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Backseat baker: Sophie White on prepping down for lockdown marriage

Living in confined spaces and working with Himself in pressure-cooker kitchens prepared Sophie White well for pandemic-era married life

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Rhubarb and ginger strudel

Rhubarb and ginger strudel

Rhubarb and ginger strudel

Himself and I have been perhaps more used than most couples to living in lockdown together. In the 14 years we've been a couple, we have lived in some fairly unusual set-ups - a converted Nissan van (our 'bed' was essentially a glorified shelf); and a tent no bigger than a generous coffin, in which only one person at a time could sit up.

You get the idea. All good practice for the pandemic pressure cooker. Perhaps what's even more pertinent to our collective recent circumstances is the fact that we've worked together. In our former lives as chefs, Himself and I worked in kitchens together; at one point we even ran an extremely slapdash catering operation together. All this is not to say that we get on extremely well in close quarters under pressure. Absolutely not. What we have actually mastered is fighting and scrapping subtly, with an audience present.

When we worked in an open-plan kitchen, we had to establish a safe word to de-escalate our blazing rows when in earshot of customers. "Pass me the 'marmalade', please," when uttered through gritted teeth meant the other person needed to "back the 'fudge' off" immediately. Establishing this lexicon before being locked down with young children has come in very handy.

The kitchen is still our battleground, even though neither of us cooks professionally any more. In the kitchen, we are competitive, always looking over one other's shoulder to micro-manage whatever it is the other person is doing.

I have the edge on him when it comes to savoury, but he did his time on a pastry section in one of Dublin's five-star hotels, so whenever I decide to bake I have to practically do it in secret - unless I want his running commentary and endless pass-ag questions of the "You add the sugar in all at once?" variety. Insufferable.

Competitive baking has become something of an extreme sport on social media recently. You cannot swing a dead cat (unhygienic around food, anyway) without someone introducing you to their sourdough starter or milling into yet another banana bread. With this is in mind, I present my own baking project: the perfect filo pastry.

Filo is a great aggression release, which means I'm not telling Himself to 'go fudge' himself nearly so much. The end result is delish, even though I have to roll out the pastry on the kitchen table, which makes for a very public arena for Himself's raised eyebrows and endless riffs on "I wouldn't be doing that with the butter" and "never seen anyone roll filo like this before".

 

Rhubarb & Ginger Strudel

Serves 6

You will need:

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150g flour

1 small egg

60ml water,

plus three tablespoons extra

1 teaspoon of butter

50g demerara sugar

800g rhubarb, trimmed and

cut into 3cm pieces

150g ginger nut biscuits

1 tablespoon butter

50g butter, melted

Whipped cream, to serve

 

1 Sift the flour into a bowl. In a jug, whisk the egg, the 60ml of water and the teaspoon of butter together, then gradually add this mixture to the flour until you have a sticky dough — don’t add too much, you don’t want the dough to be wet. Now for the therapy: throw the dough from shoulder height onto the counter. Repeat for 15 minutes until the dough is smooth with no stickiness. Wrap it in cling film and rest it at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°C, 395°F, Gas 6.

2 To make the filling: put the demerera sugar in a pot with the rhubarb pieces and the three tablespoons of water. Simmer for three minutes until the rhubarb is just softening, then drain it. Bash up the ginger nut biscuits and mix them into the drained rhubarb, along with the tablespoon of butter.

3 Lightly flour a large surface and roll out the pastry until it forms a thin rectangle. Tease it further with your hands, being careful not to tear it. Ideally, get it thin enough to read the newspaper through it!

4 Brush the pastry all over with some of the melted butter, then spoon the rhubarb and biscuit filling down one side and roll into a sausage shape. Brush with more melted butter and bake the strudel in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until it is golden. Serve with whipped cream.


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