My instinctual response to any mention of Mary Berry is to immediately begin to pre-heat my oven in preparation for a bake. So, here I am, in the midst of the excitement of the start of the new season of The Great British Bake Off, staging my dramatic return to baking and blogging.
The success of this tart, much like a successful living in general, will depend almost entirely on the quality of your cheese and the sweetness of your apples.
Very much unlike life, however, the baking of this tart is a simple endeavour and perfectly suited to the lazy and the cowardly.
Summer is over in Cape Town and that is, in my opinion, very good news. Most things (and especially people) are best not viewed in bright conditions. There is just far too much light around in summer to maintain the illusion that you are attractive and the fantasy that the rest of the world it too. It is with great relief that I welcome the dimming effects of autumn and the general improvement it brings to the experience of looking around (and in the mirror).
This tart, however, speaks well of summer. Brightness, while best avoided as a quality of light, is just what I like in flavours (and what flavour could be brighter than lemon). Some of you might be alarmed by the addition of the basil to a lemon tart. It is, I suppose, an initially disturbing thought. But be assured, skittish baker, that there is nothing pesto-like about this. The basil is a sublte addition and adds a fragant pepperiness that rounds off the lemon to create a layered and exciting experience. Just think of the admiration you will cultivate in your tasters for being so very sophisticated.
A decent menu is always a source of anxiety. To be forced to select one dish and neglect all the others can be a torment. This tart is well suited for those whom, understandably, find themselves indecisive around food: it sits in that magical sweet spot between sweet and savoury, saving you the agonies of at least one decision by generously satisfing both appetites at once. For those with firmer opinions on just what it is they want to eat, the tart can be made more savoury by skimming back on the apple and adding a little potato and crisp pancetta. I would not attempt to make this tart more distinctively sweet. The caramelised onion is essential to it and an onion in a sweet is just unpermissable in any circumstances. Your sweet tooth will be far better served by another recipe.
Every now and then I have a slice of cake so good that I become hell-bent on extending my life.
“Bring me a barrel full of the finest anti-oxidants known to man! All this sitting around on couches while eating cakes must be prolonged.”
The problem with this is that it’s beginning to become clear that both couches and most slices of cake (especially of the kind that makes you want to live forever) are hell-bent on destroying humanity, one slothful glutton at a time. The comfort of a couch is my surest temptation against regular exercise, which is in turn, about the best thing I have to defend myself against the artery clogging side effects of an otherwise perfectly friendly Victoria-Sponge.
Oh, I love Science! The thought of all those poorly dressed but clever people going about and discovering all kinds of mysterious and wonderful things really gets me all agog. But this love is in spite of Science’s tendency to, every now and then, rain, quite heavily, on my parade. Couches, cakes, cigarettes and sunshine- all precious too me have now taken on a bit of a sinister glow- thanks to science. (Lets just hope that science leaves looking at pictures of cats on the internet alone. It’s the last truly pure thing I have left).
Longevity is a bee that does not stay in my bonnet for very long. Far too much standing up while drinking vegetable juice to suit my sensitive disposition. And anyway, with cakes and couches few and far between I quickly begin to lose sight of my motivations for such an ambitious project.
It is then, very exciting, when science takes something entirely delicious and declares it to be a “super-food”. Tomatoes, salmon and cocoa all gorgeous and also apparently “healthy choices”. Rejoice! Rooibos is also in these ranks. Dear rooibos, with its calming wild bushy flavour and rich colour is also apparently a godsend to my insides- anti-oxidising (or some such noble behaviour) every filthy and long-neglected corner of me.
I am now in something of a habit of trying to slip rooibos into my baking. It’s actually rather simple. Rooibos is easily introduced to any baking recipe that uses a fair amount of liquid like water juice or milk. Before you use the liquid as required in the recipe, brew it with some rooibos. My very rough method is to use one tea bag per serving. However, this will naturally vary on your aims.
