This charming page-turner is a true delight. The third in the Little Beach Street Bakery series, this book follows feisty baker Polly, her fiancé Huckle and their pet puffin Neil through a sweet and amusing account of the run up to Christmas, dealing with the pressures of work, the problems of their friends and the return of an important figure from Polly’s past. Funny, warm and engaging, Christmas At The Little Beach Street Bakery is a pleasure to read.
Colgan’s strength is her characters and setting – the characters really pop, and she manages to make them all likeable but still compelling. The setting of a remote island in Cornwall is almost a character in and of itself, and is so vividly painted it makes this an easy book to escape into.
Sadly the story in this installment felt slightly forced. I didn’t feel this in the previous two titles, but it seemed that there were a couple too many stretched coincidences and far-fetched incidents for me. The final resolution of the central problem of the book, as well, was not cleaned up fully and didn’t deliver the catharsis it promised.
Overall this is a fine example of its genre. While not quite as neat as some of Colgan’s other work, nonetheless it provides an absorbing, amusing and reassuring read. Unlike many similar books, Colgan neatly avoids the schmaltz without sacrificing sweetness.
Rating: 4/5 pints of cider
Serving Suggestion: Read on the morning commute, starting on the 1st of December.
I was talking to a colleague the other day and he said he hated the idea of hope. It was always harking to the future, he said. It drew attention away from what was happening in the present, and set you up for perpetual disappointment. “I hope it doesn’t rain today” – so what if it rains? Stay inside and eat malteasers on the sofa. Make the most of what you have, don’t wish your life away.
He is a much more accepting person than me. I don’t like the idea of hope either, because it is so passive. Obviously, not even I think I can control the weather, but I can control a lot – or try to. I can create the conditions of success. Some things are down to dumb chance and those are the ones to use your hope on. But anything that requires some input from you – don’t waste the brain space.
“I hope to get my novel published” is not as good as “this week, I queried three literary agents.” “I hope to have a happy marriage” means nothing. Of course you do. “Tonight, I will learn to make my husband’s favourite pudding” is a smaller statement – but much more real.
I will not attempt to steal it and pass the recipe off as my own because I didn’t change anything and I rcommend you don’t either. It is crisp and rich and sharp and buttery and creamy and gorgeous. The pastry was baked just enough, the filling just set. It did not have a soggy bottom. I was extremely proud of it.
The only problem is that it is an absolute bitch of a job to roll out the pastry. Mary suggests some sort of awful faff that involves drawing a circle on some grease proof paper, and then rolling the pastry directly onto the bottom of the tin until it meets that circle, and then you pick it up and it BLOODY SPLITS ANYWAY despite your grease proof paper care and then some of the filling leaks out… But whatever. Pastry is just difficult, isn’t it? Pastry is one of those things you have to have hands on experience of, not just have read a load of cookery blogs so you reckon you can wing it. But that’s okay. I will practice, and do perfect pastry one day.
I will make Paul many lemon tarts over the years, I hope.
When I was nine years old, and going through what my atheist parents fondly called my “God bothering phase”, I decided to give up meat for lent. No more meat for me, I thought piously. I will be kind to all the little animals and stop eating them. God will like that.
Three hours later I ate pork chops for dinner because I’d forgotten all about it.
Five years ago, I was flicking through online dating profiles with my friend H, and I stopped at one. “Look, this one’s perfect!” I said to her. “He likes bluegrass and he’s vegetarian!” H looked at me. “Yes… You’re not, though.” I blinked back at her. I’d sort of… Forgotten that, somehow. A lot of my friends didn’t eat meat. I understood their reasons, and agreed with them all. But yet, I still ate it. I never got round to stopping.
Last year a friend shared a video of some cows on facebook. They were cantering about, playing with each other and doing clever animal things like unlocking gates. They were acting like massive dogs – and not just any dog, but, like, a collie. Obviously intelligent, and displaying character. “Look at this!” She said. “How dare people pretend that cows are just useless dumb animals? Look how lovely they are!”
