Sunday 8 December 2019

Berry and almond tray bake

Sophie White fires up the buggy and embarks on a hunt for a 'mum friend' to share her baby stories and her great desserts...

Preparing a delicious healthy berry fruit salad with assorted fresh fruit on the counter including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, pomegranate and kiwifruit with almonds
Preparing a delicious healthy berry fruit salad with assorted fresh fruit on the counter including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, pomegranate and kiwifruit with almonds
Sophie White

Sophie White

A friendship, I think we can all agree, has to evolve naturally. If one party tries to forge a friendship against the other party's will, their efforts will, quite understandably, be met with suspicion and resistance.

It has been years since I tried to befriend anyone without his or her cooperation, but, lately, I found myself attempting the practice once more. It all started when I wound up pregnant ahead of schedule.

You see, the Bitchherd and I had plans to have cute, simultaneous pregnancies. There would be sepia-toned snaps of us at the beach, sipping vodka martinis, bare-legged in oversized men's shirts, and sporting colour-coordinated headscarves and matching bumps a la the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

What happened, instead, was we went on holidays to the West, where I beat them all at Cranium, as I was the only one sober and able to play. In the pictures, they look fabulous and sun-kissed, and I look like Philip Seymour Hoffman (it's not too soon – Phil would have wanted this reference).

So, basically, I ended up with child, but with no one to hang around coffee shops with, overanalysing sleep patterns. Don't get me wrong – the Bitchherd adore Yer Man and spoil him at every hand's turn, but, at the end of the day, they have lives, too. Lives where they are unlikely, for example, to touch poo at some point in their day.

Herself announced that I needed someone on my wavelength. I needed a "mum friend". "Do you know who just had a baby?" she asked excitedly one night, "Claire Byrne! And she lives in the area . . ." I tried to tell her it was highly unlikely that Claire Byrne, of Prime Time, and I would become friends, not to mention weird that she knows where Claire Byrne lives. "Well, Claire would be more up on current events than you," Herself conceded, as if this was the only barrier to our proposed friendship.

One of my friends actually bore witness to one of my excruciating attempts to "pick up" another mum sitting near us in a cafe. The mum looked deeply unnerved when I suggested, "We could meet up sometime. You could give me your number and we could, just, you know, talk."

Another time, I made this delicious berry and almond tray bake and brought it to the park, in the hope of enticing lone mothers into chatting with me, but, instead, found myself targeted by aggressive pigeons.

In the end, I gave up trying to force myself on poor first-time mothers, and, quite by accident, stumbled upon the best gang a gal could ask for – John, Sean, Ronan, Joe and Derek; and Miriam and Marian at the weekends. Oh, and, of course, my new best friend, Claire.

We have such lols.

Four out of five shoppers have stocked up on goodies for little ghosts and goblins that might be roaming their towns today.

Berry and almond tray bake

Makes 24 squares.


250g (8oz) cold butter

225g (7½oz) caster sugar

250g (8oz) ground almonds

50g (2oz) desiccated coconut

Zest of 1 lemon

165g (6oz) plain flour

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

250g (8oz) frozen mixed berries

50g (2oz) flaked almonds


Heat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4, then line a 20cm x 30cm (8in x 12in) baking tin with baking parchment. Put the cold butter, the caster sugar, the ground almonds, the desiccated coconut and the lemon zest into a food processor and blitz it until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Remove half the mixture and set it aside.

Add 140g (5oz) flour into the mix in the food processor, then blitz to form a dough. Using the back of a spoon, press the dough into the baking tin, bake until golden (about 10-15 minutes), then leave to cool.

Put the mix that you had set aside back into the food processor and add the additional 25g (1oz) plain flour, the eggs, the baking powder, the ground cardamom and the ground nutmeg. Blitz to form a batter and then spoon this batter evenly on to the baked base.

Scatter the frozen berries on top – there is no need to defrost these in advance.

Bake for about 10 minutes, then scatter the flaked almonds on top and continue baking for 15-20 minutes, until the tray bake is golden on top. Allow it to cool, then slice into 24 squares.

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