It should have been so easy. It was a no-bake cake. I had borrowed a cookbook from the children’s library. Five-year-old Spider Boy and I had chosen a strawberry cheesecake recipe to try. From a children’s cookbook.
We followed the instructions to the letter. The recipe called for “I package (85g) strawberry gelatin” (spelt gelatin without the ‘e’ – it was an English cook book). I went to the supermarket and asked for gelatin. “You cook with it” I helpfully informed the man. But they didn’t have strawberry gelatin, so I just bought a pack of “gelatine” (spelt with the ‘e’) – “clear and unflavoured” it said on the pack. The fresh strawberries in the mix will be enough to flavour it, I reasoned.
Things began smoothly. Spider Boy and I smashed plain Nice biscuits in a zip-lock bag and rolled them with a rolling pin. We melted butter and poured it over the biscuits, then smooshed it together.
My packet of gelatine had five sachets each containing 10g gelatin. I had bought two boxes so poured eight sachets into my simmering strawberries, sugar and water mixture.
The fact that the spoon I used to mix this strawberry mixture stuck to the plate after the glop had cooled down, should have served as a warning of the no-bake disaster that was to follow.
As I poured the rapidly-becoming-rubbery mixture into the whisked cream cheese, and started folding rubbery-strawberry-sauce-with-gelatinous-lumps into the cream cheese, I knew things had gone horribly, horribly wrong. It was at this point I stopped photographing the steps of this recipe. It was like how I imagine half-set lumpy concrete to be. I tasted a bit on the tip of my finger. It felt like rubber, it tasted salty. The texture was a bizarre rubbery, lumpy mess, concrete-coloured peppered with flesh-coloured gelatinous strawberry blobs. It looked like offal, and tasted how garbage on garbage day would taste, but with salt. I had a sinking feeling it had something to do with all those sachets of gelatin – clear, flavourless, undissolved gelatin.
But, optimist that I am, I thought maybe the texture and taste of the mixture would somehow improve after it was spooned carefully into heart-shaped little tins that were already lined with buttery biscuit base. But no, it looked no better. Oh well, I thought, let’s see what happens after they’re “set” in the fridge for a couple of hours, as the recipe dictates.
An hour-and-a-half later, Spider Boy called out to me, “Mum, look at the cakes.” I went to the open fridge where Spider Boy was crouched by the bottom shelf, peering and poking at the cakes.
It was a cheesecake disaster.
“It’s a total disaster!” declared Spider Boy.
A vastly different story to the food on Lorraine Elliot’s Not Quite Nigella blog. I’ve marvelled at her recipes, I’ve been impressed by the photographs of the outcomes of said recipes. For example, one spectacular recipe post about Cronuts (a donut-croissant hybrid), stated the degree of difficulty was hard, with six to eight hours of work – I do admire the culinary commitment displayed on Not Quite Nigella, but I could never cook something that took six or eight hours. The results of Elliot’s cooking are impressive, if the photos are anything to go by, and I’m sure she is a lot more like Nigella than “Not quite”. It is the people like me, those who love food, and try to emulate those delectable cookbook photographs with our cooking, but somehow miss the mark, who are not only “Not quite Nigella”, we are “Nothing like Nigella”. In fact, some of us are “Nowhere near Nigella”, as far away from Nigella as it is possible to be. The only culinary thing I have in common with Nigella, is that I love food.
I had so been looking forward to cool creamy strawberry smoothness over a buttery biscuit crumb base. How bitterly, bitterly disappointed I was.
I showed my mum the recipe and she pointed out that when the recipe called for “gelatin”, maybe that actually meant jelly crystals
So now, a week later, armed with a fresh packet of strawberry Aeroplane jelly, I will try again. I will keep you posted.