Riding The Baking Edge #4: Aunt Merielle’s Cheese and Hazelnut Dreams
by Susanna Crossman
This is the fourth in a weekly baking series dedicated to Leonora Carrington, the beasts of the forest, sumptuous feasts and all sorts of cake.
Aunt Merielle’s Cheese and Hazelnut Dreams (adapted by Aunt Merielle from a recipe by Diane Henry)
The first time I made these biscuits was on a hot Spanish August afternoon, with Aunt Merielle, a tall, red-headed, half-Catalan, tomato grower with a penchant for disco-dancing. It was siesta time, what William Samson calls “the Panic hour.” In the heavy silence, we baked.
Later, using a chisel, we cracked open a giant ostrich egg and cooked a tortilla omelette for twenty women and men, dusty and scented, with the freshly-picked perfume of a truckload of tomatoes. That evening, as the cool breeze came down from the mountains, and wafted in from the Mediterranean sea, we served the biscuits with Manchego cheese, sliced into razor-thin yellow sheets, quince jelly, walnuts and a crisp, white Navarre wine.
As Sei Shonagan writes in the Pillow Book:
The expression ‘absolutely splendid’ is altogether too commonplace and inadequate to convey the scene.
Cheese cries out to be accompanied, the question is what should hold its hand, twirl with the fromage in the moonlight? Bread, fruit, nuts and seeds, chocolate, pickles, jellies and jams, meat or smoked mussels? Anthropologists inform us all depends on our culture, rituals and representations. We are the only animals that cook. How to bring Eros to the event of cheese? Sylvia Plath confided in her journal, that she gorged on cheese and ham sandwiches with mustard, coleslaw and tomatoes. Zola writes of cheese as music, “a flute-like note, came from the parmesan, while the bries came into play with their soft, musty smell, the gentle sound, so to speak, of a damp tambourine. The livarot launched into an overwhelming reprise, and the géromé kept up the symphony with a sustained high note.” The Wind of the Willow, features a cheese “ a cheese that laid down and cried.
Aunt Merille believed that these soft, crumbling biscuits, provided cheese with an elegant other half, and gave the sweetest of dreams.
150g ground hazelnuts
225g grated cheddar
100g plain flour
1 beaten egg
A pinch of salt
Gather the ingredients.
The method for this recipe is simple. Anne Boyer wrote, “My favorite arts are the ones that can move your body or make a new world.” Use the bake as a time to dance, (Aunt Merielle was a fan of Tom Jones) or to contemplate the rhizomatic etymology of your ingredients. The word salary for example, comes from salt, from the Latin salarium, “an allowance, a stipend, a pension” originally “salt-money”. Take your pinch of salt and think about time and economic liberalism. Remember, small things matter.
In a bowl, mix together the ground hazelnuts, butter, flour, cheddar, salt and egg. Use the rubbing technique if you are doing this by hand. Rub your hands back, and forth until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Alternatively, press Pulse on your Food Mixer. Do not pulse for too long (remember the breadcrumb consistency) Do not feel guilt about taking short cuts. Technology is also liberation.
With your hands, form the mixture into a ball. Refrigerate, in cling film for a couple of hours. (Your can also freeze the dough at this stage) If you are in Catalonia, leave the coast behind; go discover the burnt olive-silver, rugged landscape. Behold the Santa Barbara Mountain where Picasso first fragmented the world into Cubist geometry. Let yourself divide, dissolve. Reform.
On your return, pour yourself a glass of Vichy Catalan, local fizzy water with a salty twist. Talk to Aunt Mereille in her kitchen.
Heat the oven to 200C/180C. Crack jokes. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Discuss your nighttime reveries. Leonora Carrington believed we must “have the courage to break open the cage of ordinary thoughts and plunge into the primordial confusion.”
Take chunks of dough the size of walnuts. Roll them into small balls. Place them, approximately 8cm apart. With a fork, press down each biscuit. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown. The biscuits should be crispy, a perception involving both kinesthetic jaw movements, and auditory stimuli related to acoustic emissions as you bite.
Accompany these biscuits with whatever cheese you fancy. Aunt Merielle’s favourite is Cambozola. Think about the milk of dreams, fermented into cheese, served alongside these hazelnuts biscuits. “The matter of our bodies,” Leonora Carrington said, “like everything we call matter, should be thought of as thinking substance.”
About the Author:
Susanna Crossman is an Anglo-French fiction writer and essayist, winner of the 2019 LoveReading Very Short Story Award. She has recent/upcoming work in Neue Rundschau, S. Fischer (translated into German), Repeater Books, The Creative Review, 3:AM Journal, The Lonely Crowd and more. Nominated for Best of The Net (2018) for her non-fiction, her fiction has just been short-listed for the Bristol Prize and Glimmertrain. Co-author of the French roman, L’Hôpital Le Dessous des Cartes (LEH 2015), she regularly collaborates on international hybrid arts projects. Currently, she is showing the multi-lingual prose film, 360° of Morning, with screenings and events across Europe and USA. She lives in France. @crossmansusanna.