I clicked “like” serenely and left a comment. “Absolutely!” I said. “I do eat meat but it’s so upsetting when people hide the fact it’s real animal. Those cows are lovely!” And I’m sure that all my steaks were comforted by the fact that I recognised that in life, as in death, they were lovely.
Really, I’ve just never wanted to examine my thoughts around it too deeply. It’s always seemed like a nice idea, something I absolutely support in the abstract. Something that I take as a sign of moral fortitude, in fact, and an indicator of compassion and thoughtfulness. But just… Not something I did. I had this idea that, as long as I acknowledged that I maybe shouldn’t be eating meat, that somehow made it okay. Because at least I wasn’t an apologist. At least I knew.
And then, I got Mary Lou.
The problems with keeping a pet rabbit in Britain today are two fold. Firstly, people will want to do “banter” with you. “Hahaha lovely!” They will say. “Bet she’d be nice in a PIE! Lololol.” The second is that, due to the prevalence of back to the 50’s hipster Gastropub joints, if you go out in Oxford there really is a better than evens chance you will be offered rabbit pie.
She’s a food animal, and she’s a food animal in my culture, right now. And also, she’s a family member. She’s sitting under my dining table as I write this. She head butts my food when she wants her ears stroked and if I’m ever visibly upset when she’s in the room, she hops over and sits next to me, all quiet and still.
Last week I went to a petting zoo. I met a calf just like in the video. It flopped on the floor like a dog and let me pat it, and when I rubbed it behind the ears, it WAGGED ITS TAIL.
So, I give up. I am not eating my fellow mammals or bird brethren any more, and I am unapologetic about my reasons. I only vaguely understand the environmental argument! I am still going to eat fish even though I understand they feel pain as well! I am merely avoiding cute food and I do not care what anyone thinks about it. Except these little goats, and I reckon they approve.
It’s bake off week 3 and its bread week. And. I mean. Bread? Really, what is bread but rubbish cake?
Consider this less a recipe post and more a hugely heartfelt book recommendation – if you are interested at all in learning to make your own bread, buy this book –
Written by Bake-Off alum James Morton, Brilliant Bread is an accessible, readable treasure of a cookery book. He explains how to do magical things with flour and yeast, clearly and simply, and he works on the assumption that you’re a person with a normal life and things to be getting on with, and adjusts his recipes accordingly. Real care has been taken to build from simple up to complex, so you don’t get intimidated and give up, and the voice is warm and a pleasure to read.
And the recipes are good. Too. Look at this bread!
This lovely honey and walnut loaf was rich, complex and robust. It took a lot of proving and the dough was sticky and unpleasantly nubbly with the walnuts, but a) this need not concern you if you have a stand mixer and b) it was, on balance, worth it. It was so good we sacked off the “butternut squash and quinoa bowl” we had planned for dinner and eat this slathered in goats cheese instead.
This week, no recipe, partly because I didn’t change it AT ALL and I don’t really understand why it worked, so I have nothing to add. Also, don’t start with this one – it’s an intermediate kind of Brad. Start with the lovely crusty breakfast rolls – They only take a couple of hours and come out perfectly even for total beginners. Look at this, my first ever attempt at us try rolls, made excitedly on Boxing Day three years ago –
If you’re even a bit curious about baking bread, I really can’t recommend this book enough. It’s taken me from suspiciously slapping about uprisen lumps of yeast to consistently turning out better-than-bakery loaves. Thanks James! Please give up medicine and come and live with me and my husband and be our live in baker/bff. Thanks, bye.
Summer 2007. I am 21. I am waiting to start an MA in Creative Writing, which I still can’t believe I got on to.
In the meantime, I have gone to the Edinburgh festival to work as a venue tech. Mum said I should get out of the house – I was just moping about in Beverley. She was right. I love it here – the buzz and the sense that anything can happen, and I can help.
My boyfriend just got his first job, and we’re doing long distance – between Coventry, where I live in term time, and his place near Oxford.
I’m just about to move in with very good friends. I have lots of great people in my life, though I don’t see them all as often as I’d like. I love them.
