That’s right. Two years in London. Can you believe that? September 27th, 2010: It feels almost like a second birthday.
Two years have passed since I took that first plane, wishing for the best, hoping for not too much trouble along the way, and expecting…well, nothing, really, as my mind was too focused on not freaking out during the flight and commuting safely to a house I had only seen in pictures before the move. As far as I knew, it could have been the good, old Gumtree fake. Of course, my mother was sure it would be the good, old Gumtree fake, even if she had absolutely no idea what Gumtree was. As they say, that’s what mothers are for. So here’s the first London lesson I learnt – or, actually, something I had been knowing all along: expecting nothing is always safer than expecting too much. Can you imagine my joy when I first entered my new room, and found it was massive?
Things have changed a lot, over these two years – and, I’m sorry to say, they haven’t quite turned the way I was hoping for.
Yes, I have a job in London, and I don’t see myself boarding a one-way flight back to the homeland in the very near future. No, despite all my efforts I don’t work in publishing, and might never do, unless I get back to square one, temporary unemployment, perhaps another degree. Not that I wouldn’t, if I was in a safe enough position to take such a risk. But the flight back to the homeland still feels too real, and I haven’t forgotten the time, one year ago, when I was seriously considering booking it and giving up.
Yes, I am staying in a decent place, and I have the immense luck of living there with someone I love, respect and value (all in one person. that’s right!). No, we don’t earn enough money to afford renting a place on our own. A place to call home without necessarily having to share it with other four semi-unknown people, that is. The Housesharing Era continues, although we’re both far past the age when a pile of someone else’s dirty dishes in the sink still looks acceptable beyond the first half hour.
Yes, I still love, want and try to write. More than ever, actually, with every single cell of my body. No, I can’t get anything done properly: I have so little spare time that some days it’s a miracle I still remember to breathe. I need more time to practice creativity just as I need food, or water, or air; it doesn’t feel very good, when all I get is calls for dullness and proof that, most of the time, those who ask you to be creative only want you to to relieve them of the hassle of dealing with futile problems.
Yes, I’m better off than one year ago. No, I’m not fulfilled: au contraire. But I’m happy, happy, so incredibly happy to still be here. London, and the loved ones I can share it with, are still the best thing that ever happened to me; whether I deserve it or not, is quite another story. I’d probably be able to remember much more things I have screwed up than I nailed, if you asked. But there is, without a doubt, something I got right: boarding that plane, two years ago, with all fears of flying set aside for the trip of my lifetime.
Needless to say, this calls for a well deserved celebratory cake. After this latest cooking exploit, I feel I can righteously say that those who have to go out on Saturday nights at any cost have no idea how much more fulfilling it is to cosy up and bake while listening to 1990s punk-rock. It almost felt like being fourteen again, were it not for the fact that at fourteen I didn’t even know how to bake. Or know that I would have gradually turned into such an irretrievable foodie, for that matter. And, well, I was still living at home with Mom: London was still my newfound, unattainable dream back then.
Custard and Pine Nuts Tart
(makes 8 – 10 slices)
For the crust and decoration
- 300g all-purpose flour;
- 100g butter, softened;
- 1 egg;
- 80 g sugar;
- 1 tablespoon icing sugar;
- 1 teaspoon baking powder;
- 1 teaspoon vanilla flavouring;
- 1 pinch of salt;
- Pine nuts – as many as you like!
For the custard
- 2 egg yolks;
- 2 tablespoons sugar;
- 3 tablespoons flour;
- 500ml skimmed milk;
- The zest of 1 lemon.
Prepare the crust
- Mix the flour, baking power, salt and butter, kneading well until you obtain a soft, breadcrumb-like paste, and no more lumps of butter are left. A food processor comes in very handy here, but if you don’t have one you can very well use your hands.
- Add the sugar and icing sugar, and continue kneading.
- Add the egg and vanilla flavouring, and knead again, until the mix is well smooth and you can compact it in a big ball.
- Wrap the ball in cling film; put it in the fridge and leave it aside for about half an hour.
In the meantime…prepare the custard
- Pour the milk into a small saucepan; add the lemon zest (either grated, or cut into big chunks), put the saucepan on the hob, and bring the milk to a boil.
- Whisk the yolks and sugar together, until you obtain a frothy paste. It takes less than two minutes with a good hand mixer, slightly more with the old-fashioned whisk I’m afraid…
- Add the flour to the egg-and-sugar mixture and blend it with a metal spoon, until no more lumps are left.
- Add the paste to the hot milk (you’ll need to remove the lemon chunks before doing it; if you grated the zest, on the other hand, just ignore this). Leave the saucepan on the hob (I recommend low heat) and continue heating it up, while stirring with your metal spoon. Go on until you obtain a thick, smooth cream; then turn off the hob and leave aside to cool down.
Almost done: put the tart together!
- Line a round baking tin with flour, so that the cake doesn’t stick to the bottom. That’s right, no butter! Isn’t it amazing? For one like me, who can’t stand the greasy feel of butter on my fingers, finding out that flour is more than enough to have the cake come off the tin without a hitch was a much welcomed epiphany.
- Take the cake base out of the fridge; unwrap it from the cling film, and roll out about 3/4 of it in the cake tin, leaving the rest aside for decoration. You should make sure that the bottom is well covered, and that there’s enough pastry to create a 3 – 4cm border all around.
- Pour the custard on the base, and level it out with a palette knife, or the aforementioned metal spoon
- Have a look at the pastry border. If you have done everything well so far, it should reach a little higher than the custard, and you’ll only need to press it down with your fingers until it’s roughly at the same level.This will make sure that, when the cake is ready, the crust will have the same chunky look as in the picture, and not be too thin.
- Cut the remaining pastry into any shape that you like, and put it on top of the cream.
- Finally, sprinkle the pine nuts all around, covering as much of the custard as you can.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°, and bake for about 45 – 50 minutes.
- Once the cake is ready, take it out and leave it aside to cool down.
Since this is a celebratory cake, and I certainly don’t wish you to be celebrating alone, get out as many plates and forks as you can, and share it with your loved ones. Then spare a few minutes to leave a comment on here, and let me know if you liked it. Deal?