My friends would probably tell you that I’m a passable cook but I’m a long way from Masterchef material. That’s why it seemed like a good idea to get some tips from actress Lisa Faulkner. It’s not her roles in Dangerfield, Brookside, Holby City or Spooks that led me to this conclusion. Lisa won Celebrity Masterchef back in 2010 and last year she released her third cookbook, Tea & Cake. That’s a whole lot of kitchen knowledge I can soak up.
Lisa’s partnership with domestic appliance brand Hotpoint gives access to the Hotpoint Design Centre in Central London. I’m amongst the last to arrive in the stylish studio, where bloggers and foodies are milling around with glasses of Prosecco in hand, talking in excited murmurs. We don’t wait long to be led downstairs to the kitchen. It’s time.
Lisa is one of those casually glam women. “I recently turned 44,” she confesses. “My mother died at this age, so the recipes tonight are a kind of homage to her.” We’re starting with classic pineapple upside-down pudding and Lisa deftly ladles a thick layer of golden syrup into the bottom of a cake tin, chatting all the while.
I haven’t had pineapple upside-down pudding since my childhood and I’ve never made it. This is going to be good.
“Are you all great cooks?” she asks and most of the room acquiesces. I give an uncommitted nod, while the girl standing next to me voices a resounding “No.” “Well anyone can make this,” Lisa says as she presses pineapple rings into the syrup in two even rows, filling the middle gap with half-rings to ensure that no matter how the cake is sliced every portion will be suitably topped. Glace cherries fill the centre of the rings.
Tossing chunks of butter and caster sugar into the food processor, Lisa says “It might be bad for you, but we’ll just balance it with a healthy main.” Flour and a teaspoon of baking powder are added, and then Lisa cracks four eggs into a bowl, lightly whisking them together with milk and vanilla essence before adding the mixture to the contents of the blender. A flick of the switch and the blending begins. It only takes a minute. Literally.
Lisa pours the thick golden mixture into the cake pan, smoothing it out to a relatively even level. The hand holding the palette knife twitches. “If my daughter was here, she’d lick the spoon,” she says. Only decorum prevents me from offering to fill that role.
Dessert is done and into the Hotpoint OSD89EDE Openspace Oven it goes at 180 degrees. The advantage of this baby is that a clever insulating divider between two compartments means you can cook two dishes at different temperatures at the same time. It’s magic. I want one. Now.
Time for that healthy main, then. Lemon sole fillets en papillote complete the fresh spring menu. Lisa slices and dices fennel and spring onion, giving them a few minutes to soften in a frying pan with olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper. Then it’s a matter of wrapping the mixture, with a sprinkle of capers, some chopped parsley, and one of the fish fillets, into a pasty shape in a square of greaseproof paper (on the inside) and foil (on the outside). A splash of white wine before sealing the case and it’s ready to go into the oven with the pudding, in the 200-degree compartment.
Now it’s our turn.
I’m paired up with the non-cook, who’s quick to point out that she’s useless in the kitchen. We’re on dessert duty. It didn’t look that hard. We garb ourselves in aprons and grasping implements set forth. This time, I get to lick the palette knife.
Once the ovens are filled and the aromas wafting in the air, we’re rewarded with wine. Lisa flits around the room, amiably speaking with each and every person there.
Before long, it’s time to sample our efforts. The lemon sole packages are doled out and plates piled with buttery potatoes and green vegetables appear. The fish is beautifully soft, the mild aniseed flavour of the fennel pairing with a squeeze of fresh lemon to give depth. Quite simply, it’s delicious. I may have eaten some of the paper as well in my enthusiasm.
But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Cake tin after cake tin suspended to reveal perfectly symmetrical pineapple puds, including ours. Score for the non-chefs. Only one is different, sitting in a spreading pool of syrup. The team in question recognise it immediately, knowing they’d been generous with their measurements. They promise to lick the syrup from the plate. The cake-like cubes are plated with light vanilla custard, the sweet, fruity flavours yanking my memory back in time.
Walking home with a copy of Tea & Cake under my arm, I’m already planning a dinner party. And I know what I want for Christmas: the magic Hotpoint oven.