JEmma Melvin, the winner of the pudding-finding contest to mark the Queen’s platinum anniversary, has called her lemon and amaretti Swiss roll a “humble” dish. But as I stand in my kitchen in the early morning light and ponder her recipe wearily, it seems anything but modest.
For starters, there’s the size. ‘For 20 people’, I read. Should I trade my glass bowl for a bucket? It’s also ridiculously complicated, requiring the cook not only to make jelly and custard, but also swiss rolls, lemon curd, amaretti biscuits, a “chunky” tangerine coulis, and bejeweled white chocolate “bark”.
Melvin insists it’s okay to cheat. Buy a jar of lemon curd, a box of Italian cookies and a tub of ready-made custard, she urges nervous cooks. However, this would make the whole exercise pointless, wouldn’t it? You might as well buy a Colin the Caterpillar cake from M&S and be done with it.
I start at 9 am, just like the pips are ringing on Radio 4. Swiss roll? At least I can do this. Unfortunately I don’t have any parchment paper – to be more precise, the parchment paper has fallen into the back of the cupboard and can only be taken out with a drone – so I lightly grease some wax paper and line a baking pan with it. Then I beat the eggs and sugar, add the self-raising flour and put it in the oven. While he’s baking, I make the lemon curd, which is something else I can do in my sleep (my star dish is meringue with lemon curd).
In this case, the curds are the filling of the swiss roll, and if you’ve never made one before, frankly, it’s easy: you just heat the egg yolks, sugar, butter and lemon juice in a bain-marie and stir until thick. By 10 o’clock I’ll have some nice, sticky slices of Swiss roll that I can line the bottom of my bowl with, as shown. There are holes, which makes me nervous. Melvin is against gaps. But if I press the sponge with my hands, they disappear, no harm.
Then the jelly of St. Clement. I play with orange Chivers, a pack that I find inexplicably in my pantry. In the end I go for it, make up for it with gelatin leaves and a combination of orange and lemon juice. When it has cooled, I pour it over the swiss roll and let it set, which takes about three hours, during which time I can make the coulis and bark.
The coulis uses canned mandarins, which I haven’t eaten since college for good reasons (I once tipped a disastrously sloppy chocolate pudding that I had decorated with canned mandarins and Dream Topping in a home economics class about a man). on the top deck of my bus home). You thicken it with arrowroot, an ingredient that makes the recipe—warning: it’s poorly written and not entirely accurate—jump at you unexpectedly; I had to use cornstarch instead. The white chocolate for the “bark” should be melted and spread on a baking sheet. You then outline it with mixed skin and stick it in the fridge until it hardens.
At 3 o’clock it is time to assemble everything. It goes like this. Top the jelly with custard first, and the custard with a layer of amaretti cookies (I’m cheating now, because life is too short to make amaretti cookies). Then add the coulis, followed by a layer of whipped cream and finally the bark, which is broken into shards and arranged on top. This last bloom is, I think, a bad example of lily gilding. Standing in the cream, the chocolate soon begins to sag, and I know without even tasting it that it is no match for the citrus flavors.
The finished pudding looks like – may I say this? – quite magnificent: the layers are clearly distinguishable; I’ve avoided the dreaded spill. But when I serve it, the reviews are mixed. We find it a bit bland and too sweet. The recipe was inspired by the lemon posset served with the queen’s wedding breakfast, but possets are much easier to make and so much spicier and spicier than this trifle. It wants a kick. Maybe the sponge should be soaked in limoncello?
And what a hassle! The work-fun ratio is completely out of balance here. The organizers of the contest – Fortnum & Mason being the driving force – believe that, like the coronation chicken of the great Constance Spry before it, Melvin’s trifle will have stamina, that we’ll make it for decades to come. But I’m not so sure. What better than a sherry trifle, made with tipsy stale sponge and raspberry jam? The durability of coronation chicken lies not only in its sheer deliciousness, but in its simplicity: The sauce is made with a very basic wine reduction, curry powder, apricots, and some mayonnaise, that’s all.
But Mary Berry, Monica Galetti and all the other judges are right about one thing. Last Thursday, shortly before the Duchess of Cornwall announced the winner on BBC One, a food historian named Regula Ysewijn, dressed for the Blitz, reminded viewers that our story is written in our food; that every decade has its signature dishes, and that these may tell us more about ourselves than we imagine, not all of them good. Kroningkip was born into extreme frugality. In 1953 war rationing still had to come to an end. The taste belies the relative mundaneness of the ingredients.
To make Melvin’s trifle, on the other hand, you need more than a kilo of sugar, 13 eggs and a liter of whipped cream. I don’t want to be a total bummer. I know it’s for a special occasion. But this is a pudding, insanely sweet and a little bland, for a nation that may have lost sight of what the word treat really means.