I often use rooibos with custard base tarts, brewing the milk/cream with the rooibos first. Here I like less rooibos for more subtle background flavour. Any kind of tea is also well suited to candy based recipes like hard-sweets and marshmallows. I think its fun to have the flavour come through powerfully in these- as something unexpected and surprising. This is easily achieved. Simply substitute the water in the recipe for strong (espresso-strong) rooibos tea.
My habit , it must be noted, is to combine rooibos with all kinds of things that fall on the nutrition-fanatic’s naughty-list, so chances are that I’m not going to live forever. But it doesn’t take me long to eat a piece of cake and so even if I get just an extra five minutes added to my life it will be enough to make it count.
There is nothing quite like an invitation to a “braai” (South African for barbeque) to strike terror into my timid soul. All that sitting around during the day makes inevitable a host of evils: unflattering lighting, uv exposure leading to the inevitable pre-mature ageing, poor quality conversation, the constant threat that someone might suggest we watch the rugby match and often evidence of over-catering (the horror the horror!).
Being a creature of what Jane Austen might call “pert” and fleetingly held opinions, I think the thought that I am attending a braai might be equally terrifying to some hosts as their invitations are to me. How I love to climb upon my high-horse and get it to hoof and kick its way through conversation, while I judge and offend my way through the afternoon- stopping only briefly when the bowl of corn chips is refilled to gather sustenance and the strength to judge more fiercely.
A world in which my friends had the courage to stop inviting me to braais or a world in which I had the courage to say no to their invitations would be a fine place indeed. But its a world that could never be. The laws of social intecourse are very strict and deeply felt. There is nothing quite like being added to an event on facebook to get most of us out of our pjamas and willingly into a situation we would prefer not to be in. (Indeed, for us social-contrarians, there is nothing quite like being added to a event on facebook to get us to form opinions about which we have no conviction- opinions we can take with us to wield like weapons at our unforunate fellow “invitees”).
So then, apart from arriving late and leaving early what, I have begun to ask myself, can be done to alleiviate at least some of all this suffering. My new strategy is this: strategically planned topics of conversation- controversial enough to make conversation lively but trivial enough to avoid offense.
At the next lull in converstaion during the course of a dreaded braai my plan amounts to firmly expressing the following opinion:
” Cup-cakes, even those of the red-velvet variety, are overrated- there are far superior treats to be had”.
Now the foodies might scoff, “hah, what a dated idea- has this poor pale girl not come across the gourmet marshmallow, the macaroon or the deconstructed brownie in a mason jar (or whatever it is that foodies are deconstructing and popping into mason jars these days)“. The traditionalist,on the other hand, might contest the worthiness of these alternatives. But whatever your culinary commitments, you are (well at least if you are the kind of person to be in attendance at braai) bound to have an opinion. One cannot help but form an opinion on this matter- evidence perhaps that it is not quite so trivial. My guess is that this issue, if navigated well, could fill at least the time between my returning from a trip to a bathroom to the next refilling of the chip-bowl. In fact, I predict a light-hearted, witty and uniting vigour in a joint exploration of this issue: the highlight of the day (after the hosts signature guacamole or potato bake).
What happens after that? Well I haven’t gotten quite so far yet. I am likely to saddle up and starting shouting more risky opinions into every corner of the patio- “Move aside, move aside, I need room to disagree with you“!
My true opinion on cup-cakes? Its not in my nature to have a true-opinion on many matters. While I can conjure an opinion on just about anything within seconds and in the face of gaping ignorance and poor qualifications, an opinion that is likely to last me longer than the duration of a social engagement is another matter entirely.
But I am well qualified to form an opinion on treats: I am, like most slightly plump women, well experienced in this area. So, I do happen to have a relatively long standing opinion on cupcakes (and how delightful that it happens to smack of contrariness). Here it goes: my hope is that this post might spark conversation and play some subtle role in overthrowing the cup-cake from its illegitimate reign over other far more dignified and refined confectionery. Or in “slacktivist” terms: I hope to “promote awareness” to the terrible wrong of our unending reverence for the cup-cake. Too long have we endured this tyranny. Death to the Cup-Cake! (Long live the Tart).