Everything is spread out in front of me. I’m terrified I’m going to fuck it up.
Summer 2016. I am 30. I have just finished my first novel and I think I might be able to actually sell it. I work part time and write with the rest.
For the first year since I turned 19, I have not been to the Edinburgh festival this year – I was saving up my money and leave for my honeymoon. But I’ve already written next year’s show. I love being on stage, even though it scares me.
I’ve been married 6 months. We still live in Oxford. It turns out, I love it here.
All those friends from the house share came to my hen do. I have lots of great people in my life, though I don’t see them all as often as I’d like. I love them.
I have carved out a good life for myself; a place in the world. I’m terrified I’m going to fuck it up.
The weight thing is a very small part of the story. But for the record –
I honestly don’t know how much I weigh in the first picture, because I never got on scales back then. Maybe 17 stone? I did Atkins earlier in the year, and the feeling of glee I got from the weight falling off me was so strong it frightened me. I gave it up after I finished my finals and felt a bit more in control. I eat the same foods, again and again, because they feel safe. Pasta and pesto on a good day, cheese toasties on a day I feel like I need a bit of extra help. I drink all the time and think nothing of it because I’m a student. This is probably my biggest ever.
In the second picture I weigh 12 stone 12 pounds, and I know this because I get on the scales every Monday night, and then talk about what I’ve eaten, how I feel. I am still a stone away from having a “healthy BMI”. I think about my weight and my food a lot, but I don’t worry about it any more. I look directly at it. I am happy. I was then, as well.
Summer is over, the world is grey, I am back from holiday and have to go to work tomorrow. BUT At least it is biscuit week on bake off! We will always have sugary treats. In fact, now all major news outlets have stopped quacking on about how to get a “perfect beach body” we may even be able to enjoy them undisturbed. For the ten minutes we have until the “Christmas party perfect booty makeover”. But I digress.
I am trying to make the best of a bad job and embrace the “joys of fall” with this bake. What I mean by this is, I put loads of cinnamon in them. Cinnamon is one of the few consolations of the ten months of the year it is impossible to dry your clothes outside, or cycle to work without risking hypothermia.
Like last week’s Lazy Pirate Cake, this recipe is easy. Chuck everything in a mixer and GO. The only difficult but is the cutting and rand ferrying of the biscuits. I got cross with this and have included a suggestion for what to do if you do too. Life is too short to take shit from bakery items.
You will need –
125g butter or nice margarine
100g soft light brown sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
200g plain flour
1tsp vanilla essence
1/4 tsp baking powder
A dash of salt
A good shake of any spices that you like! Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg…? I used all these, plus some allspice. We’re going for a pumpkin spice latte kind of vibe.
For the icing –
A big blob of butter (100g?)
A fair dash if icing sugar (100g again???)
A scant half teaspoon almond extract
Beat the sugar and eggs together, like you’re making a cake. This is not shortbread so you don’t have to worry about over working it, hurrah!
Chuck in your egg and beat again
Pop everything else in and mix until it’s a dough. Stick it in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Preheat your oven to 160-180, depending on its aggressiveness.
Roll out the dough to the thickness of a pound coin on a floured surface. Cut out shapes and transfer to a baking sheet with silicone baking paper on it, or whatever you use to make your biscuits not glue themselves to the sheet.
Bake for 10 mins and check. They might need another couple of ticks if they don’t look done enough – you want them just to be STARTING to go brown.
Alternatively, if you can’t be arsed with this soft melty dough messing you about like this, just roll the dough straight out onto the silicone sheet and bake as a block, cutting out your shapes when they are straight from the oven. It is more wasteful of ingredients, but obviously you can privately eat the off cut bits in the kitchen as a reward for tidying up.
You can also add icing to these. Wizz up all your icing ingredients until you get a smooth liquidy paste. Spoon onto biscuits and maybe sprinkle a little cinnamon atop them. This will give you maximum Autumn points.
Eat with a big cup of tea, while looking forward to wearing scarves again.