For years I spent a lot of the little baking time I had making stuff that had no real connection to where I came from. It was a mirror of what I was doing in the rest of my life. I wanted to be someone different and that someone different, in baking terms, was an éclair-making, crème anglaise, madeleines from scratch sort of a girl. Not that my natural inclination wouldn’t be to make everything from scratch. It was just that my fantasy of my baking self was that everything had to be fancy, and fancy in my Baking-Goddess-Wanna-Be brain meant French. For a while I blamed Julia Child for this, with flashes of resentment towards Elizabeth David, who I discovered later and misread. Which proves yet again that geniuses are often misinterpreted by their most avid fans.
I baked like this, like a stranger in my kitchen, for thirty years. It was delicious – let’s face it, the French know a thing or two about baking. But I wasn’t inventing or expressing anything and I needed to. I over celebrated the traditional and the complicated and under-valued great ingredients put together in ways that delight and surprise people.
I had a big rupture in my life. In a period of six months, my twenty-five-year- plus career as a film executive suddenly revealed itself as a career I had grown to hate. Around the same time my heavy drinking caught up with me, big style. For a long time I didn’t look like a mess but I was one; now, suddenly I started looking like one. People noticed and the game was up. I’ll talk more about this in future posts. But for now, believe me: the huge gap left by the absence of chilled St Veran in the fridge and the Big Job had to be filled by something connected to my soul or I would not have survived. The something turned out to be cake
I come from a baking family and their provenance is Tennessee and Alabama. I was born in Decatur Alabama in 1963. The Bundt cake had become a household name fairly recently and deep dish pies were in every bakery, diner display and most kitchens. Alabama is pecan and peach territory and these two ingredients still make me giddy. Buttermilk was queen and sweet breads (loaf cakes) were acceptable for breakfast.
When I was small my mother re-married and we left the American South and moved to Upstate New York. I finished my degree in Paris and lived there for several years. Then I came to London, where I have lived since 1986.
When I decided to set up my home kitchen at the age of 48 I had a colossal need to make it work and to express myself through my recipes. I developed a menu that started with classics from the South but soon turned out to be a range of products that are as much about the other places I have lived as they are about the Southern roots I will always refer back to. I opened for business, first in Brick Lane market in the East End of London, which is a busy, happening market of the sort that is always described as ‘vibrant’. Things took off and very quickly I was delivering my cakes wholesale to cafes and to shops including the Waterstones chain.
When I was in Brick Lane, I was bombarded with requests for Gluten free, Vegan and Wholefood. Mystified at first, I soon caught on and so a journey into Free From baking came from the Outside not the Inside. It has been an entirely unexpected gift. I am not sure how else I would have dissected and rethought my methods if I hadn’t had to look at alternative flours, milks, oils, nuts and seeds. The result has been an education and a new freedom in the kitchen. The world got Bigger. If you had told me ten years ago that I would be striving to replace refined sugar in a smart way or trying to eliminate dairy where possible without sacrificing flavour, I would have laughed. Now, it’s what occupies my restless mind.
Taking a classic American Pie and giving it a make-over is something I have had a lot of fun with recently. My favourite is this Wholefood Cherry Pie: an American Diner staple (can’t help but think of Twin Peaks) reworked to be healthier and a little unexpected. I love raw sugar for its texture and intense flavour. The crust is spelt and almond, so doubly nutty and a wonderful colour.
Wholefood Cherry Pie
For the Pastry
- 275g wholemeal spelt flour plus more for dusting
- 130g ground almonds
- 50g raw sugar, I use panela or rapadura
- 225g unsalted butter, straight from fridge
- ¼ tsp fine sea salt
- 2 egg yolks
For the Filling
- 150 grams raw sugar
- 4 tbls cornflour
- ½ tsp natural almond extract
- 700g Morello or black cherries (fresh or freshly frozen is fine)
- ¼ tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tbls fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbls almond butter (use unsalted butter if you can’t get almond)
- 1 tbls raw sugar for sprinkling
Make the pastry by placing the flour, ground almonds and sugar in a bowl. Add the butter in chunks and combine by hand until you have a mixture that resembles course breadcrumbs. Add egg yolks and combine until the dough comes together. Separate the pastry into two, one portion of approximately 2/3rds of the dough and the other with the remainder, flatten into disks and wrap each in greaseproof paper. Chill for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees c.
If using frozen cherries, part defrost now in the microwave. You want them to lose their frostiness but not their shape.
Roll out 2/3rds of the dough (the bigger disk) on a clean, well floured (use spelt) surface and line a 10” (25cm) round pie dish, leaving the edges over-hanging and rough. This pastry will be soft so don’t worry if you need to patch it a little. Roll out the remaining dough and cut into 10 strips, put to one side.
In a medium bowl, gently combine the cherries with the cornflour, extract, salt, sugar and lemon juice. Arrange in an even layer in the pie shell. Place 5 strips of pastry across the pie in one direction, then place the remaining 5 strips across at a 90 or a 45 degree angle – you are making a simple, unlaced lattice. Press the edges of the pie pastry creating an even design around the edge, either points or waves, making sure that in doing this, you are securing the strips. Using a pastry brush, paint the lattice strips with almond butter. You can soften the butter by heating it a little. Sprinkle with the raw sugar
Cover the edges of the pie with foil or use a pie edge shield if you have one. A homemade version with foil is fine: just carefully fit foil (folded over a couple of times preferably) around the edges leaving the rest of the pie uncovered. Bake the pie on a baking sheet until the filling is bubbling, 40 to 45 minutes, gently removing the edge protector for the last 10 minutes.
Allow to cool and serve with crème fraiche or Greek yoghurt or ice cream, American style. Will keep well for 3 or 4 days if stored in an airtight container once cooled.
Copyright 2015 Elizabeth Draper All rights reserved