Trifles Make Perfection, and Perfection is no Trifle*

I should say straight away that there are no recipes for trifle in this post. Sorry. As much as the neat lead-in appeals to me, I am trying not to be such a, well, perfectionist.

A few years ago I was making a lemon meringue pie for a special family dinner and what should have been a pleasant evening introducing my sister's then boy-friend to us all. Unfortunately the evening ended up as, what I can only describe as, "Cornflourgate"(yes, my behaviour was bad enough to make it a "...gate".

The fundamental mistake was trusting my (often red wine addled) mum when she told me that she had "packets and packets of cornflour in the cupboard". There was none. I blame myself. I should have checked the cupboards; I should have assembled the ingredients before starting. All this I now know, but there's something about the maternal bond that makes you want to believe a woman when she looks her child in the eyes and tells her that there is "without a doubt, plenty of corn-flour in the cupboard".

A more mature person would have turned the already juiced lemons and the hand-made pastry case into a lemon tart. A slightly more balanced person would have asked someone to go to the shops and get the wretched flour. Unfortunately, as a someone who suffers from Perfectionism** I did neither. I got angry. I lashed out and I declared in between stifled sobs that "I didn't want anything to do with the damn pie". If it wasn't going to be perfect, I didn't want my name on the bill. My mum continued with the sorry mess and the result was edible, though runny. To me it didn't matter; it was ruined and I was embarrassed to have ever been associated with it.

I realise that this story doesn't show me at my best and I assure you that I usually conduct myself with more grace than the average sugar-high 4 year old. I haven't been such a brat for a long time now, but the Perfectionism is still here.

My first post leads you to believe that I decided I wanted to start a blog and so I did. Carpe Diem! Go getting blogger-to-be gets started. No. I couldn't get the website right. I don't have a SLR camera. My photos are snap-shots. It was only when I was holding back tears of frustration when I couldn't get the header to fit on one page (there is code behind these pages, people, real computer speak complete with "<>") that I realised that I was likely to miss living my life while I checked to see that the towels were properly folded.***

In the time between conceiving the blog and actually giving birth I've missed posting many recipes. So, I decided to go back to August and post the recipe that I intended to start with. Using numerous bowls, and having numerous steps that I'm not sure it necessarily merits this cake is not perfect, but, this time, that's fine.

Quarter of a Century Chocolate Cake
The chocolate cake is taken from the Magnolia Bakery cook book and is billed as a "devilishly rich" cake. I beg to differ. I think, as with many American cake recipes, the sponge is a lighter vehicle for rich icing. I chose a chocolate ganache to provide some extra "oomph" I would recommend this recipe for a cake which will provide a celebratory punch is not going to weigh heavy on the tummy if you want to do birthday dancing later on. I added the raspberries because I couldn't resist them when I saw them at Chapel Market on the morning of baking.

3 cups of all-purpose flour
1.5tsp baking powder
1.5tsp baking soda
3/4tsp salt
3 large eggs - separated
1.5 sticks unsalted butter - softened
2 cups of firmly packed light brown sugar
8 ounces of unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups of milk (I used semi-skimmed)
1.5tsp vanilla extract
2 small punnets of fresh, juicy raspberries

Chocolate Ganache Icing
24 ounces of dark chocolate (I used 50% cocoa solids)
3 cups of double (heavy) cream

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

  2. Grease and lightly flour two 9x2-inch round cake pans (I used loose-bottomed)

  3. In a large bowl sift together the flour, the baking powder, the baking soda and the salt. Put out of the way.

  4. Beat the egg yolks until they are thick and pale. I use my hand rotary whisk for a few minutes.

  5. In a large bowl cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy (use a wooden spoon).

  6. Add the egg yolks, beating well until they are incorporated.

  7. Add the chocolate and mix well.

  8. Add the dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with the milk and vanilla extract, beating after each addition until smooth. Try not to over-beat at this stage as you don't want to over develop the gluten in the flour which will make the cake tough.

  9. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form (use an electric mixer to save your wrists!)

  10. Gently fold the egg white mixture into the batter (use a metal spoon).

  11. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and cook in the centre of your oven until the cakes are done (about 40-45 minutes - a knife inserted into the centre should come out clean).

