Thursday, 27 February 2014

Apple Tart Maman Blanc

The other day I wrote a piece for The Daily Mail and as the paper arrived and I saw that I was on the front page (ack!) with some dastardly headline I felt ill and squeezed my eyes shut and clutched at my pyjamas and waited for the whole internet to fall in on my head all day long.

It didn't, thank god. Thank you. I mean, I'm sure there were 4,000 comments underneath the piece, all vile, but I don't read those - (you simply cannot and stay sane) - but I did get one, single, slightly unhappy tweet. "I used to love your blog," it said, "but now you just troll yourself. How much do the Mail pay you to write this stuff?"

And I realised then, that I should probably explain what happens. I lose track of how many readers I have, I forget that I'm not just writing to Becky B and my husband.

(Becky B's just had a baby by the way. No pain relief. None. There was briefly a story going round that she had her stitches with no pain killer either, but that turned out to be apocryphal, like that one about how she once put a mugger in hospital just by giving him a nasty look.)

But for other readers, seeing me in the Mail like that must be strange, like if your boyfriend suddenly turned out to be a contract killer, or a pimp.

So this is how is happens: one morning, some devastatingly charming girl emails from Femail, (they're all charming at the Mail, that's their deadly weapon), wanting to run a piece that you have already written and to give you, in return, enough money so that you don't have to work for the next two weeks if you don't want to, and pay the nanny AND buy a bottle of neon pink nail varnish from Models Own.

And you stop and you think "Oh but my photo will be in there, and some really horrifying headline and there will be pictures of my children…"and then you think "yes but this is my job." And then you think "money...". And then you think how pleased your mother always is when you're in the paper, no matter what you've said. And then your husband comes into the room and reads the email over your shoulder and goes "You're going to ask for more money, aren't you? Great job. Don't forget to invoice!"

Then you file your piece and wait. Presently the "edit" comes back to you, which is where they run your normal words through their computer and it comes out in perfect MailSpeak. And you go "fine - can you change this and this?" and they go "sure".

And then you deal once or twice more with women who, as the deadline gets closer and closer, sound more and more tense, as they sit at their desks, talking to you and eating their lunch at 8.30pm, tapping in tiny tweaks here and there - none of which matter because the headline is going to be MY KIDS ARE SO FACKIN BORING YAH???? so the subtle word changes you are insisting on are like dusting the rotary blades of a helicopter that's just crashed into the side of a mountain.

Then the paper comes out the next day and you feel crushed and sick until your husband goes "GREAT job!" and your mother, who quite often looks at you blankly like "which one are you, again?" actually rings up and says "They're talking about your piece on the radio!!!!!!" And then you remember: "money!". And, eventually, you square it all away and forget about it. Until the next time.

It helps that I am basically a sloppy hack at heart and don't really mind - not really, otherwise I wouldn't do it. If my children find these pieces later in life and want to have a go at me about it I will simply start charging them rent.

Another girl in my life who doesn't judge me for this kind of caper is a French girl called Amelie, once described to me as the "rudest girl in London" but I don't understand why, because she is simply charming, she is just a bit brisk and French. I think she is terrific.

We went to see her and her husband this weekend for lunch and Amelie calmly went out to the shops to buy some ingredients for Raymond Blanc's much-celebrated Apple tart Maman Blanc and made it while guests were arriving. She had never made it before! And, she declared "I 'aven't cooked anysing for years." I cannot imagine how relaxed you have to be to do something like this.

Anyway it was just fantastic. I didn't help in the actual preparation, I just provided moral support and read out the recipe as she was cooking, which she declared was very helpful but I think she may just have been being nice.

This is how it goes: the precise recipe, including instructions for the shortcrust pastry, can be found on p246 of Kitchen Secrets, or online.

Amelie, like all good French girls, just buys her pastry pre-made. I think she used puff (she herself couldn't remember if she had bought puff or shortcrust - such insouciance!!!) but you really ought to buy shortcrust.

So here we go:

Apple tart 'Maman Blanc'

1 packet shortcrust pastry
3 dessert apples (like a Braeburn or whatever, just not a super-sour cooking apple)
15g unsalted butter
15g caster sugar
11/2 tsp lemon juice
7g Calvados (if you like)
icing sugar, to dust
1 medium egg
100 ml whipping cream
50g caster sugar

1 Roll out your pastry to fit your tart case and have it slightly higher than the rim of the tin because pastry shrinks on cooking. Prick the base with a fork and put in the fridge for 20 min.

2 Preheat the oven and a baking sheet (or any old tin big enough to take the tart tin) to 220C

3 Peel and core the apples and cut each into 10. Lay them closely together and overlapping in a circle in the base of the tart case.

