“I’m thinking about getting into baking,” I announced to Mindy at a party last week. “I mean obviously baking’s a bit passé these days,” I added quickly, seeing she was nonplussed, “after all Marian Keyes is about to publish a memoir about cake making and depression.” “Hmmm,” Mindy nodded, half distracted by whatever else was happening in the room, “if you want to be cutting edge it’s probably best to avoid anything Marian Keyes is doing.” “You’re right of course,” I continued, ignoring the fact that she was edging away from me towards a more interesting (trendy) group of people, “but I can’t help thinking that baking might give my life a sense of meaning. Besides, I have a lot of spare time on my hands at the moment.”
That evening, I foraged through a pile of old newspapers for a cake recipe I’d torn out from a Guardian Weekend magazine some weeks before. I had originally been drawn to it because the main ingredients were chocolate and sour cream and the accompanying photo showed a perfect slice: moist, velvety brown sponge smothered in a thick layer of butter icing. “It does look good,” H commented, peering over my shoulder, “but it could be a bit too complicated for a beginner.” “Are you suggesting my cooking skills aren’t up to it?” “No darling, just that it might make sense to begin with something easier and work up to this. What about flapjacks?” I gave him a death stare. “Next time you’re on the phone to your mum, ask her if I can borrow a couple of cake tins… Being a ‘girl that bakes’ will only strengthen my status as perfect daughter-in-law-in-waiting.” Now it was H’s turn to give me a death stare. “What?” I skipped off to the pantry to assess our baking supplies. Turned out our cupboard was barer than old Mother Hubbard’s; I needed to buy everything, even the flour.
Now I’m not going to bore you with the details of the cake making process itself but what I will say is that the result proved very successful. “You’re not expecting me to wash this up are you?” H blustered as he entered the kitchen and shielded his eyes from the pile of utensils, jugs, bowls and pans stacked up on the side. Admittedly this was almost as bad as the time I made dosas. “Well, that is the rule isn’t it?” I tried to give my tone an air of authority, “Whoever doesn’t cook, cleans up.” “In normal mealtime circumstances yes but this is different. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for your new interest in baking, but not if it means I get lumbered with loads of dishes. You can do your own dirty work.” I sighed and wiped my hands on my apron, cocoa powder and flour were smeared all over my cheeks and I had mixture around my mouth. In fairness, the chocolate, sour cream sponge looked as good as it did in the magazine photo, possibly better, and that never happens, at least not to me. I got H to take some photos before grabbing the camera to ensure that the cake’s best angles were caught on film. I then called my mother on Skype and paraded my masterpiece in front of her squealing “Look what I’ve made mummy”.
Moist and velvety brown: A couple of perfect chocolate sponges
Three days later, H dragged me to a council estate in deepest, darkest Battersea for a charity event. Now H wouldn’t normally go one stop on the tube for a charity event on a Sunday, let alone 40 minutes on a bus, however this wasn’t any old change-in-a-bucket affair, this was a fundraiser involving a teppan grill and a okonomiyaki chef called Paddy.
In brief okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake. Paddy makes his Osaka-style: a batter consisting of egg, flour, water, yam, cabbage and radish is molded into a disc and fried up with an array of additional ingredients (e.g. seafood, cheese or pork) before being topped with something akin to HP brown sauce, seaweed and bonito flakes and Japanese mayonnaise. Basically, it’s an omelette with knobs on.
Many moons ago, H had been Paddy’s assistant on his okonomiyaki stand at a music festival and he’s had stars in his eyes ever since. Now, he hovered around Paddy (a traditional Japanese name btw) and fired a barrage of questions at him as he watched the pancakes being tossed. “What else can you cook teppan style?” “Is that sesame oil?” “How do you clean the grill?” “What’s in the gluten free one?” “What’s the difference between the Osaka and Hiroshima styles?” My boyfriend then listened in earnest as his new man crush explained that he would be taking the proceeds to an okonomiyaki restaurant in Japan that had been badly effected by the tsunami earlier this year. “One man who makes pancakes helping out another man who makes pancakes,” he explained with a grin. Caught in a full on bromance, H started cleaning cutlery and ferrying the okonomiyaki to the hungry customers: in his attempt to become Paddy’s sous chef, he’d ended up becoming a busboy. “Bless,” I said and gave him a consoling kiss, not at all demeaning.
Since that fateful charity do last weekend, H has been talking about Paddy and his pancakes incessantly. Then yesterday he suddenly said, “What’s happened to your new-found passion for baking? There’s been one cake and then nothing… Where are my flapjacks?” “What’s the point,” I huffed, “I make the most amazing chocolate cake, even better than the photo, and you don’t raise an eyebrow. A man flips a few pancakes and you can’t bloody shut up about how awesome they are.” H nodded, “Well, if you’d done it on a teppan grill, I mean it was a good cake but…” he made a flipping motion with an imaginary spatula. “I was trying to be a domestic goddess,” I wailed as I dramatically stormed out of the room (stomped my feet a bit).
Fortunately for H, I woke up this morning to find that I was over my MS (mini-strop) and, furthermore, my resolve was greatly revived: it’s time to up my baking game and show Paddy Pancakes who’s boss. Today flapjacks, tomorrow the World…
To make your own sour cream chocolate number: www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/sep/23/sour-cream-chocolate-cake-recipe