“Writing is like walking in a deserted street. Out of the dust in the street you make a mud pie.” - John Le Carre
So here it is – the recipe for my mud pie. The pivotal dish I cooked on Masterchef, meant as sabotage, that I dreamt up on a hallucinatory kind of night. Probably the closest I’ll ever get to Kubla Khan. The original dish was far more complicated, involving a menagerie of garden delicacies, but I decided to simplify it into something more iconic. Even I’ve learnt a thing or two from Andy Warhol’s soup.
I know that, at the end of the day, this is just a recipe. But for me it was a piece of art. An experiment to see if food could evoke nostalgia, even memories. If it could evoke emotion and thought then it was as powerful an artistic medium as any painting or composition (yeh I said it Hegel!)
This was the first of many other experiments to use taste in art, thought up by my 18 year old self riding out insomnia.
If you want to know what the 22 year old self thinks of it you can dare to read the theory below. Call me crazy.
An exploration of the objective systematicity of the ‘aesthetic-in-itself’ produced by the practical principles of taste, by examining the power of food to evoke emotion, and even memory. The nostalgic force of food also features in Jen Susman’s work Practice Makes Perfect. This artwork is an adult recreation of the mud pies of early childhood, flavoured with thyme and rosemary, and with crystallized tarragon leaves to evoke the sense of grass. The herby, earthy, bitter taste tries to recreate the taste of a real mud pie by making use of the changes in the developed palate. It examines Bergson’s idea that “the aesthetic imperatives of unconscious apperception and remembrance are at the same time archaic vestiges incompatible with the increasing maturation of reason,” which suggests psychological cathexis as a condition of aesthetic perception.
Mud Pie Recipe
300g sweet dessert pastry (250g plain flour 100g cocoa powder 20g finely-grated 80% cocoa solids chocolate 2 tsp vanilla extract 1/2 tsp salt 130g caster sugar 150g butter, softened)
2 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
400g dark chocolate, 60 per cent cocoa solids
200ml whole milk
200ml double cream
2 tbsp runny honey
1 bunch of Thyme
1 bunch of Tarragon (whole leaves)
1. to make the pastry, cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the salt and vanilla extract, creaming into the mix. Now add the cocoa powder and chocolate. Mix to combine thoroughly.
2. Add the flour and mix to combine. lift the pastry from the bowl onto a sheet of clingfilm and shape into a disc. Wrap securely then chill in the refrigerator.
3. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to aprox ½ inch thick. Use a large cookie cutter to cut out about 10 rounds of the pastry. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill for an hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Prick the pastry rounds with a fork and then place a layer of parchment paper on top and then a close-fitting baking tray weighed down with baking beans. Blind bake for 10 minutes. Remove the parchment paper, the baking tray and beans and return to the oven for another 5 minutes until the pastry is cooked through.
5. While the pastry rounds are still hot, brush over with the beaten egg and bake the case for another 2-3 minutes to seal the egg glaze. Remove and leave to cool while you prepare the filling.
6. Chop the chocolate and put into a large heatproof bowl. Add a tiny pinch of salt to the bowl of chopped chocolate.
7. Put the milk, cream, thyme bunch and sugar into a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil and then leave to infuse for a few hours. Then bring to the boil again and immediately strain the hot liquid onto the chocolate, whisking well until all the chocolate has melted and the combined mixture is smooth and silky. Allow to cool until the mixture resembles twice the consistency of double cream.
8. Take the tarragon leaves and lay them on a foil sheet. Place 1 cup of caster sugar with ½ cup of water in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil to create a syrup. Use a sugar thermometer to tell when it has reached ‘hard ball’ stage and when it does use a pastry brush to brush the sugar over the tarragon leaves to crystallize them.
9. To serve, place a pastry round on a plate and then top with a layer of the chocolate ganache and then place another pastry round ontop and add another layer of ganache. Then decorate with the tarragon leaves and raspberries if you like.