“You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Boscombe Valley Mystery
I’d love to write a recipe book one day, called Trifles & Tribulations. I often say to people that being a good baker isn’t about getting things right every time but more to do with knowing what has gone wrong and being able to remedy problems. Creativity and inventiveness are key, not to mention unrelenting determination and stubbornness. This book would advise you on inventing meals with the ingredients in your cupboard, the randomness of discounted shop items, and how to come back from ‘failures’. Because life just isn’t always as neat, tidy and perfect as we sometimes expect – despite what you may believe from the blogs that you read.
So here’s my funny little baking disaster story. I noticed that a cooking magazine was running a competition – to bake the beautiful cake on the cover and submit a photo. I’m not bad at food photography, and baking for that matter, so I decided to have a go.
I had this image of myself… I could bake this cake really well compared to the submissions I had seen so far, I would scale it down by half so that it was affordable (after all… 22 eggs – were they serious???), and then submit it to another blog and kill two birds with one stone… getting Forages & Finds out there into the interweb and creating a beautiful cake. I’d be a success in no time.
Unfortunately, stuff went wrong. My proportions were askew, my baking times in the gas oven were off, and the cake didn’t support its own weight. It melted like a leaning tower of Pisa made from chocolate fudge that flew too close to the sun. I also melted a bit… my confidence in my creative abilities, in making a business out of the things I love… it all escalated out of proportion in sympathy with the chocolatey mess that ran across my cake board. I had been baking for hours. I used up money & energy I couldn’t really spare.
And I didn’t have just one baking meltdown that week… I had several. I burned my bread. I tried to make cheesecake icing for cupcakes for a social media event – the epitome of wanting something to look good for the internet – and it collapsed into a useless runny consistency. So I shoved it into the fridge, along with the unceremoniously dumped-into-a-bowl chocolate cake, and left it for a couple of days, to deal with later.
And when ‘later’ arrived, and I realised that I hadn’t thrown these things away because deep down I knew I was capable of transforming these sad bakes, the answers seemed obvious. The solution came in the form of a simple and humble, old-fashioned, unglamorous pudding – the trifle. The saviour of many a ‘failed’ cake. I poured over some jelly, whipped up some white chocolate mousse, and threw in some macaron biscuits. And suddenly I had a great dessert after all, perfect for a party with friends that weekend. And my cheesecake icing could easily become… well… cheesecake, with the addition of a ginger-nut biscuit base, a few tbsp of flour, some tinned pumpkin, and a few eggs beaten in, before being baked in the oven. Don’t forget spices too. Soon enough, my kitchen smelt of autumn.
And in a world where everything we do is constantly assessed, evaluated, deemed either ‘good enough’ or ‘a waste of time’, where every hobby has an equivalent competitive program on television, and blogs make it appear that people have perfected their lives with their lovely outfits, their perfect bakes, their categories for each of their interests, it’s not surprising that we can be so hard on ourselves. I am as guilty as anyone for wanting to compartmentalise my life, to realise my ‘true’ and perfect skill which outclasses all competition, in short… aspiring for perfection.
But, as silly as it may seem, something as simple as a trifle spoke an important truth to me. That sometimes it’s OK to be messy. Trifles are delicious, a mix of wonderful, sweet things – and they can be adapted to accommodate whatever you like. Favourite things (white chocolate mousse!) & failures (leaning Pisa chocolate cake) sit side-by-side. And their contents aren’t even failures any more with a bit of fresh perspective – they could be seen as practises, or a therapeutic use of time, or a little adventure in trying something new.
It’s OK to be messy. A disorganised jumble, a mix of things you perceive that you have failed at, alongside your favourite qualities, as well as things you aspire to.
I know i know… it’s only cake. But to me, baking can be about baking, and it can also be about much more.
Other inspiring blog posts on failures & messes…