cover it with greaseproof paper.
When cool, you can either leave it plain or, as I did, ice it with a simple mix of icing sugar made into a thick paste with water, then spread on top. I also trimmed off the excess pastry again from the top - mainly because it had browned a bit too much.
It needed something on the top but as I'm not a fan of glacé cherries, I used some of my edible rosebuds as décor.
Serves 6 ("Or one if you are French and your name is Delphine")