Bake It ‘Til You Make It

It’s been a harsh week or so. School is back and I’m pretty sure I’m topping the Worst Parent list already:

1) A request has been made for the Educational Psychologist to see both Noodles and Boo. I feel like we’re a walking, talking  Philip Larkin poem;

2) The school are struggling to support Noodles’ needs at the same time settling in 30 other kids…so he’s been moved to only doing half days. Part of me feels that it’s my fault for not preparing him better…but how do you prepare a child whose condition includes time blindness? The past is anything between 5 seconds ago and before the dawn of time with no differentiation; anything in the future is translated as happening NOW. I also realise it’s the fault of a tight-arsed foot-dragging local authority and a school inadequately prepared for what they were taking on, but yeah, the guilt is still there;

3) The fact that these unplanned half days are a pain in the arse when it comes to juggling things with work. (Think you’re frowned at just for being a working mum? Try it when you’ve got a special needs kid and you can multiply that by a hundred! How can you possibly devote yourself to advocating for their needs when you’re out earning money?!?! How selfish!)

(Meanwhile constant lateness because SP has to be dragged through the school gates, plus telephone calls plus meetings, plus lunch breaks timed to cover the additional school run equals a finite capacity for work-based sympathy.)

4) Receiving not one phone call but two because one child or other has been forgotten about and not picked up at the right time…on the SAME DAY.

Yep, I’m topping the Bad Mums list! Sadly though, I don’t look like Mila Kunis whilst doing so. 

  
But – but! – I’ve found the ideal way to drag your name out of the staffroom gutter and to (superficially) elevate your life to Level 10: BAKING!!!

The Great British Bake-Off is in full swing her in the UK (Selasi and Bejamina are my personal favourites) and as ever its appeal has been phenomenal. But then, what’s not to like? People who know how to whip up a genoise sponge or a creme pat without a recipe, a marquee, worship of carb-based goodies and national treasures, Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry and Mel and Sue. It’s perfect!

  
(How well this will stand up once moved from the warm oven of the BBC remains to be seen – like an underbaked soufflé it could collapse if they mess with recipe too much – but for now I’m enveloped in the sheer comfort of it all.)

And inspired by this, I took to the kitchen with the intention of replicating the technical challenges. It’s been a while since I’ve baked, what with days only having 24 hours in them. But I wanted to be good at something. And can stirring sugar and eggs together really be as difficult as they make out? And if their recipes are truly as basic as they say and no one has ever heard of a dampfnudlen how come each baker ended up with almost identical bakes? After a weekend that involved homemade Jaffa cakes and Viennese Whirls, this much I learned:

1) Baking isn’t stress-free akin to mindfulness, but it does give you an excuse to hide out in the kitchen!

Sunday afternoon I literally hid in the kitchen whipping up my whirls whilst TM took over with all of Noodles’ requests. We never hear “Daddy” when “Mummy” is an option and – sorry, Noodles – it was bliss!

2) Jaffa cakes out of a packet are nicer than homemade ones. (Sorry, Mary Berry.)

 

There were 12, as per the challenge…but I forgot the photograph them for the locusts – my family – got to them.
 
Maybe over 40 years of nothing-but McVities I’ve been duped into thinking that, but biting into my own version, the sponge was too light and unyielding. Give me a stale sponge to my Jaffa any day!

(That said, I did enjoy making them. Peeling a sheet of jelly to reveal 12 cut discs was particularly satisfying. How can I make jelly discs a thing?)

  
3) Grannies have lied to us forever: jam making is a piece of cake!

I’d never made jam before, always under the impression that it required levels of alchemical ability far beyond my ability. Bullsh*t! Jam-making is essentially mashed fruit + sugar + boiling for 5 minutes + cooling. Et voila! Nanas, I’m calling you out on this!

 

Note the massive ironing pile overspill in the background. Oops.
 
However, the very act of making your own jam will have everyone treating you like a boss! So, actually, maybe I should stay quiet on that one and just take my place amongst the granny covan.

4) Taking baked goods to work will make you hero for the day.

