It’s fair to say that one of the nation’s favourite Lockdown activities was baking, judging from the scores of homemade banana loaves and sourdough posts flooding my Instagram feed. At one point, supermarkets were running so low on essential baking ingredients that flour felt like gold dust. And it wasn’t just my social media bombarding me with #bakinginspo- daytime television was awash with cooking and baking shows too, which I eagerly lapped up to fill my boredom. I watched these shows so regularly that by the Summer, James Martin and Juliet Sears felt like personal friends of mine, having spent more hours with them than I had with my own friends for months. As sad as that may sound, it was rather exciting to be observing and learning from these great chefs and it almost felt as though I had enrolled in a culinary Bootcamp! After having watched hours of baking tutorials, I decided to give baking a go rather than fawning over a yummy looking digital image, wishing it would magically materialise in front of me.
Now, I don’t usually bake, not because I’m uninterested in baking, but because I know that I would have to eat it all. I know that if I were to bake that gorgeous looking Babka from Bake Off, I would end up eating most of it because my housemates (aka my parents) aren’t dessert people. Because of this, I’ve only ever really baked for my grandmother, who exclusively likes plain cake. As a result, my baking skills are extremely limited, due to not having a real reason to bake and a fear of having to eat the whole batch singlehandedly. However, when Lockdown hit, my motivation to be healthy-ish flew out of the window. Suddenly I found myself going through a whole 12 pack of Iceland macarons whilst struggling through my end semester coursework (not my finest moment). I realised that I was already indulging my sweet tooth, so I might as well be adventurous and make my own desserts that were worth the calories.
So, I channelled my inner Nadiya Hossain (best Bake Off winner ever in my opinion) and got to work on making my own signature bake. Seeing as my baking skills were so limited, I decided to make simple chocolate chip cookies... except without the chocolate chips. I forgot all about buying chocolate chips before making a basic cookie dough mixture from margarine, plain flour and caster sugar. Instead of queuing outside Co-op, I rummaged through my kitchen searching for chocolate, only to stumble across an old Celebrations tin tucked away since Christmas, containing- to my utter delight- a handful of forgotten bite-sized Galaxy chocolates, which I chopped up into small pieces and mixed into my cookie mixture. I then rolled my cookies into podgy little spheres and lined them up all socially distanced on a greaseproof tray. I stuck the tray into the pre-heated oven and sunk into the settee to watch a cheeky bit of The Chase with a huge grin on my face, silently eager for my homemade cookie fix.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. That particular episode of The Chase proved to be rather boring, as I ended up falling asleep and my cookies ended up burning. Luckily, my mum realised I had somehow managed to not set a timer on my oven and took the cookies out herself, by which time they were already fairly burnt. I was devastated and felt like an utter failure to be honest, as my cookie recipe had been unbelievably easy to follow and yet I still managed to mess it up.
Fortunately, my cookies were not pitch black burnt, but browning at the edges burnt. The cookies were way too crispy to enjoy just like that, but not too overdone that they were inedible. Not wanting to chuck the cookies away, I decided I would use them to make something else. At that moment, a black-speckled banana caught my eye from the empty fruit bowl and the penny dropped: I would make banoffee pie! This was the perfect use for my overdone cookies and the rotting banana!
I started first with making the banoffee base. I stuffed the burnt-but-not-inedible cookies in a food processor and pulsed the biscuits to a breadcrumb consistency. Alternatively, I could have put the cookies in a plastic bag and crushed them with a rolling pin. I heated one tablespoon’s worth of margarine in a saucepan and then mixed the melted margarine with the biscuit crumbs.
Now, as I mentioned before, my parents won’t eat dessert unless it’s a special occasion. For this reason, I did not make one banoffee pie, but multiple mini banoffee pies, so I could eat one pot a day. I had some unopened packs of plastic cups stored above the Fridge, which I decided to use for my mini banoffee. I poured the biscuit crumbs into 6 plastic cups and pressed the crumbs down with the back of a spoon. I then whipped open a trusty can of Nestle Carnation Caramel for the next layer of my banoffee. I put a tablespoon of caramel in each plastic cup and spread it over the biscuit base with the back of the spoon. Next, I sliced the banana thinly and used the banana slices to cover the caramel layer in each cup. Finally, I whipped double cream until the liquidy cream became thick, which took about 5 minutes of continual whisking with a good old-fashioned plastic hand whisk. I topped each mini banoffee with a sprinkling of cocoa powder (well, Cadbury’s hot chocolate powder) because if I had learnt one thing from James Martin, it’s that presentation matters.
Time for the taste test. Unsurprisingly, my mini banoffee cups were delicious, what with half of the layers not actually being made by me. The semi-burnt biscuit base had a tasty, caramelised flavour to it, which worked well in the banoffee. I felt quite pleased with the result and even though the pots took very little time or energy to prepare (they took somewhere between 10-15 minutes to make), I felt a sense of accomplishment for having thought up a use for my burnt cookies rather than chucking them.
Since this first Lockdown bake of mine, I began to make my own treats more and more, from individual trifle cups and chocolate orange mousse to bigger bakes like Millie’s Cookies giant birthday cookie replica. What started out as a way to pass time in Lockdown has become a creative outlet providing me with an uplifting sense of accomplishment every time I make something that tastes as good as the shop-bought equivalent. As strange as this may sound, my dabbles in baking have increased my confidence and brought me so much joy during these tumultuous times. I would recommend anyone reading to give baking a go, even if it is making a four-ingredient mug cake. Dessert just makes everything feel better.
Edited by Anoushka Chakrapani, Food and Drinks Editor