Story telling from Australia
This wasn’t the Oscars it was a simple cookery competition, but it was probably as close as I’ll ever get to a prize-winning moment of such magnitude, and if I had been asked to comment I’d have thanked both Michel Roux’s mother and the lady in the corner shop. You see, thanks to them, I scooped ‘Best in Show’ at last Saturday’s CWA chocolate cookery competition in Sydney.
I can’t bake, as anyone who saw my recent attempt at lemon biscuits can confirm. My last unsuccessful burst of enthusiasm for baking was prompted by a neighbour’s donation of home grown lemons. How kind, I thought. In return I shall magnanimously bake you a batch of home made lemon biscuits.
It was a task I approached with more enthusiasm than skill, which is why the finished biscuits resembled bonfire toffee. I have no idea why, since I did everything the recipe said. There was a glimmer of hope when I thought of dusting the biscuits with icing sugar. Perhaps that might disguise their awful wretchedness? It didn’t. The final lemon biscuits looked like lumps of coal caught in a snowdrift. My neighbour, needless to say, never got to see them.
Believe me, I can’t bake.
So when the Sydney city branch of the Country Woman’s Association announced they were holding a chocolate cookery competition I knew I wouldn’t be baking anything, but the thing was, I really, really wanted to participate.
Most cookery competitions organised by the CWA are governed by strict regulations, with hard and fast rules on what you can and can’t make, how big your cake can be, how flat its bottom has to be and where the icing should go.
But this, thank goodness, was more easy-going – a free for all between friends with a wide-open theme of chocolate, and since I’m a new member of the CWA and the women in the Sydney city branch are lovely, I was determined to submit something.
A quick search of the BBC food website revealed several recipes for chocolate mousse. This sentence in particular caught my eye:
“Chocolate mousse is very easy to make.”
It seemed there was no flour, no baking and no actual cooking involved; in fact, as far as I could tell, all I’d have to do was a bit of melting and mixing. How hard could that be?
I won’t go into detail about just how precise you have to be in order to produce the kind of salted caramel chocolate mousse that Michel Roux’s mother used to make, but if I’d paid any attention to the fact that the recipe I’d chosen came from a famous French chef’s mother, maybe I’d have thought twice about tackling it.
I went through 24 eggs, nine bars of chocolate and an entire jar of golden syrup before I finally produced something I could submit, even for an easy-going ‘we’re all friends so let’s just have a go’ kind of competition. The lady in the corner shop must have been thrilled when I went back a third time, desperate for more eggs, cream and chocolate. I reckon she stayed open later than usual that night, just in case.
The first batch of caramel was too runny because I didn’t use double cream, I used single, and the second batch of chocolate was too hot, so when I added the eggs it curdled; it was only at eight o’clock on Friday night that I finally managed to produce something vaguely resembling the beautiful photographs on the BBC website, by which time I felt like Goldilocks. I went to bed with chocolate stuck to my eyebrows.
The next day my three small shot glasses of mousse looked rather insignificant next to quivering cheesecakes, magnificent mud cakes and plates of perfectly formed biscuits, but since this wasn’t an authorized, officially sanctioned competition (mousse wouldn’t make it past the front door of an officially sanctioned CWA cookery competition) it all came down to taste.
I reckon if you melt good quality chocolate and mix it with enough butter, eggs, sugar, salt, cream and golden syrup you’ll get something that tastes unbelievable, no matter what you do with it, and the judges seemed to agree.
Which is why, last Saturday, I took out Best in Show at a CWA cookery competition.
I can declare with absolute confidence that I will never have occasion to use that sentence again. Members of the Sydney city branch who really are extremely skilled at baking cakes – like Silvana and so many others – can rest easy. I shan’t be in the running for any proper prizes.
I’ll leave you to enjoy these photographs while I steadily work my way through all the failed batches of salted caramel and chocolate mousse sitting in my fridge, browsing through my very welcome prize: a copy of Silvia Colloca’s beautiful book, Made in Italy.
One thing’s for sure – I have no intention of quitting sugar any time soon.