Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Baking with HRY and RKB

 "The sublime moment of cooking, though, is really the moment when nature becomes culture, stuff becomes things. It is the moment when the red onions have been chopped and the bacon has been sliced into lardons and the chestnuts have been peeled, and they are all mijoteing together in the pot, and then - a specific moment - the colours being to change, and the smells gather together just at the level of your nose. Everything beings to mottle, blend from raw to cooked. The chestnuts, if you're doing chestnuts, turn a little damp, a little weepy. That's what they do; everything weeps. 

The passage from stuff to things, the moment when the vegetables weep, is a meditative moment and has no point, really, except the purely ephemeral one of seeing it happen. You cook for yourself, or I do anyway. Martha picks through things, New York girl with a New York appetite. Luke, like an astronaut, would prefer to live on a diet of milkshakes and nutrient pellets. Cooking, for middle-class, end-of-the-century people, is our only direct, not entirely debased line with the hermetic life, with Zen sitting, with just doing things without a thought.

No wonder monks make good cheese."

Adam Gopnik, "Lessons from Things" from Paris to the Moon

 All pictures by Rachel Kara. Isn't she a talented thing?

We had been building up to this afternoon for a long time. Maybe since we first made the plan the week before, maybe since we first bonded over lamb sandwiches and lemon tarts, maybe since we first commented on each others blogs saying "what is this mysterious Youeni place and where can I attend?". We had been building up to this afternoon the whole of our friendship, really. The reality was, as it so often is, so much better. Some toasted sandwiches pregnant with cheese and tomato and basil and all of that good stuff, some gingerbread dough, sly and short, a cake with great aspirations of cinnamon glory. So, we burnt it a little. So it didn't rise as much as we hoped, so instead of slicing it in two and filling it with cream and raspberries we ended up slathering the whole whipped-up, rich rosewater-y mess over the top and around the sides like a Cake Boss. So, by the time we finished it was dark outside and Masterchef had begun and we had spoiled whatever plans we had of dinner with cake and cream and cookies and cheese on toast. Okay, I lied. It was cheese and butter on toast. Delicious tubes of Lescure butter with flecks of real salt peppered throughout like rough-hewn crystals.

I once read somewhere, I think it was the OG domestic goddess - Nigella herself - who said it, that baking is an activity imbued with an uncanny sense of magic. Unlike any other kind of cooking, which is less about transformation than it is about a kind of relentless onslaught against a thing's natural state, baking is a work of alchemy. How many times have I failed in the kitchen because i haven't followed recipes to the letter? Leveled cups of flour. Leveled tablespoons of baking powder. Leveled jugs of golden syrup or canola oil (rose bakery carrot cake, I'm looking at you). Baking in my kitchen wearing track pants and a sweater is the closest I have ever come to feeling like I was in Harry Potter. That moment, that wonderful, awe-inspiring moment, when the gooey wet mess that you poured into the cake tin and placed, somewhat doubtfully into the warm confines of the oven, swells with such magnificence and pride, and bronzes and crackles along the top, and turns into something that it wasn't and now is. How did it go from that to this? How did it, to use Adam Gopnik's term, go from stuff to things?

I don't think I'll ever get to the bottom of this mystery, and I don't particularly want to. That sense of wonder is what allows me - even when things don't turn out quite right - to still be overjoyed at what I have produced. I cook hopefully, and so does Rachel. I think that's what makes us suited to working together, and that's what makes us able to hatch grand plans of world food domination, one Sydney cafe at a time, and that's what made this afternoon so much fun. The first of many - the next will be a picnic in my garden in warmer climes, we'll be taking menu suggestions or invite requests shortly - this baking day was warm and joyous and long and delicious, as all baking days ought to be if they possibly can. It signalled at something we already knew - stuff into things, Gopnik there you go again - things it can be easy to overlook. That Rachel can make a mean toasted sandwich, that our food collaborations are going to continue long into the future, that this kind of stuff - photos and words and hopes and dreams and not just numbers and stuff and a rating out of ten, because what's the fun in that? - is what people really want to hear and read about when they look at food, and if it isn't then explain the whole Masterchef phenomenon, hmm? And that it really is better to travel hopefully than it is to arrive.

For more pictures of this eventful afternoon, see Rachel's blog. And if you love us like we love baking, then check out our first ever collaboration, a review of Sydney's coffee-providore du jour, The Grounds. There's something in this whole food thing. Rachel and I are still working our heads around it, but when we do, you can be sure that we'll be all over it. Stay tuned!



Zoobia said...

That cake looks absolutely delicious! And it sounds like you had a lovely time. Good food, good friends, good times; that's what life is about!


Musings by Di said...

wow...you have made the act of baking sound mesmerizing and inspiring.

Sarah Dee said...

This is how I feel about cooking. I don't lose my cool like so many people I know at the thought of making something delicious. I relish those moments stirring and sauteing like it's the ultimate zen. That's what makes this the perfect quote, it's the feeling of making something.

And that cake looks superb.

Xoxo Sarah

Chloe said...

Mmmmm looks amazing! I have an apple rhubarb crumble in the oven at the moment - baking is best in winter! xx

tanya said...

man your heart cups are so so beautiful! please tell me where you got them?! they're divine <3

Zoƫ said...

These photos are as delectable as the food within them!

"baking is a work of alchemy" - I think this is why I am so addicted to baking shows, its such a decadent activity to indulge oneself in, you get so involved, and often so messy in the process! watching someone else do it and seeing the end product as they slice through it... well its as good as any magic act!

Jenn said...

Ah, baking: it is one of life's many pleasures!

Madeleine said...

Noice! Everything about this is so lovely. More please!

lepiratelife said...

Hannah oh my goodness. Cafe Gitane. Thank you times a bazilion for recommending it, I've eaten there twice now in the past twenty four hours and it is truly the most simple and incredible food I've eaten to this day. The bread! And the brie! And the carrot salad with mint and coriander - I could faint. Thank you, thank you x

hannah-rose said...

Zoobia - I completely agree. Sometimes it's more about the company than the result.

Musings - oh thank you!! It really is though.. I am always mesmerised by how baking can turn this into that..

Sarah - exactly! that's what I loved about the quote too, that peacefulness and quiet, that calm, that, well, zen!

Chloe - friend!! mmm apple crumble, that's some nice winter food.

tanya - I love them too! They were a valentines day gift from my dad to my mum (cute) so I'll ask him and let you know :)

Jenn - definitely. :)

Madeleine - will do dear!

lepiratelife - you are so welcome! I'm so glad, and how amazing is the carrot salad! it's one of my favourites, so light and refreshing. So glad you are enjoying yourself in NYC!!!


Zoe - thank you! Rach is way too talented for her own good I think..

Biz Fashion said...

All the food looks super tasty!Great post!! :D