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What it says on the tin

10 July 2005

It's always interesting to watch a new phrase bed down in the language, temporarily or otherwise. For the last few years, a company that sells paint and varnish products has been running a popular series of in-your-face TV adverts, with the generic slogan It does exactly what it says on the tin. [Latest example: our hero is oiling the decking in his garden. He says, "This is decking. Iím oiling it. Guess what Iím using?" and we zoom in on the tin, which is labelled Decking Oil. Thatís it. Cue slogan, and away.] Just in the last couple of weeks, I've twice heard reporters or commentators use the phrase in a political context, and running it through Google produces many, many other examples. I suspect this one may be here to stay. It already feels like it's been around for ever. Maybe it has, maybe the company's ad agency picked up a phrase that was already embedded, but that's not my impression.

Anyway, the point is, something that really pisses me off is the obverse of that, when the product does not do what it says on the tin. Or, as it might be, in the recipe.

Iíve had a little run of these, because I've been cooking a lot these last weeks, and particularly baking, where I do tend to follow recipes closely because getting quantities and temperatures right is so critical, and a catastrophe is so unrecoverable. It drives me up the wall when you get a new book from a writer you respect, follow a recipe to the letter and end up with a disaster. Cakes that collapse the moment they come out of the oven, pastry that turns unworkably solid during its rest-time in the fridge and then disintegrates when you try to roll it...

I suppose the good thing about this is that it forces me to experiment, to mix and match, to take new flavourings to old recipes that I know do work. Hence I have created my own caramel cake (ingredients from one book, method from another and the icing I made up myself), and as we speak I am developing a lemon sponge (from recipe one) with a lemon-vanilla jam filling (recipe two) and a white chocolate frosting (recipe three). Yum-yum.

But all this has come to the fore because I had two frantic days, shopping and cooking for Helenís hen night dinner. On the menu:

- and I did not have the time or the patience to be let down, and I was. First by the almond pastry, which was - as noted above - impossible twice over, once because its official resting-time chilled it into an unworkable state, and again because once it was warm again it just wouldn't hold together. In the end I broke off walnut-sized pieces and moulded it into the tartlet-tray by thumb. Which was fine, except that this tartlet-tray was advertised as non-stick, and I oiled it regardless, and even so I have just thrown it forcefully into the wheelie-bin with all my first twelve almond-pastry cases still adhering to it. I had to run into town (leaving the lemon-vanilla jam boiling on the stove, yikes!) to buy a new and genuinely non-stick version, for a recipe I still couldn't be sure of. The good news is that the tartlets were really popular, even coming as they did at the end of a meal that was far too long (five hours, we were eating there; and weíd started late to begin with), and the jam is so scrummy Iím using it again in the cake today. Today's calamity is the frosting, where I tried a new method of melting the chocolate, as recommended in my posh new chocolate book, and itís gone all lumpy and yuck. Do these people not test their recipes on domestic equipment, even yet, even after all these years...?

"Ah, bah!" cried the Duchess of Avon, and went to sulk with Achilles in his tent.

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© Chaz Brenchley 2005
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.