It's not an attractive habit, but once I've fed people, I tend to mull over the success or failure of the snacks provided. If I've used a new recipe, then so much the mullier. The weekend's get-together of university friends, which featured a bit'o'lunch, is ripe for consideration.
Helen, Liz, Natalie, Lindsay, Rachel, Kelly and I lived in the same Manchester halls of residence, Owens Park, and more than ten years on we still get together a few times a year. There's a wise head for every problem and it's a set of friendships which I value hugely, so I aim to provide an acceptable level of cake when they come to Hale and Hearty towers.
With Lindsay in LA and Kelly delayed, there were five round the table for Jill Dupleix's grilled tomato soup and bread from Barnby's in Hale, plus ham and some truly horrible pickled onion cheese that I got from Sainsbury's for a story. I didn't make them eat it.
For the three pregnant ladies, we followed it up with the babycakes pictured below, the only drawback being that the Jelly Belly beans which are an appropriately pale pink are the bubblegum ones. There were also some oaty flapjacks. The real challenge, though, was the production of a low-fat cake.
Helen's off the bad fats for a while on doctor's orders, and after rifling through my books I found an apricot and hazelnut cake in Annie Bell's Gorgeous Cakes (there are some similar ones here). It involves dried apricots, spices, ground hazelnuts, six eggs and no flour or fat, and the lift is supposed to come from folding the whisked egg whites into the base mixture just before it hits the heat.
In the book, it looks elegant. In reality, it looks like a cowpat – a low-fat cowpat, mind. But if you close your eyes and think of pretty things, it tastes delicious: damp, slightly spiced with cardamom and cinnamon, fruity but not wildly apricoty. And because everyone else was busy with the babycakes, there was plenty for Helen to take home.