May 11, 2020

The Berry Project

Like many people over this lockdown period, I have taken up – or rather – rekindled an old-flame of a hobby. My quarantine activity of choice has been baking and I have fallen hook, line and sinker for it. I frequently find myself reaching for the cookbooks that have sat gathering dust in the lounge and flicking through the pages, trying to decide what to bake next. Nothing really compares to the calmness I feel when I’m in our tiny kitchen, whipping up egg whites, trying to master the intricacies of pastry (which I’m not longer scared of) or having a go at a new recipe. There’s so much I want to learn – including the chemistry of cooking, how certain ingredients react with each other and often, trying to decipher where I might have gone wrong with a recipe and how I can improve it for next time. Baking is becoming an all-consuming part of my day – from watching Bon Appetit videos on YouTube, researching new recipes online and learning new skills on the online Puff Pastry Course. (I’d really recommend this if you’re looking for a bit of guidance – it’s run by two London-based pastry chefs who tell you a bit about the theory of the bakes and film short tutorials of how to make the bakes which you can try and replicate at home – some have turned out more successful than others but all of them have been super tasty).

The prospect of being furloughed at the end of April brought a lot of mixed feelings – gratitude that I can remain in my job and still have an income coming in, worry about how I would find structure in my day without the routine of work and a degree of excitement. It’s not common to have a two-month break from your work – two months really to utilise your time in whichever way you wish. Baking has filled a gap that has been developing over the past year or so and seems to be giving me some direction – a new surge of creativity, which has been lacking. Although I have always had a sweet tooth and will forever enjoy eating cakes, pastry (anything with high butter and sugar content really), it’s the process of baking that I’m really enjoying. It’s such a rewarding exercise – making the journey into the kitchen, taking out a few staple ingredients from the cupboard and bringing together something that can be enjoyed with a tea, as a post-run treat or given away to family and friends.

Baking brings a comforting joy that few other hobbies do – it’s lovely to see what you can achieve with just a bit of patience, time and care. Whenever I try and bake something in a rush, my bakes never tend to come out in the way that I’d like – the filling may have split or the pastry might not be as flaky or as crumbly as I’d like or the cake hasn’t risen in the way it usually does. So now, I try and always give myself enough time to create something that reflects the joy I feel in making it. I always think back to Val who was on the Great British Bake Off a few years back, who said ‘When you bake, you always bake for a reason. You’re giving it to people, so you make it the best you can. And you make it with love’. I truly think she hit the nail on the head here – making something with love and care, in my experience, makes all the difference in baking. (Although that’s not to say you won’t experience disasters – I’ve had my fair share of them, from hot-cross buns that are so heavy you could knock some-one out with them to sourdough that’s so tough, you could easily break a tooth (making bread is currently my nemesis), to accidentally grilling brownies so they are burnt on top and raw in the middle. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more incidences like this but hopefully this will be outweighed by more successes as my skill-set grows!)

In the spirit of keeping up my re-found love of baking and taking my blog in a new direction, I’ve decided to take on a new project. The Berry Project. After watching Julie and Julia on Netflix the other night and relating to Julie on such a deep level that I think we could essentially be the same person (except that I don’t work in a call centre and I live in Edinburgh, not Brooklyn), it got me thinking who the equivalent of Julia Child is in the baking world today. And for me, it’s Mary Berry – she’s such a classic cook with such a wealth of experience and her Baking Bible has sat on my shelf for a number of years, relatively untouched. I’m setting myself the challenge of making each of her recipes – there’s just over 250 in total and completing this in two years (or less). This works out as baking roughly 2 recipes a week, which I think is (hopefully) achievable. I’m going to document each bake – success or disaster as I go along in the hope of bringing some giggles and some inspiration to my readers.

I’m starting this project on Monday 11th May 2020 and so, all being well, I’ll finish by Monday 9th 2022. For reference, I’m using Mary Berry’s Baking Bible published in 2009 by BBC Books – I might not follow the recipes in the order they appear (especially at the moment with some ingredients being in short supply) but will aim to cover them all by the end of the time-line. First up is a Large All-in-one Victoria Sandwich… watch this space!

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