  
Nobody minds if you rock up late if you’re carrying a tin of homemade biscuits. Dropped the ball with something? Distract them with the feathering skills and feed them until you induce a sugar-based coma. (I might very well attempt just that with a Bakewell tart come bank rec day!)

5) A good bake fools everyone. Even yourself!

Things can’t be that bad if you’ve managed to whip up a perfect batch of biscuits or a sponge as light as air!

  
6) Instagram will convince everyone that you’re living a Level 10 life.

A close-up of your baked goods with a flattering filter and everyone will assume you’re living the domestic dream. Such heaven can surely only be created in a kitchen worthy of the baking gods? Err, shhhhh. They don’t have to know the truth!

 

What you cant see are the crumbling biscuits and the ones with singed edges that didnt make the Mary Berry standard.
 
Unfortunately you do then have to step through the sugar haze back into the real world. Urgh! And I can’t share my creations with the school otherwise I’ll het roped into school fête bake sale territory (being duped by their sneaky tactics last time was enough). Or would 300 mince pies in the run up to Christmas ensure enough goodwill to secure Noodles an inclusive education? Maybe, if I soaked the filling in enough brandy (the true meaning of ‘Christmas spirit’) any nativity play misdemeanours by Noodles could conveniently not be held against me.

Yes, I think I’ll have to just suck up my position on The List of Shameful Parents. Meanwhile, if you need me I’ll be in the corner licking cake batter from the bowl. Now, you never see them do that on Bake-Off!

 
Or maybe you do! 

The Great Cake Bake Race

Initially I thought my last post may have been a little mean about the school summer fête. It’s not easy being a teacher, especially when you’ve got a government selling off schools to academy trusts and no one wants to invest in anything that doesn’t make a fast, demonstrable profit. You’ve got to buy pencils somehow.

…But then the school sent another of their charming letters:

  
“Cheeky Sods,” I thought. It’s the last thing I want to do at the end of a working week. Plus the Why not donate any spare cupcakes… really annoyed me. Of course no one’s going to make ONE cupcake. (Or maybe some people do!)

I was very much determined that a) we wouldn’t be making any cupcakes and b) we would give the whole shebang a wide berth.

Boo had other ideas: 

“I’m going to make an Alice in Wonderland cupcake for the summer fête.”

Oh balls!

I pretty much buried the idea though and last night Eve had commandeered the kitchen to make a birthday cake for her new boyfriend. I was pretty sure I’d got away with it.

Again Boo had other ideas and cried when she came out of school. With the fête less than 2 hours away the time went like this:

  
3.15: Placate Boo’s tears with the promise to make some sodding cakes. Inwardly panic.

3.20: Get home, give Noodles a kiss and head to the kitchen. Do an audit of required ingredients. Breathe a sigh of relief that we only need to get decorations…although I make a note to clear out the cupboards when it turns out the cornflour expired in 2014!

  
3.25: Sketch a rough outline of a cake that might look like it fits Boo’s Alice in Wonderland brief. 

  
3.30: Head out the door and into town. Purchases includes ready-made buttercream icing. Wise move! Thank you, Betty Crocker.

4.00: Back home – £27.78 worse off! – oven on, time to destroy the kitchen. Thankfully a plain sponge isn’t too taxing and 12 buns are in the oven within 10 minutes!

4.10: Along with Boo, eat excessive amounts of cake batter that’s leftover. I suppose I could’ve made extra cakes, but that would’ve meant two batches and I definitely haven’t got time for that.

Feel a little sick.

4.15: Get a bit excited that I’ve bought a hypodermic needle to inject jam into the cakes. (Sad but true.)

4.20: Noodles comes into the kitchen looking for me. I duck behind the counter and pretend I’m not there.

4.25: There’s a little voice squeaking in the living room. Noodles wants a big hug and Curious George. He has to settle for a little squeeze and Curious George. Why does Netflix take so long to get started?!?!

4.30: The cakes are out; they haven’t burnt (much). I start wafting them like a contestant on The Great British Bake-Off.

