Riding the Baking Edge #7: Snowflake Asters
by Susanna Crossman
This is the seventh in a baking series dedicated to Leonora Carrington, the beasts of the forest, sumptuous feasts and all sorts of cake.
It is December. In Northern Europe light dwindles, seeing-time drawn into sloe-black night. Mid-winter candles are lit. Flames illuminate. Ancient celebrations ignite. People bake, putting goods into ovens. Quiet sweetness is placed on tables, as Cailleach, the great Gaelic Goddess of winter, (and part-time mountain-maker and whirlpool washer) plants her staff into the earth, freezing the ground. Ice spreads, inch by inch, like the secret of silence, bathing the land in hard, crisp, cold. Leonora Carrington calls to you, from her grave, “You may not believe in magic but something very strange is happening at this very moment…”
In 2021, we trudge through Covid, polemics and divisions, are we for, or are we against? Plath wrote, “Winter dawn is the color of metal”. It is Solstice. Diwali. It is Hanukkah. It is Saturnalia. Yule. Perhaps it is Christmas.
Needless to say, feasts will be eaten, midnight dances held, silk will sway, and The Baking Edge summons you to the other side…
Many moons ago, Mary, who ran an art gallery from a Norfolk caravan, told me, “I am going blind but I sense the pictures I sell through their light.” Surrounded by the canvases of the greats, she passed this winter biscuit recipe on to me, whispering, “Survival is about making connections, reaching for the skies.” In the flat lands, by salt marshes, crabs roamed, water met land. Mary offered me tea, and silver and gold studded biscuits. Light, sweet buttery stars shone through the darkness. The crunch was an immaculate conception. Gold radiated in my mouth. In my mind, thoughts spun about the light in photosynthesis turning to sugar and sap, making trees grow. Sweetness must be part of the story. Hail hit the windows, and turned to sleet. “Eat Snowflake Asters,” Mary told me, “And tread carefully. When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.”
100g butter (salted or unsalted depending on your taste)
100g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
250g plain flour
(You may add vanilla extract, a squeeze of lemon, a scattering of a cinnamon)
400g icing sugar
Gold and silver balls
1. Get dressed in suitable mid-winter baking clothes: hiking boots, a woollen garment, and a sequined, sparkling gown. An apron must be worn. Feel free to light candles. Ginzburg, an Italian historian, specialised in micro-history and heretics, examined the link between truth and light, in the Greek concept of ‘enargés’, associated with the manifest presence of the Gods.
2. Preheat the over to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Ponder phenomenologically upon baking and what you are about to create, Novalis, the 18th-century German poet and mystic wrote, “I need flowers that have grown in the fire”.
3. Using a wooden spoon or a food mixer if you prefer. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl, until light and fluffy. As you stir, recall the pages of poet Nancy Campbell’s book, Fifty Words for Snow, and her description of ‘Cheotnun’ the Korean word for first snow. In Korean the word for snow ‘nun’, is the same word for ‘eye’. So, “if you experience the first snowfall of the year – Cheotnun – with someone you have eyes for, it is said that true love will drift into your arms.” Infuse your dough with love.
4. Stir in the flour until the mixture becomes a round ball of dough. Hold it together. Call on your ancestors. Without death life would only be mineralisation. Bring the power of those who shaped you to your baking.
5. Lightly flour a surface. Roll the dough out to a thickness of 1cm, using your fingers to measure. Remember touch is the largest sense organ, and essential to baking. Through touch, we can perceive light. Physical touch increases levels of dopamine and serotonin. Biscuits focus us in the present. In French the word “maintenant” meaning now, comes from ‘la main tenant’, the hand that holds (the biscuit).
6. Using biscuit cutters or a glass, cut biscuits out of the dough and carefully place on the baking tray. If you want your biscuits to resemble snowflake stars, select a cutter accordingly. If you wish to use these to decorate your tree, carefully make a hole in the top of the biscuit using a straw. Tree decorating dates back to the Roman festival of Saturnalia, when branches were hung with sun symbols, stars, and faces of the god Janus (who watches over the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one).
7. Bake the biscuits for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. While waiting, use the party trick recommended for horses, by Lady Fear in Leonora Carrington’s short story, The House of Fear, “You must all count backward from a hundred and ten to five as quickly as possible while thinking of your own fate and weeping for those who have gone before you. You must simultaneously beat time to the tune of “The Volga Boatman” with your left foreleg, “The Marseillaise” with your right foreleg, and “Where Have You Gone, My Last Rose of Summer” with your back two legs.”
8. When the biscuits are ready, set aside to harden and cool on a wire rack. Appreciate the scent of freshly baked Snow Asters. Take your time. Sit. Let the minutes swirl in Saint Augustine subjectivity. Lay farrow. In The Hearing Trumpet, Carrington writes, “This is the really incomprehensible side of humanity, people never have time for anything.”
9. For the icing, sift the icing sugar into a large mixing bowl and stir in enough water to create a smooth mixture. Make yourself a coffee. Put on suitable music. At Christmas, we listen to the Spotify playlist of SkintFoodie an Amex, luxury city-man, turned homeless alcoholic, turned cook.
10. As you hum along to Susie Snowflake, place a drop of the icing in each point of your snowflake star. The characteristic six branches are related to the crystal structure of ice. Think of clear crystals, and bring to mind the words of Judy Nylon, who said in Punk is Dead, my story “is a diamond slice I can show you to help you imagine a rock too big for the frame.”
Step outside the box.
Shimmy and shine.
Give biscuits to your neighbours, your enemies and your friends.
Make connections with your baking, between snowflakes and stars, Hades and sugar canes.
This winter as you bake, channel Carrington, her words, paintings and her mystery. Follow her path, described by André Breton as a “superior revolt of the spirit.”
About the Author
Susanna Crossman is an award-winning Anglo-French fiction writer and essayist. Her debut novel, l’île Sombre (Dark Island) is published by La Croisée/Delcourt (trans. Carine Chichereau). She is a 2022 Hawthornden Fellow. Susanna has recent work in Aeon, Paris Review, MAI Journal, Neue Rundschau, S. Fischer (translated into German), We’ll Never Have Paris, Repeater Books, Trauma, DodoInk, 3:AM Magazine & more… Co-author of the French book, L’Hôpital Le Dessous des Cartes (LEH 2015), she regularly collaborates in international hybrid arts projects working with cartoonists, musicians, filmmakers and contemporary artists. Currently, she’s a guest editor for Lucy Writers with her series The Dinner Party Reloaded. She’s represented by Jessica Craig, NY. For more, see: susanna-crossman.squarespace.com