4 In a small pan, melt the butter and sugar, then take off the heat and mix in the lemon juice and Calvados if using. Brush this over the apples slices and dust with icing sugar.

5 Slide the tart tin onto your now hot sheet and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 200C and bake for another 20 minutes until the tart case is brown and the apples look a bit caramelised.

6 For the custard filling, whisk 1 egg together with 50g caster sugar and 100ml whipping cream and pour into the tart 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.

Et Voila! As Amelie almost never says.


  1. I really like your blog and I appreciate the honesty of your Mail article. We should all be a bit more honest about parenting. And less judgmental.

  2. I like your blog.good recipes and honest writing.
    Being a parent isn't all a "bed of roses" ( I had four of whom introduced me to your blog !) it is real hard work, but has its rewards. Keep on writing!!

  3. I want you to know that I left a comment on that article stating how much I loved your blog and how brave you were to write that article. There were a few of us supporters among the thread! Keep up the wonderful writing, I'll follow you anywhere.

  4. You should have read the comments on the Mail Online version of your piece! I did (around lunchtime or so, so I guess it is conceivable they could have changed since then) and was refreshingly surprised. Like you, I had expected that the comments at the bottom of the page would be full of vitriol. And they weren't. Instead, lots and lots of people - plus all the top-ranked comments - were quite in agreement with you, and very supportive. I guess the Mail wanted to prompt an hysterical reaction from readers. I love it when these schemes backfire, and the readers end up trolling the Mail rather than the other way round.

  5. Just went to read your article after seeing this blog post (love your blog!) and it's great to read something so honest about motherhood. I am currently at home full-time with a nearly 3 year old and 6 month old baby, having given up my job after my first arrived, but am now trying to find a new part-time job not because I have to work but because working is easier than being at home on my own with two small children! Think your writing is fabulous.

  6. I absolutely LOVE your blog - I don't get a newspaper so I didn't catch your Daily Mail article but if it's anything like your blog I'm sure it was fabulous. You never fail to make me laugh and having two sons who are now in their late teens I can relate to your child issues too. Gotta love someone who isn't afraid to actually say it how it is. Children are wonderful but can be a complete pain too!

    In fact if it didn't sound really creepy and stalkerish I'd admit out loud that I'd love to be your friend as you sound right up my street!

    Thank you and please keep writing for us. x

  7. It must be hard when you're a writer. When the press approach you to write for them it must be easy to be high and mighty and say you will only write for The Guardian or whoever else. Actors must have that dilemma all the time. The trouble is they pay well and as you say the charming staff must have good powers of persuasion, so I am sure we would all do it. Haven't read the article though as I can't stand the Mail!

  8. The Mail headline (at least online) doesn't say you think your kids are boring - it says _childcare_ is so boring. Big difference, and really not a hugely controversial statement to the majority of people.

    I'm always a little sad when columnists say they never read comments. I basically get it (when a comment is harsh it's very harsh) and quite possibly if it was my own article I'd do the same.... But my experience with comments is that they're often amazing discussions - loads of positive comments, interesting views, and sure, some psychos too.... I really love comments sections on newspapers and have had so so many awesome discussions in them so always a little sad to hear of columnists feeling that way about them.

  9. I tried to make this when my first baby was about 4 weeks old in a bid to prove how capable I was to my husband and as some kind of compensation for the post partum marital slump, except I got to step 5 and the baby woke up again, crying to be breastfed which I still didn't know how to do without undressing entirely and I burst into hysterical tears and my husband ate the dry pastry (made from scratch, clearly am an idiot) and soggy caramelised apples with no custard to cheer me up so. ... 4 years on and now with 2 preschool children and 33 weeks pregnant. .. I feel like this is may be a great way of proving how capable I am to my husband. Oh wait. ..

  10. I am the child of journalists, and I suspect that your children will be just bloomin' fine. Like me. 'Cos their parents are lucky enough to have jobs that will feed and clothe them, and they get to live in a cool part of London and later they will meet interesting people who will write them letters so they can go to the uni they want to. And if they find these down the line, in this era of oversharing they can deal with it. Like I did. And then when Kitty gets to adulthood she will ring you up and say 'I fucking know!' 'It's fucking awful'. My mother particularly relishes those calls I think.

  11. Elizabeth Medovnik1 March 2014 at 22:41

    I'm sure that a lot of people reading the article (just googled it) will agree with loads of it - I certainly do. And ditto Miss Thrifty: the comments with the most 'thumbs up' are all supportive. I had a little look at some of the worst-rated ones and they were less pleasant but loads of people had given those posts a thumbs down, so that says a lot. Plus they were by people with usernames such as 'Thatcherite', so....