Kitchen improvisation

“Agh!  It’s a disaster!!”

This was how mum used to introduce most of her baking as she brought the finished article to the table.  At the same time as producing a gorgeous, perfect, French-style lemon tart, or an apricot tart, or a lemon meringue pie.  Always fabulous, rarely anything approaching a disaster.  She was a very good cook, but sadly (in her later years at least) a nervous and unconfident one.

Whereas I simply aspire to making things as good as she made ( one ‘just like mum made’ is the general mark of the standard to aim for), but I’m confident (sometimes too confident…) and I play around with recipes.

As in today, when I wanted to bake two cakes. One for the Danish visitors who are coming for tea, to complement the perfect scones Malcolm has made, and one to take over to our friends whose lovely daughter died earlier this week.

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Taking a cake there feels important to me – an echo of my own childhood years when a death always meant baking and taking food round to the bereaved family for the shiva* they would hold, so they didn’t have to worry or fuss about feeding all the people who would be dropping by.

What I fancied cooking was the chocolate marmalade cake my sister had once made from a Nigella Lawson cookbook.  It was delicious, and I had a jar of marmalade in the fridge that I wanted to use up.  I looked up the recipe, didn’t have some of the ingredients in the house and no time or wish to go out buying.

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So, improvise.  Have a look at another tried-and-tested recipe book.  Decide not to follow either recipe.

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Substitute cocoa powder for melting chocolate pieces.  Can’t be bothered to faff about melting butter.  Instead, use my normal ‘chuck it all in the mixer together’ method (yes, that really is what it’s called).

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Not sure how much marmalade 300g is, and I’m doing two cakes not one.  Just put in whatever I happen to have, plus a bit more to taste from another jar that’s also in the fridge.  No idea how long it will take to cook – put the timer on for 40 mins and I’ll test them and see how they’re doing.  After 40 minutes, test and find they need more baking.  The tops are rather too dark, so put some foil over the top to protect them a bit.

15 minutes later, out come the cakes.  A little dark, but definitely cooked this time.

The question is, will it be a disaster or a triumph?  or something between the two?

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Cool down, then time to cut and taste over 30th birthday tea for our visiting friends.  Pretty good, is my verdict.  Lovely moist texture, cooked just fine, a bit too well done on the top and any orange peel in the crust is a little too chewy.  Great chocolatey orangey taste.  Next time could do with a bit more sugar.  Very acceptable though.

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Happy birthday R!

The other cake delivered with a card and love to our bereaved friends.


* shiva – part of the Jewish mourning ritual.  Shiva means seven – the seven days when friends and family drop by to offer their support, love, and prayers in the bereaved family’s home.

About deborah @ the magic jug

Now I've passed 60 I'm still doing all sorts of things I haven't done before, as well as carrying on with the things I already love. I live a happy life with my long term love Malcolm. In my blog I explore local and low tech ideas, food, growing, making, reading, thinking, walking, and lots of other words ending in 'ing'.
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5 Responses to Kitchen improvisation

  1. I need to make a cake for tonight. Was wondering what to make. You’ve given me the answer 🙂


  2. You were lucky with your mum’s cooking. We coined the phrase ‘an unrepeatable’ in the hope that whatever offering had just appeared from the kitchen would never appear again! She was a keen cook but not an always well planned one. Nothing has changed now, the grandchildren have learnt to shout ‘dinner’s ready’ when the smoke alarm goes off! 😉


    • Hi Claire, but it’s good that you can all laugh about it! (I hope your mum can too??). I have had plenty of disasters as well as the successes, some of them all too memorable. The green bath-mat-like herb omelette when I had the brainwave of cooking an omelette in the over was a fairly stand-out one – definitely not to be repeated! (then there was the gravy that was like rubber and actually bounced – not once but twice – when spilled / dropped….

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sam says:

    Your cake sounds delicious. I’m not averse to a little improvisation myself and sometimes it results in a triumph (I won’t mention the other times). I’m sure your friends loved them. I’d not heard of shiva – it’s good to have traditions in times of distress. Sam x


    • Yes, I haven’t blogged (yet) about the culinary disasters but I’ve certainly had my share of them. Try, fail. Try again, fail better. Works for me!
      I describe myself as a Jewish Atheist, and as you say, it’s the traditions and repetition of rituals through the year that I find so helpful and instructive.


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