THE BAKING PARAPHANALIA
Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it. Julia Child.
In fact I had all my mother’s baking paraphernalia as nobody else wanted any of it. Mother possessed jelly moulds, china baking beans, cake tins, copper pate moulds, biscuit cutters, spoons, baking weights and many more things I found at the back of the cupboard and I could only guess what they were originally meant to accomplish. There is still a roll of stiff, crackled grease proof paper from the year 1962 in my baking cupboard. I also have a jar of ancient dried butter beans that I remember my mother using when I was a child to stop the pastry crust for the delicate egg custard rising.
Of all my mother’s baked delicacies, egg custard was the family favourite. With its gently wobbling top and vanilla scented, creamy interior it tasted like the food of the gods.
I also had all her cookery books and elegant hand written recipes. I could only look at her cooking missives occasionally though as her beautiful, neat handwriting broke my heart, in a way that her photograph or a recording of her mellifluous voice never could.
Mother was a fan of popular cooks of the day Marguerite Patton and later Mary Berry. She found both their styles very plain and no nonsense, which she admired enormously. She found Fanny Craddock far too showy and would turn off the television with a “Tut” if she appeared.
Mother had wonderful hands for short crust and puff pastry; always cool with elegant, long, fluttering fingers.
However I had perfect hands for bread making, capable and wide with strong fingers and with a capacity to keep going at all cost.
This made me a perfect candidate for choux pastry and that was the secret of my baking success.
I had always bought puff pastry, as I heartily agreed with Grandmother Alexandra about all that faffing about being a waste of time.. I could produce very passable short crust pastry with the judicious use of very cold water and a special flat knife to mix it all together. Then I always ran my hands under the cold water tap before I commenced the very fast and feather light pressure task of the rolling out procedure.
My skill with choux pastry involved boiling water, butter and a little sugar and salt together, then flinging flour at the resultant liquid very fast and always in one go. Then quickly one has to set about beating it with a large wooden spoon until the ball leaves the sides of the pan.
Whilst I waited for it to cool I mixed together six egg yolks and then added them slowly one by one.
This is where I excelled as I could keep beating ferociously until suddenly the yellowy, glossy gloop became a thing of shining intensity. A very hot oven would complete the magic show.
Choux pastry is a phenomenon of chemistry that means mere mortals can transform every day ingredients such as eggs, flour and butter into ambrosia. These were turned into exquisite tiny chocolate éclairs, huge cream coffee puffs, Religieuse, Paris Brest and the thing my children loved the most when they were small, delicate, perfectly shaped swans.
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