Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The pleasure of baking

Last night the baking mood descended on me, and a recipe I've had my eye on for quite a while is Nigel Slater's chocolate and beetroot cake from Tender, his luscious ode to vegetables. I had the cooked beets (foil wrapped and roasted in the oven a couple of nights ago), I had the choccy once I'd nipped out to the corner shop, and everything else was lurking in the baking section of the cupboard or in the fridge. The full recipe is here, and it's in February's Delicious mag too.

I don't make cakes regularly so when the mood comes, I let it wash me along. The mood is part meditative and part furious concentration - the radio will be on but there will be times when I'm measuring that I'll blank out and miss if Annette has finally told Helen that it was Leon who put the bun in her oven...and then I'll have to listen to The Archers again on Sunday to find out. I need the mood to arrive because baking this kind of cake means there will be many bowls of different sizes perched all over the kitchen, filled with melted chocolate and butter and eggs and flour and beetroot and sugar - all of them needing to be washed later. When I'm in the baking mood I don't mind.

My first baking mood came when I was in my teens, and I spotted a recipe for Grantham ginger biscuits in one of my mother's cookery books. There were no pictures, and I was amazed by the perfect brown pillowy mounds that emerged from the oven, crisp and crunchy on the outside with slightly gooey innards. Baking is a bit of domestic magic. It's magic too how egg whites change from an unappetising clagginess to a whipped sensual cloud.

Out comes my favourite big metal spoon to fold everything together: this is where the meditative part of the mood comes in. With this cake, it takes a while to fold the choc/beet/butter/sugar/ mix into the flour and cocoa. And then the inner hooligan child clamours to lick the bowl.

Then there's another familiar component of the baking mood: anxiety. Will the cake mix actually fit into the baking tin? Or has the bloody author not really tested the recipe and will I be left with (a) horrid stinky bits on the bottom of the oven or (b) a bin bag with sad remnants of uncooked stickiness? (Yes, Nigella, I'm looking at you.) No worries with Nigel: it's a perfect fit.

His cooking times are perfect too. I left the cake in the tin until this morning, then took half the cake into work, where it was greeted with greedy anticipation. This is the culmination of the mood: bringing a gleam in the eye to the cake deprived. Guess the mystery ingrediant, I said. Sam got close with 'purple' but went off course with raspberry; Alex homed in on 'root vegetable' but then got side tracked with carrot. Celeriac, swede, turnip and squash all got a mention but beetroot raised many eyebrows. And soon the cake was gone.

Henri tweeted me in the morning to say she had a recipe for parsnip and walnut cake - that's for the next baking mood.


mangocheeks said...

Hi Fran,
The beetroot and chocolate cake looks deep and lush too. I bet its all gone now, so no chance of me getting a slice :(

Last year I made a tart with parsnips, it was really good. So I would recommend baking with this under-rated veg in baking, if the carrot and beetroot can do it, so can the parsnip.

fran39 said...

Oooo - thanks, Mango! I've got some parsnips lurking in the bottom of the fridge, so I'll certainly give that a go. And yes, there is one tiny slice left if you'd like it :))