Author Patricia Nicol recommends reads where characters enjoy baked goods together

Thank goodness for Bake Off. Is there any greater balm in these harried times than to be transported back to an English summer and a benign cooking competition? 

To a tent where the worst that can happen is a soggy bottom.

It is not just the television format that is comfortably reliable here — baking, at its most basic, is too. It is easy alchemy: mix the right base materials — flour, eggs, butter, sugars — cook them for the prescribed time and you should end up with something that nourishes and delights. 

Patricia Nicol recommends The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien which starts with Bilbo Baggins inviting Gandalf the wizard for tea

She also suggested Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier where crumpets help to create an uncomfortable tea service

Patricia Nicol recommends The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (left) which starts with Bilbo Baggins inviting Gandalf the wizard for tea and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (right) where crumpets help to create an uncomfortable tea service.

As I write, I have homemade burger buns proving for my children’s tea.

At the weekend, I may make an upside-down plum cake. What could be cosier on a dreich November afternoon than a cup of tea and slice of sweet-tart cake?

You cook out of necessity, but mostly we bake for company and cheer — baking is a generous, celebratory act of love and friendship. (Self-love is fine here — all the more cake for you).

The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien begins with An Unexpected Party. A group of dwarves turn up at Bilbo Baggins’s hobbit-hole, at the time he had invited the wizard Gandalf, to tea. One, Balin, asks for beer and seed-cake. 

‘Bilbo . . . found himself scuttling off to . . . the pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon.’

They served excellent teas in the novels of the 1930s. The Hobbit was published in 1937, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier in 1938. 

A new screen version of the latter is on Netflix now. I’m saving the pleasure of watching it for this weekend, and I hope they get the first uncomfortable tea service at Manderley right: ‘A stately little performance enacted by Frith and the young footman . . . I played with two dripping crumpets, crumbled cake with my hands and swallowed my scalding tea.’

Then of course there’s Proust’s madeleines, the delicate little cakes that, when dipped in tea, unlock his memories of childhood in the novel In Search Of Lost Time.

Goodness knows, we all deserve some crumbs of comfort at the moment. Next time you fancy a sweet treat — have your cake and eat it.

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