This post was supposed to be called strawberry cream puffs… light, airy choux buns filled with a perfectly balanced pungent strawberry cream, and topped with a white chocolate and strawberry ganache. Delicate, delicious, summery morsels. But not all my baking adventures end as I intend. I think as a rule baking lends itself very well to recipes turning out as they should – they are precise formulas that if followed exactly usually produce the desired result.
I have been wanting to make these for weeks and weeks (having been slightly obsessed with summer and strawberries in a vain attempt to affirm that despite all the rain it is actually summer), but having struggled to find the key ingredient – freeze-dried strawberries. And so the weeks have slipped by whilst I fannied about sourcing the deep red berry powder on the internet. For some bizarre reason this ingredient cannot be found in shops in London – not specialised delis, nor major supermarkets, nor health food shops stock it.
The last three weeks (bar the jubilee sponge) I’ve tried to ignore all things baking and or blog related. The reason? I’ve been on a rather extreme detox. Twenty-one days without caffeine, alcohol, wheat, gluten, dairy, fruit (besides bananas), red meat, sugar or anything processed… Apparently even sauces like vinegar and soya sauce constitute ‘processed’ foods. So it’s been a rather bland few weeks crammed with lots of fresh leafy green veg, legumes, soya, chicken and fish. It’s been an absolute test of willpower – and quite a few nights in the pub sipping water. Today is day twenty-one.
I sat on the couch this morning, fingers tapping impatiently, as the sweet scent of creamy scone and sticky baked strawberries wafted out of the kitchen. The sweetest thing I’ve had in the last few weeks is 100% natural, dried Ugandan banana bits (without added sugar) from the health food shop and my mouth was literally watering, waiting to sink my teeth into soft, warm strawberry scone slathered with sticky sweet jam and whipped vanilla cream.
Once they were out the oven and slightly cooled, I pried a butter knife into the side of one and gently split the crumbly scone. Impatiently I dolloped ruby jam on it and topped it with freshly whipped vanilla cream. I had just one bite, and it was sublime. It’s hard to tell whether this was down the quality of the scone, or my anticipation of something sweet and forbidden. That aside, I think baking ripe strawberries and cream into scones creates an additional layer to this simple pleasure. Don’t be afraid to use overly ripe, slightly squidgy strawberries – they will just become stickier, sweeter and more melty.
Remembering the composition of these sticky buns takes me straight back to high school. Hot, highveld lunch breaks in Greenside, Johannesburg spent sitting in the sun in the concrete flag stone quad with class mates – idle chatter interspersed with quiet munching. The bell would ring shrilly signally break and on days when I had tuck money I would tear down to the tuck shop to avoid the queue. Lunch would consist of the special of the day and an ice-cold coke or frozen slushy. Mondays hotdogs… Tuesdays hamburgers… Wednesdays chutney mince rolls… Thursdays… Thursdays and Fridays I forget. And if I had scrounged enough money together lunch would be finished off with a big chunk of sticky chelsea bun.
The buns would come pre-wrapped in cling film, and I remember them being much bigger than any others I have seen in the last few years, and certainly bigger than the ones I recreated. Sitting cross-legged on the warm concrete I would discard the unwanted cling film and then start devouring my bun by carefully peeling away and eating it layer by layer, spiralling down through moist yeasty bun infused with cinnamon, sweet vanilla custard cream and raisins – all stuck together by the sugary icing on the top. Pure bliss. And certainly enough calories to power me through the next four periods before home time.
Yesterday I did what I do best – procrastinate writing – in order to do what I love most – cook, buy cookbooks and peruse nurseries. I contemplate ways of sneaking my three new hardcover purchases into the cookbook collection in the said tiny kitchen without my other half noticing.
So now I finally sit down to write in the sweltering London heat, perched laptop on knee on the couch in front of the big open sash windows in an attempt to get whatever breathless gasps of breeze exist into the overheated apartment. Out of the corner of my eye I can see the bright shades of pink pelargonium and cosmos and lilac lavender, which I acquired whilst procrastinating, stirring in the breeze on the window sill. I smile.
Despite the unusual heat this week I have had an insatiable need to recreate my absolute favourite coffee time treat – the chocolate twist. I’ve been eyeing them up for weeks trying to work out exactly how they’re constructed. Whether right or not, my conclusion is that they’re made of a delicate croissant like pastry, laced with crème pâtissière, sprinkled with bitter-sweet chocolate bits and then twisted into strips of deliciousness which are baked and then finished off with a dusting of icing sugar.