The window is streaked with fast falling raindrops as the chive blossoms in my window ledge herb box are battered by the rain. It’s the last day of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations – the somberest day of cathedral services and processions, mimicking the weather. A cup of tea steams in front of me and I shudder as my eyes flick from the rain soaked street to the tv – throngs of people line Pall Mall, cheering and waving flags amid bobbing umbrellas as the Queen steps out onto the balcony at Buckingham Palace. She waves, and the crowd erupts.
London has been hijacked for four days of spectacular pomp and celebrations, like only the English can, to celebrate Her Majesty’s 60th year on the throne. And celebrate, London has. The city has been clad in red, blue and white bunting – with street parties, tea parties, 1000 boat flotillas, processions, concerts, trumpeters, firing squads, singing, cheering, and flag waving and heartfelt patriotism across a diverse nation, come rain or shine.
I don’t know what has happened to the last few weeks. They seem to have whirled by in a blur of grey skies, tremendously monotonous rain and an intensively all-consuming course that finished with a two-hour oral exam where I had to get 80% to pass. It was stressful. And in between all this we’re trying to buy a flat – which no matter how romanticised my idea of it is, it is just plain painful. A welcome reprieve to all this – was having a houseguest move in ten days ago. She is also buying a flat and due to ‘unforseen’ delays (namely that the seller’s solicitor will only communicate via post) she’s been left with couple of weeks between flats.
It was her birthday this last weekend – and so this cake is for her. Although rather gaudy, it’s a fun cake of decadently rich chocolate sponge, smothered in a white chocolate, vanilla and sour cream ganache – and finished with a light marshmallow meringue frosting (in various shades of pink).
It has been two weeks since the wedding – a crazy, unusual, exciting two weeks of house hunting filled with things I’ve never had to think about before, like standard variable mortgage rates, and freehold vs leasehold, and why combi boilers are better than condensing ones. But that’s a whole other story – for another day’s rationalisation of why we’ve settled on a flat with a kitchen that has no oven and hasn’t been updated since the 1960s.
I’ve only just about managed to get the stickiness off my revolting rented linoleum kitchen floor. In the franticness that led up to the completion of the cake all manner of meringue, cake mixture, sugar, eggs and frosting ended up splattered and trampled into the floor.
Was the wedding cake a success? I grimace at the question – I was not entirely happy with it. Or should I rephrase and say that it just didn’t look exactly how I imagined it would. Some of it was out of my control – the avalanche roses and blooming blue irises that were meant to wedge the two tiers together in a statement of floral opulence were left out of water overnight by the florist. And so when I got them, the few I could use were so wilted they couldn’t hold their shape, let alone fill the gap between the two tiers. This also meant that the tiny imperfections at the bottom of the top tier were very visible. I had hoped they would be hidden behind big curling petals, but alas.
A few weeks ago a friend announced that he and his fiancé had finally set a wedding date. It’s going to be a small wedding in the middle of April. Before I could properly congratulate him, or even think about it, the words tumbled out of my mouth that I bake wedding cakes. What I meant to say was, I have baked one wedding cake. I walked back to my desk muttering under my breath that I should think before I open my big mouth, but was convinced they’d never take me up on it. I mean, of course I’d love the challenge, but I’m no professional wedding cake baker.
The excited couple popped round the following weekend eager to hear what I could bake – and to make matters more complicated for this wannabe baker, the bride-to-be was adamant that she did not want a traditional fruit cake or a sponge cake. She wanted a fancifully decadent layer cake. Words like praline and mousse were flung across the lounge over cups of tea, conjuring up visions of the type of cake you find in little French patisseries. And she wanted these delicate layers tiered! My mind raced. As soon as they left Pierre Hermé’s new book came out, amongst various others, and sitting on the lounge floor with books strewn all around me I wondered whether I’d bitten off more than I could chew. My other half just shook his head.
I don’t know where the last two months have disappeared to, but I sit here with my fingers hovering over the keyboard unsure what to type in sheer embarrassment of lack of posts over the festive season. The list of recipes I intended posting lies on the kitchen counter as a constant reminder – and does nothing but grow as I add delectable ideas to it. So my apologies. December saw family visiting, a wedding – and my first attempt at a wedding cake – followed by a rather rushed dash to the southern tip of Africa to spend a few glorious weeks in the dry heat interspersed with road trips, big blue skies, quiet glasses of chilled wine at dusk, quality time with my favourite nephew, glorious sunsets, endless beaches and radiant sunshine. And then back to dreary London I trudged, braced to face the wintery weather and a new year of work.
2 November 2011. A year of Tuesdays has passed since the last 2 November – and each one marked with a lifetime’s worth of sadness, grief and loss. Today is a year since my Dad died. A year since I ran out of the office into the anonymity of Waterloo Station, fighting back tears. Not knowing what to do I bought a poppy – a remembrance poppy. I had the poppy in my hand, willing my Dad to be okay when the news came from the hot Karoo town near the southern tip of Africa that he wasn’t. The poppy crumpled in my hand as I bent over double struggling to breathe.
The gugelhupf, I can say with certainty, was my Dad’s favourite anytime cake. This cake has featured in my life as far back as I can remember, and it has been known to be eaten not only for afternoon tea or dessert with a dollop of whipped cream, but also on occasion for breakfast with a mug of steaming coffee.