I found myself in the kitchen, feeling a bit trapped. See, I’ve been writing – rewriting, really – my first fantasy/comedy book and it needed a real go at the plumbing. But the untangling itself became tangled and all I was doing was picking at the problems when I needed to chop out chunks, put them safely in another place and strike out afresh.
I have two choices when sitting at my laptop irritates me: I walk or I cook. Cooking won.
Partly that was because I’d pulled a group of recipes from a magazine and thought I’d give one a go. They are all from the imagination of Bake Off winner Nadiya who I must credit for these beauties. And it happened that I had most of the ingredients in the fridge or the cupboards anyway…
These scrummies comprise three parts: bottom, middle and top.
The brownie base
The prep requires oven on at 180C and a 20cm by 30 cm by 5 cm oven tin lined with greaseproof paper so it is at least 1 cm above the rim
The base is pretty straightforward. You melt 250 gms of unsalted butter with 250 gms of choc, stirring occasionally and leave it to cool. Nadiya used dark; I had milk. It worked fine. You the whisk 4 eggs, sugar (she says 280 gm soft brown, I used 150 gm caster and again all fine – 280! I mean, seriously why do cooks use soooo much?) and a few spoonfuls of coffee (she said 2 tablespoons, I used 3). The whisking took about 5 mins to get it lovely and fluffy. You add 120 gms of plain flour, 30 gms cocoa powder and half a teaspoon of saly, all sifted and mix – I used the whisk – until the batter is glossy. If you want to add choc chips, then use 15 gms, coat in flour so they don’t sink to the bottom and stir in. I didn’t. Dollop the lot into the lined tin, bake for 25 mins – my oven is as eccentric as monogrammed spats and it took nearer 35 to cook. Cool.
The nutty middle
You need ducle de lehe for the middle. You what? But good ol’ google. Apparently taking a can of condensed milk – which we had lurking in the cupboard – and boiling it in a pan for 2 hours, topping up the water natch so the water stays about 1 cm from the top of the tin you get dulce de leche. Go me! Nadiya wants 450 gms of ducle cos that’s the size of the jar she bought. My tin was 394 gms and made more than enough.
Once you’ve got you ducle and a buch of mixed nuts (nicely toasted – Nadiya had 200 gms, I had 170 gms which was fine) mix with a pinch of salt. Top your cooled brownie base nice and evenly and stick in the freezer. Min 30 mins, chaps.
The cheesecake topping
Of course I got to this bit and realised I didn’t have enough eggs. So after a quick trip to Sainos, it was the cheesecake topping. Basically you put 300 gms cream cheese – she used full fat, I used light: whatever, just don’t use chive or garlic – 100 gm caster sugar (her) 75 gms (me) 2 eggs, 1 tsp almond essence, zest of an orange and 1 tablespoon plain flour in a bowl and mix. Remove your frozen base and middle, and pour the cheesecake mix on the top. Lick out the bowl – trust me the orange, almond combo won’t disappoint. My grease proof overlap was a bit on the short side and I had a bit of seepage but most held. Back in the oven it goes, 170 C this time and bake for 30 minutes. The oven was doing its yoga practice so remained nice and zen for the 30 minutes recommended cooking time.
Cool, chill overnight if you’ve the patience, dust with cocoa powder and swoon.
And Pearl Barley and the Surge of the Spirits (working title)? I unknotted the ash trees, paid fealty to tree sprites and got to grips with the irredeemably moist snotglobules.
Here’s a small extract (you might like to know the Deacon is Pearl’s boss, Borage is the expert on spirit management at the company where Pearl works, and a Double P is a personalised possession, in Pearl’s case it is her hair that is possessed)
The Deacon was a squat concave sort of man, ill-suited to quick movements at the best of times. He slumped onto the tailboard and waved her quiet. “Your Double P is not my concern.” He winced as he lifted one foot. It was only then Pearl saw his shoe had been clamped so hard that it looked like his foot was almost flat. He smiled at her as he flexed the right and then the left. “I’m hardly one to comment. I have blisters. Only these are a rather unusual type. Singing blisters. Have you come across them?”
He shrugged slightly. “I need to move as little as possible, until I can get them de-harmonised.” He paused and Pearl wondered if she was expected to say something. He shook his head, as if to forestall her. “If left to their own devices, there’s no physical pain, not in a traditional sense, but every step is accompanied by an increasingly immersive musical experience. It’s the liquid in the blisters, it has a hormone that creates a natural timbre that focuses on tunes with which the body is familiar.”
“I still don’t understand, sir. Sorry.”
“That’s quite understandable. It only afflicts about one in several tens of thousands anyway. You may know that one of the last memories we lose is musical? The body naturally resonates and familiar tunes, ones we’ve listened to a lot, are close to the surface. Borage might be able to explain the chemistry. Suffice it to say, any pressure on the blister starts a harmonic, rather as if I was inside every instrument that creates the particular tune. It’s like a sort of nightmare karaoke chorus, if you will. My love of musicals and grand opera are turning out to be poor choices in retrospect. For the first time in my life I actually wish I had inherited my mother’s love of appalling 1950s ballads.” He managed a wistful smile. “Clamping the foot stops the music but the pressure build up is excruciating. When we are less… less frantic, I’ll submit to Borage’s proposed cure.” He grimaced.