The Literary Kitchen: books and baking

The Literary Kitchen, our blog about literature and food, began in autumn 2014. We are Nico and Amy, recent PhD students in the Department of English Studies at Durham University. From lemon cakes in The Great Gatsby to Turkish delight in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we aim to bake our way through their favourite books, as well as discovering some new ones!

Our blog tracks this culinary journey and provides a virtual space where we share our thoughts about food in literature, as well as recipes, videos and photographs of our bakes.

Here is what The Bubble wanted to know about our blog:

Is food such an important aspect of literature?

Well, C.S. Lewis famously wrote:

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.

Consumption of food and literature are somehow intertwined. We all know the pleasure of sitting down with a brilliant book and a fresh cup of tea (or coffee, if you prefer!).

A cup of tea and a book go hand in hand…

More seriously, food and literature is a still neglected but growing area of research amongst academics. Dramatic scenes in literature often involve families, friends, or lovers meeting for a meal. So food is a narrative device which allows authors to bring their characters together in the same room, but it is also a way of telling the reader more information about these characters. Why do they choose particular foods? What does their method of cooking (or buying take-aways) reveal about the characters or the context? How do they link consumption with other hungers or desires? How do communities of people define themselves using culinary traditions?

This last point is particularly obvious in novels which feature migration, such as The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The Afghani people who travel to America in this fabulous novel bring their own recipes and methods of cooking with them, and this plays a large part in how the community retains its distinctive identity. In many other literary texts, writers are often very precise in their selection of particular foods – they often draw food into a symbolic pattern or link it with characterisation. For example, Fitzgerald very specifically chooses lemon cakes for the first proper meeting between Daisy and Jay Gatsby as part of his recreating a pattern with the colour yellow throughout the novel.

Tell us about your favourite recipes from the blog so far.

The most popular recipe we have made is lemon cakes from The Great Gatsby. These feature in the scene when Daisy Buchanan meets her long-lost lover Jay Gatsby after a number of years. Unfortunately in the novel the lemon cakes are ignored and probably remain uneaten. Ours, however, were consumed quite quickly!

A serious competitor for the classic lemon drizzle

Amy: I love making bread, and so really enjoyed baking and writing for the post about baguettes in a poem by the Irish writer Ciaran Carson. I had never made baguettes before and so I learnt a new skill, with delicious results! The book the baguettes feature in is an incredibly beautiful masterpiece, and so I also relished the opportunity to take the time to read it thoroughly.

Freshly baked baguettes

Nico: I have particularly enjoyed making Capote’s fruitcake, as it is probably one of the most beautiful cakes I have ever made in my life! It was rather challenging to gather all the ingredients, and also it was probably my first attempt at decorating a cake which had to be photographed! I enjoyed being able to talk about Capote’s short story, as it is so touching and just perfect for advent. For this particular recipe we also organized a competition, where we would reveal a secret ingredient of the ‘mysterious upcoming recipe’ a day, and eventually sent a slice of cake to the lucky winner! This is both a way to re-enact Capote’s story – his cousin used to mail fruitcakes across the USA – and a way to connect with our readers by sending them freebies. Watch our blog because we are planning to do that again!

The ultimate Christmas treat
What has been the most challenging thing about making your blog?

The most challenging thing about our blog is possibly how best to combine two different trends in blogging, the cooking/baking blog and the reading/literature blog. It was important for us to get a balance between the two aspects, and so in our blog posts we always try to make smooth transitions between the contextualization of the recipe, and the recipe itself.

However, this does allow us to get a diverse readership and to enthuse people about literature that maybe only land on our blog because they are looking for recipes!

There are so many blogs out there at the minute, why should we spend time reading yours?

Well, if you are passionate about food, and love literature, then you have no excuse not to read our blog! It is also a great way to discover new books, or maybe find out something new about books you already know, or look at a rather common food (say lemon cupcakes!) with new eyes.

Our blog is also a fantastic opportunity to take part in a conversation with us, and other readers, about your favourite books and recipes. And of course, whet your appetite by looking at our photographs of food!

The inspiration for our yellow-y lemon cake
Where do you hope to go with this idea?

At the moment we are planning to expand our geographical and temporal scope – moving beyond western writers we are familiar with in order to discover new books and recipes. A guest post about Japan is therefore in preparation. We will also continue to experiment with using videos (as we did for The Great Gatsby) as our readers really seem to enjoy them. And also, in the near future, we hope to see our audience grow and turn the blog into a book, or an actual literary cafe, full of food and literature lovers!

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In the meantime, try out one of our recent recipes on the following page…

This is an easy way to make the classic French Madeleine, inspired by the prolonged madeleine scene is situated in the ‘Overture’ of the first volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost TimeSwann’s Way(1913).

Madeleines (makes about 24, also depends on your type of madeleine mould)

Ingredients

150g slightly salted butter (melted)

2 tablespoons of honey

zest of ½ unwaxed lemon

150g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

3 eggs

150g sugar

Method

Melt the slightly salted butter with honey in a saucepan.

Wash the unwaxed lemon and zest half of it.

Sieve flour and baking powder together.

Whisk eggs and sugar together in a large bowl, until the batter gets a foamy texture.

Add flour and baking powder to the batter, then the lemon zest and the mixture of butter and honey, until it is smooth and even.

Place the bowl with the batter in the fridge for at least an hour and place the empty, greased madeleine mould (which is necessary for the madeleines to have their unique shape) in the freezer for at least half an hour. This is absolutely mandatory for the madeleines to grow their unique ‘bump’ when baking in the oven.

Preheat the oven at 270°C (alternatively 250°C is also OK, if your oven cannot reach such a high temperature), grease the icy madeleine mould and pour in the batter.

Bake in the oven for 4 minutes, then turn the oven down to 210°C and continue baking for another 4–6 minutes, until golden.

Take the madeleines out of the mould, and leave to cool.

Enjoy with a cup of tea, or ‘tilleul’!

For more of our recipes, visit our blog here. We hope you enjoy bringing these baked literary delights to life as much as we do!

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