So, in the last year or so, I’ve started cooking in an attempt to improve my overall ‘skill-set’ and feel better about myself as a modern man. On the whole, I think it’s going pretty well – although I still have flashbacks from my attempt to make monkfish with potato cakes. The monkfish was expensive (but at least edible), whereas the potato cakes came out like a dead sea-creature that had dried out on the beach. They tasted bloody awful as well.
That aside, I have been fairly pleased with the results. Despite the fact I still need to consult recipes, I can knock up a pretty tasty ‘coq au vin’, a chilli cornbread pie, duck with five spices and a jambalaya amongst others. So, my confidence was fairly high.
That was until this weekend, when I decided to tackle head-on a whole new kitchen-based experience. Yes, dear friends, I’m talking about baking.
Baking has seemed to have become very popular in the last couple of years here in Britain. Any minor celebrity who has ever sniffed a profiterole seems to be bringing out their own cookbook, whilst the reality TV show ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ has been a ratings winner. Despite the fact you can get a sugar rush just from glancing at it across the room, Mrs.D was addicted to the show last time around.
For my first attempt at joining the baking zeitgeist, I decided to tackle a New York-style cheesecake – from a recipe by Jamie Oliver. This in itself was a cause for slight alarm as, whilst I like Jamie’s recipes, they do tend to bring me out in a panic. His most recent book – ’30 Minute Meals’, was a great idea on paper as it contained a number of 3-course recipes you could ‘easily’ knock up after a hard day at work, all within the allocated half-hour. Yet, in my household at least, that’s not quite what happened. Usually about an hour and 15 minutes later, Mrs.D and I would emerge defeated from the kitchen. We would survey the carnage we had left behind, having usually missed out one key ingredient and being generally confused about exactly how much a ‘lug’ of olive oil is.
But, not to be deterred, I pressed ahead. The early stages went well. Digestive biscuits were crushed, butter was mixed and my tin was greased (that’s not a euphemism, by the way). I hit a slight obstacle when it came to smoothing the cream cheese – having got most of it on my hands whilst working out that I didn’t really need it to be much smoother than it was already. Sugar was added, eggs were added, lime juice was added – all of the time making more mess than was strictly necessary. Spreading this over the biscuit base and popping in the oven, all was looking good. That was until the ‘meringue topping’.
This addition to the cheesecake was where it all went wrong. I was supposed to whisk 3 egg whites so that they made ‘soft peaks’. It became apparent that I didn’t (and still don’t) know what soft peaks are, but apparently they were VERY IMPORTANT. Mistaking soft peaks for mixture that was just hanging on my whisk, I added in the sugar and coconut. Thing is, when I thought I was being proactive, I was getting way ahead of myself as this part was due to be done when the cheesecake was out of the oven. I was suffering from premature whisking. The mixture went in the fridge whilst I waited for the cheesecake to cook.
50 minutes later, the cheesecake came out of the oven and I made both my second and third mistakes. I took the mixture out of the fridge and nonchalantly started to just mix it again with a spoon. “You’re taking the air out of it!” cried a voice from behind me. My wife had appeared and, with that, a 10-minute ‘discussion’ started whereby she interrogated me as to whether I had created soft peaks or not (no euphemism there either) and whether I had done them properly. “But I WHISKED the mixture before”, I responded time and again before somewhat unfairly telling my wife that she was ruining any enjoyment I was having. “Did they LOOK like peaks?” she said. “You’re not supposed to use a SPOON, it takes the air out of it”. By now I wished I had never bothered in the first place. Rattled, I began to spoon the mixture over the cheesecake before realising I was supposed to let the cheesecake cool down before I did this. “But it will start cooking anyway – put it back in the oven!” exclaimed my wife. At this point, there may well have been some swearing before I slammed it back in the oven.
Anyway, after a few more minutes, the cheesecake was removed to cool down before being placed in the fridge. By now, I was sick of the sight of it. I thought that if anyone has a cheesecake addiction, then the best way to beat it is to try and make one of the damn things yourself.
Having decided that I never wanted to hear the term ‘soft peaks’ again, and that this was probably the stupidest thing my wife and I had ever argued about, my day of domesticity didn’t get much better. When mowing the front lawn, I ended up stepping in some dog shit that had kindly been left behind by a ‘forgetful’ dog owner (I may have referred to him or her in stronger language), inadvertently walking it into the house. I then broke one of our good tumblers in the dish-washer. I blamed the cheesecake for pushing my nerves to breaking point.
The only thing to do was to seek light relief – so my wife and I went out to the cinema to see ‘American Pie: The Reunion’ – a very funny film and just what I needed. Upon returning, it was time to face the cheesecake again. Taking it out of the fridge and sampling a slice, I was fairly surprised. Ok, the meringue topping was encrusted rather than white and fluffy, the sides tasted more ‘eggy’ than the rest of the cake due to my premature placing of the topping, and I had made far too much of it (one cheesecake serves 8-10 people). But, generally, it tasted pretty much ok. After all that time and swearing, there was some salvation.
So, I will (possibly against my better judgement) return to the world of baking for another go at a different recipe. I will continue to try and master one of Jamie Oliver’s recipes and will hope that anything involving ‘soft peaks’ will not bring me out in a nervous twitch. In the meantime – and if anyone happens to be in the Surrey area – I have some slices of cheesecake going spare…