The last time I baked something sweet that turned out alright was 18 years ago at my Home Economics exam. Even then, the cake had sunk in the centre but I had covered that up with fruit and smothered the whole thing with chocolate, so the teacher got distracted…
Since then, I hadn’t needed to touch an oven. As far as Asian desserts go, I wasn’t ever a fan and as far as baking in the family went, our oven short-circuited the house once and we’d never used it since.
Then I got to Australia.
Hospitality in Australia – good hospitality in Australia – seems to go hand in hand with culinary sweets. Morning tea – cakes and bikkies. Afternoon tea – different cakes and bikkies. Dessert. Cream. Cheese. Butter. Pastry. Meringues – large, small. The boring nutrition of fruit completely negated by sugar and spice and all things sinfully nice.
But the problem is, I suck at baking.
I blame my oven most of the time. The thermostat is as reliable as a weather man licking his pointy finger and sticking it into the breeze. You set the oven to 160°c fan-forced and the light will go off when it hits the mark. But the temperature will keep climbing. Before you know it, your beautiful tart has been sitting in 220°c for the last half hour and you could play frisbee with the product. And kill the person it lands on.
But the bigger problem is my penchant for making things up as I go along (works for Chinese cooking, baaaad for baking…) and the fact that I’m rather heavy-handed with ingredients. Also, I can never get the butter-flour balance and before long, am spiralling into the abyss as I try to get what I think to be The Perfect Dough. The list goes on and on.
But good hospitality – great hospitality – almost demands some TLC with the dessert. Some effort required. Some home-made goodness. OK for when it’s a lunch or dinner. But when it’s the in-betweeners, it’s not like I can rock up with some soy sauce chicken, you know what I’m sayin’? NO cake goes with soy sauce chicken.
Turning up with store-bought confectionery used to merely be embarrassing but now that I’m a full-time housewife, it bugs the living daylights out of me. “It’s not an exam, you know,” Tony reminds me gently. He is greatly amused by my new-found definition of success in life. But I am not. Now that I am a Mommy, I get to go to mumsy things which always seem to involve driving to someone’s house for tea and sweets. And I’d love, for once, to be able to say, “Great! I’ll whip up some <insert delectable pastry here>!” and not sneak off to Aldi’s.
Also, fast-forward to the year 2016 when Arddun’s 5 and she’s the only kid in her kindergarten not to have cake made from the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book because her mother is a putz with the oven. My poor baby girl, laughing stock of kindergarten, scarred for life.
Anyhoo. Went and bought a book that promised easy baking. It says so on the cover – “Easy baking“. I made a lemon currant loaf. And watched the oven like a hawk. And moaned into Tony’s shoulder about how it will turn out awful.
And it turned out okay! It even turned out edible.