Someone told me, never cook for love. Food isn’t love. It’s fuel. Don’t give your energy away in your cooking. Keep your energy. Keep your love, for yourself.
I entirely disagree.
Food for me is so many things. It’s creative. It’s historical. It tells a story. Tells of place. Sparks memories. It creates community and connection. When someone is grieving, you give them a meal. To celebrate, you share a meal. It’s the easiest way of outstretching a hand of kindness. It’s a way of bringing joy. I would argue that food very much is love.
I freely confess that I will cook at any given opportunity. A picnic. A party. A weekend away. And when the occasions are more meaningful. More poignant. I’ll go out of my way to create something extra tasty. Buy new equipment. Seek out weird ingredients. Try any number of recipes to find the perfect one.
This weekend just gone, I cooked at a friend’s fortieth. She is one of the best humans I know. A true gem. Generous. Wise. Thoughtful. Inclusive. The list could go on. She also wins the prize for the biggest planner I know. Her calendar mapped out with fun and adventure months in advance. So this celebration had been on the cards for a while. Which means I’d been thinking about what I might cook for just as long.
I hadn’t voiced those thoughts though. Too scared people would roll their eyes. Clare cooking again. But if I didn’t volunteer, didn’t put my hand up and share my ideas, I feel I would be doing a disservice to myself. Trying to hide the truest part of me, simply for fear of what others might think. The kitchen really is my happy place. Trying new recipes is my passion. And I don’t mind washing up, but I really would rather be over the stove.
Still, this weekend got the better of me. I felt drained. Cracked wide open. Raw. Did I screw it up? Did people go hungry? Well, no. I kind of pulled off what I set out to. Created the vision in my head. Even the cake. Which I took up in separate parts. Four tiers of chocolate sponge. And a bowl of Italian meringue buttercream. Except it was so cold I had a bit of trouble bringing the buttercream, maple flavour, a nod to the Canadian lady of the hour, back to life before I could use it. I’m usually always able to keep my cool and find a solution to problems. But my emotions. They run wild. The negative self talk. Not doubt. Just the reverberating hurtful comments along the lines of not being good enough.
So I can understand why someone would tell me to keep my energy. Keep my love, for myself. That food is not love. But you know what, I would rather give it away. I would rather be vulnerable. Be brave. Share my heart. And my food.
Italian meringue buttercream
You will need a freestanding mixer with a whisk attachment and a digital cooking thermometer for this recipe
500ml maple syrup or honey OR 400g sugar dissolved in 1/2 cup water
500g room temperature butter cut into cubes
While the whites are whisking, heat your chosen sugar until it reaches in a pot over a moderate heat until it reaches a temperature of 110º
The white should form fluffy peaks in the time it takes the sugar to come to temperature.
With the mixer still running, take the saucepan, and with a confident steady hand, pour the hot liquid into the bowl of the mixer. Be careful not to pour the syrup on the beaters, or you will have spun sugar! Tip it almost down the side of the bowl. The whites should become glossy and smooth.
Now leave the cooked whites to whisk for about 10 minutes. This will allow them to cool to room temperature.
When the whites have cooled down, which you can tell by placing your hand on the side of the bowl to see if it still feels warm or not, add the butter cube by cube to the mix.
The mix will ‘deflate’. As long as it only looses volume and doesn’t split, which would happen if you added the butter while the mixture was still too warm, keep going. Trust in the process.
Once all the butter is added, you will have the silkiest, smoothest, creamiest buttercream, the kind that dreams are made of.
Two things can go wrong with the icing. I know. Both have happened to me and I’ve had to rework the icing the hard way. Through trial and error. So I would like to share how to fix things if they go amiss.
If the icing is too warm still when you add the butter, the butter will start to melt and the icing split. What I mean by this is that there will appear to be two sets of liquid in the bowl. One more viscous than the other. Do not panic. First up you can take an ice pack, or even a bag of frozen peas, from the freezer and hold it against the side of the bowl and continue to whisk. If the mixture was only a little bit hot, this trick should cool it enough that it comes back together. If this still doesn’t work though, take the whole bowl and place it in the freezer for a few minutes, then re-whisk. The cooled mixture will eventually come back together.
The opposite thing can also happen. The icing can split because it becomes too cold. When this happens you may be able to bring the mixture back to a silky texture by holding a hot cloth against the side of the bowl while you whisk. If this isn’t enough, you can place the entire bowl over a pan of steaming water, bain-marie style, and whisk. As parts of the mixture warm and melt, the whole lot will become a smooth dreamy consistency once again.
Enjoy this icing recipe, then you might like this easy upside down pineapple cake