  
4.35: The cakes aren’t cool, but I start injecting them with jam anyway. I have no idea how much jam I should be using or whether it’s even working. Oh well.

4.40: Noodles decides he wants Thomas the Tank Engine instead of Curious George. Netflix takes an age to decide that this is do-able.

4.45: The icing gets unceremoniously piped. Raspberry sprinkles cover a multitude of sins. (Raspberry sprinkles also cover the entire worktop.) I figure as only one is being judged only one needs the whole works. (I also figure I can clean up later.)

4.46: Noodles wants the same bit of Thomas repeated again and again. I let him watch twice then leg it back to the kitchen for more piping.

4.55: The plumpest-looking cake gets picked for competition entry and is topped with every decoration going. Queen of Hearts playing card: tick. ‘Eat me’ candles: tick. White rose half painted red: Tick. White rabbit telling us we’re late: I wouldn’t have been surprised!

  
“We’ll tell them you made it,” I advise Boo. She nods solemnly. 

5.01: The cakes are packed, shoes and coats are on and we’re out the door. I’ve no idea how our entry got on – within half an hour (aka another £20 spent and a bump to the head later) Noodles has had enough. I gleefully accept the job of taking him home. I don’t have to face more tears when the professional cake-baker – sorry, the professional cake-baker’s daughter – surely wins.

Still, I spot a kid struggling with one of our offerings as jam oozes down his arm. “How’s your cake?” I ask. “I made that!” He gives me a “20 out of 10.” And I’ve done my mum duty for today. (As far as Boo is concerned at least. Teflon Man has moaned that I didn’t get anything for us to eat tonight…talk about never being able to please all of the people!)

At least the little people are smiling tonight.

  

And I’m pretty sure it’s now wine o’clock!

***

An update: Our cupcake won!!!

Totally worth the effort now – Boo’s brought home enough sweets to ensure she’s on a sugar high throughout the summer holidays. 

I think that deserves another glass of wine!

A Cake Debate: To Bake or Not?

Ok, I have a dilemma. It’s late: 10.37pm to be exact. (How the f**k did that happen? Seriously!) Tomorrow is Eve and Indy’s birthday.

Plans for said birthday are a ‘party tea’ (ie nibbly bits and pieces en famille, rather than any actual party) and cake. I was thinking something like this:

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Mmm, right? They might be leaving their teen years behind, but are you ever too old for a cake surrounded by KitKats? I think not!

However, I don’t actually have all of the ingredients into make even the cake part (thanks, Eve, for using all the flour for Oscar’s cake at the weekend). So,if I’m to make it tonight I’ve got to drive out of town to the late-night supermarket (ugh!), hope that no one steals my parking space in the street (otherwise double ugh!) and then bake the cake.

A fool’s errand, I know! Who wants to be baking a cake licking a bowl of cake batter at midnight? (Ok, I do – in my world there’s never a wrong time for cake batter; don’t judge me.)

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And the thing is, if I don’t do it tonight I’m at work all day tomorrow (just as I have been today). I won’t get in until nearly six, later if I stop off on the way home to buy sausage rolls and prosciutto ham, etc, and I’ll then have to bake the cake, let it cool, decorate it, etc. at that rate we might be lucky to eat it before midnight tomorrow night!

Oh, and added to the issue Teflon Man is out at his precious cinema club (double bill tonight, folks!), so technically I’m the responsible adult. (Although the kids are asleep and Grandy, Eve and her boyfriend are in, so if I did go out you don’t have to call social services.) But still, I’d feel bad. But maybe that’s just the eternal nag of Mum Guilt.

I suppose the other option is to just buy a cake. But that seems like a waste of cash when all I need is flour. Plus, you don’t get to lick cake batter off the spoon with a ready-made cake!

I can’t decide. I’ll go and do the laundry and check that the out-of-town late-night supermarket is still open.

Goddam days only having 24 hours in them though. It’s all time’s fault. Yep, I blame time and commitments. But not The Commitments. God, I loved that film soundtrack. And possibly The Midnight Hour is quite appropriate.

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