  12. Once the cakes are done, let them cool in their tins and then turn them out to cool properly.

  13. To make the icing, pop the chocolate (broken into pieces) into a pan with the cream and stir over a low/medium heat until the chocolate melts and the mixture thickens (about 30 minutes). It won't become an icing consistency at this stage; you need to chill it in the fridge for a couple of hours. When I made this I was in a real rush so I popped the icing in the freezer for a while (checking up on it every 10 minutes or so) and it soon came right.

  14. Spread the icing on the top of one of your layers and add a layer of the raspberries. I shmushed the berries into the chocolate as well as leaving some whole. Add the second cake and then ice the top and sides of the cake as you please.

  15. Set aflame and celebrate!

* Michaelangelo
** Perfectionism. A dehabilitating disease which is still somewhat socially unacceptable. Symptoms include intense irritation and even panic when sufferers see papers at anything other than a 90 degree angle to the edge of a desk.

*** I favour the Anthea Turner method of towel-folding myself.


Oh Crikey! I am Finally Starting a Blog

I must admit that this is not something that comes naturally to me, but recently I have not been able to think about anything else. I have been sculpting scintillating foodie prose on my way to work, engaging in imaginerary repartee with fellow bloggers on the way home and every meal I have eaten has been sauced with thoughts of how I would lovingly describe it.

I first sampled the sweet taste of food blogs at Chockylit's Cupcake Bakeshop. When Google lead me there after I posed an innocuous question about using buttermilk in cupcakes I felt that the stars had aligned. Cupcakes, endless discussion about baking and scores of fellow addicts - how had I not known about this before? As you will learn, I have the propensity to be a bit of a binge eater* and much like the packets of chocolate Homewheats** I have been known to demolish, I devoured post after post, picture after picture and recipe after recipe. It was from Chockylit's site that I found Deb's Smitten Kitchen and this is when I realised I was hooked. I relished the bantering prose and the fact that I was allowed to be part of this stranger's life (wedding photos and all). I am currently binging on the breath-catchingly evocative Tea and Cookies and, thankfully, I have room for much much more.

Aside from my love of all things cooking, what has pushed me out of my comfort zone and into the world of posting chatter for strangers is the evident sense of community. Since moving to London eighteen months ago, I have yearned to belong to something real. London, like many cities, is a place where it is easy to forget where you come from. It is all too easy to feel disconnected from the past, from the seasons and from any sense of reality. My personal remedy for this sense of displacement is to sink my hands into a bowl full of scone dough. As the plump dough yields to the touch and the flour collects under my fingernails I feel grounded and creative again. I sense that I will get a similar feeling through writing this blog.

Obviously this new commitment is not without problems. The First? I am not a writer. My sensibilities will not allow me to craft too many metaphors without cringing. I have often tried to write diaries and travel journals but when I re-read them they all sound so embarrassingly self-conscious (in fact, I have just skimmed over the preceding paragraph and I am feeling decidedly uncomfortable). I think the solution will be to post as if I am e-mailing The Housemate** as it is with her that I tend to have my funniest exchanges, typically about food.

The second problem I fear is more grave. I hate imposing on people. The idea that I am foisting myself on the good people of the blogging world ("read me, love me, link me") makes me feel slightly sick. I am sure that those of you of the Freudian bent will be muttering "self-esteem issues" under your breath and you are probably right (I urge such pop-psychologists to stay tuned as I am sure to give you plenty of neurotic material to work with in the future). This fear of imposition can be crippling and is especially apparent on my birthday when the thought of people coming to an event solely in my honour makes me wince. But perhaps it's time for change. After all, check me out now - imposing myself all over the world wide web!

The third problem I suspect is one that is widespread: what if no one reads my blog? However, I have decided to give this insecure little voice short-shrift. It dawned on me that it simply doesn't matter. I am sure, like writing diaries, much of the satisfaction from blogging is the cathartic pleasure of writing about things that you love. Of course it is better if you are blessed with interaction and the chance to make new friends but, if not, I am not going to take it too personally. Rather, if I don't receive any comments I'm giving myself licence to assume that you are all so captivated by my witty and charming style that you are too busy recommending people to e-mail me!

More food talk next time, I promise.

* Baked goods are my crack.
** Chocolate covered digestive biscuits made by McVities combining the crumbly delight of a digestive with a covering of plain or milk chocolate goodness. They used to be called Homewheats and I like to use their Sunday name to test whether I am dealing with a true British biscuit aficionado or a mere pretender.
*** My fellow food-obsessed housemate. Co-Baking Tester along with the other occupant of the Victorian maisonette we inhabit: "The Bedmate".