Ficklish Blog

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Domestic goddess

I have a cautionary tale to tell, of a woman who tried to fly too close to the sun. What do you get when you mix a cut-throat competitive streak with a good dash of obsessive-compulsiveness? Disaster.

One of my colleagues at work has organised a Mince Pie Competition to celebrate the festive season. Each member of the department has been allocated a date on which to bring in mince pies, which are then consumed and assessed by the rest of the staff according to taste, pastry, presentation and value for money.

Tomorrow is my day. I have spent more time than I care to admit thinking long and hard about my strategy. All participants so far have contributed store-bought pies, so baking them myself seemed a good way to grab an easy advantage in the moral highground department. Further, one of the women I work with is allergic to wheat – so I figured that if I could come up with a pie that she could eat (and therefore rate), I would automatically have access to more points than anyone else. Genius!

I neglected to consider a couple of key factors. Firstly, I don’t bake. Ever. I used to when I was a kid, but I can’t remember the last time I made a cake, let anything involving actual pastry. This should have been evident when I had to go shopping yesterday for every single implement I would need for this endeavour. I purchased many items of baking equipment that I have never owned before and am unlikely ever to use again. I did, you will be pleased to know, draw the line at a rolling pin – why on earth would I need one of those when we have so many perfectly serviceable empty wine bottles lying around?

Last night I chopped all the ingredients for the mince and left it overnight to soak up the brandy (mmm, brandy). The recipe I chose called for an apricot and hazelnut mince which sounded like a winner - friendly and familiar yet just fancy enough to be impressive. There was an incident involving orange zest at one point in which I grated a hefty chunk of thumb into the mixture – but thankfully it was retrieved in time and the mince was done. I made a practice batch of pastry, chilled it and made it into rough draft pies filled with ready-made mince from a jar. They turned out okay, so this morning I got started for real.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever worked with gluten-free flour before, but it is god-awful stuff. Dry and crumbly and with a very strange flavour. I have spent HOURS today trying to make the freaking things. Batch after batch of pastry, carefully rolled and cut and pressed the fiddly little fuckers gently into wee mini-muffin trays. It took forever. My feet and back are still aching from hunching over the bench all day. The pie shells done, I spooned in the stuffing, and topped each one with strips of pastry in the form of a cross (the bases took so long I couldn’t bear to make lids as well). They smelled good when they came out of the oven, and I eagerly tipped them out onto cooling racks and waited for the taste test.

And remembered why I don’t bake in the first place.

They’re AWFUL. The pastry is dry and crunchy, the mince tastes like cinnamony apricot gloop. All that effort, for nowt. Of course, I spent all last week loudly boasting about how my contribution was going to be home made, so now I have no choice but to take them in and make my workmates actually consume them. I’m horrified at the thought. Ambition goeth before a fall, it seems. Next year I’m definitely going straight to Waitrose.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story jLo. We had a laugh. Prabs described it as a brave effort.
How did the pies go down at work? And did the gluten-free lady try any?

Have a Merry Christmas!!


4:08 AM  
Blogger jLo said...

They were a great success, Adski - I scored very highly but was ultimately defeated by the guy who made mince pie SHOTS which were possibly the best thing I have ever tasted.

10:27 PM  

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