Even with the help of my own Mary Berry (my mother) through FaceTime, I couldn’t get the pastry right for a traditional Irish apple pie. However, the fun my daughter had having a virtual bake off with Grandma made her day even when we couldn’t eat our disastrous efforts.
Home baking has seen a glorious revolution in the past decade.drove Mary Berry into one of the most beloved and iconic faces this side of the Atlantic and who would have ever thought that a handshake from Paul Hollywood would make grown adults cry with happiness?
It’s one of the few programs that my wife and me watch together. We have had several heated discussions with arguments ranging from “His technical challenge was a disaster, he deserved to go home” to “Bernard, you have no idea what you are talking about, you’ve never done a Croquembouche in your life that you only heard about three minutes ago ”.
Audience ratings for the program broke all kinds of records during the lockdown, and moving from the BBC to Channel 4 didn’t seem to diminish its rise. The result? Most stores, including those in Antarctica, now have baking sections and sell tons of flour.
When I was growing up, my mother baked bread, cakes, and pastries every day. The biggest thing the kids miss when they lockdown is their chocolate buns. So I just assumed that the back genetics would have been passed on to me. I guessed wrong.
Bernard O’Shea: Three hours later, still no closer to pastry perfection … or competence
We bought the ingredients first: butter, flour, sugar. I put them together on the kitchen counter and we were ready to face FaceTime, our personal backguru. Until I realized, “Oh, we don’t have any apples.”
The next day we were ready to go. Olivia took a deep breath and spoke to me firmly like a tiny sergeant major. “You have it all now, Dad, because you don’t want to call Grandma again and waste her time.” If someone is looking for a seven year old project manager, look no further.
The first thing my mom said to us through the screen was, “Are you sure you want to start with an apple pie? Scones are a lot easier ”. This should be wise advice, along with “Tart Pastry is actually very hard to make Bernard, it can be very tricky”.
After myself and Olivia tried for 15 minutes to make the butter and flour mixture look like breadcrumbs, my mother said, “Now just add the cold water, Bernard, and bring it together with a knife.”
I don’t know why I had to do it with a knife, but it took a bit of negotiation. When I showed it to her, she said, “Eh … put it in the fridge … it might be fine.” Olivia started laughing. “That means it won’t be, Dad.”
After I’ve cut apples and put the cake together, or as my kids call it “cake” (I blame Netflix for their Americanisms. I draw the line when they call the sidewalk a side path), I put my Frankenstein pastry shop in the oven. I was eagerly waiting for my new spiritual career to emerge after twenty-five minutes at 180 degrees.
After the twenty-five minutes had passed, it was still not cooked. Half an hour later it still looked raw. I thought something was wrong with the oven. An hour had passed and there was still no baking anywhere.
I rescued it from the oven three hours later. Olivia looked at it. “I don’t eat that”. Incredibly, it still looked raw. My wife rattled in.
“You should have washed an egg.”
“Oh thank you Paul Hollywood,” I snapped back.
Bernard O’Shea: “I just assumed that the back genetics would have been passed on to me.”
I cut a slice and chewed on it. It was the first time since the lockdown began that all three kids and my wife were looking at something instead of the usual horde of screens. I had to spit it in the trash can. When I finished, my wife was standing next to me with her hand outstretched.
“Well Bernard, it’s not Paul Hollywood, but it’s the only handshake you’ll get today.”
Instead of feeling down in my very own imaginary baking tent, I quickly realized two things. First, I had invented a safe alternative to asbestos, and second, I never would have thought my mom would have used FaceTime a year ago. It will never replace human contact, but I suppose it is something until we can meet again at some point.
We called Grandma that evening and told her about my new asbestos recipe. “You probably overworked the batter and added too much flour towards the end.”
Then Tadhg, who in his short five years on the planet had never shown any interest in cooking or baking, exclaimed, “Grandma, what are you going to do with me next week?”
“You know what Tadhg, let’s make some scones.”
We set the date and time for the following week. Hopefully next time I can do something that we can actually eat. As my wife put it so lovingly, “Well, Bernard, if she thinks a five-year-old can do it, you might have a chance.”