From the ages 14-17 I worked after school at Kenny’s Cardiology. NB Kenny’s had nothing to do with medical research. It’s a card and gift store. I became well equipped at pointing people towards blank sympathy cards. I knew when someone dolefully needed to find the special dedicated ‘belated birthday’ section.
I could choose a miniature teddy bear for a good luck present and even got to help in the planning of one or two proposals. But one of my main responsibilities was gift wrapping. Teddies in tissue paper, lamps in pesky rolls of sparkly paper that kept curling up like a stomach crunch- I got good at shuffling awkward objects into paper casings. I got particularly adept at it during the three weeks leading up to Christmas where I’d stand in a Santa hat and wrap for 8 hours a day, accompanied by the grating strains of Mariah Carey’s Christmas hits.
The secrets I learned were to pretend everything is a square shape and to have your sticky tape to hand. And anything ugly can be made better with some well placed ribbon.
These days I not always so good at buying presents, but wrapping them; that I can still do.
Last week it was the birthday of my best friend’s younger sister. By some freak of ‘the world is too small’, she’s staying in the flat that shares a wall with ours in London. For the first time in my adult life I have neighbours who I can happily pop in with and have a drink with during the week. And I love it.
I needed something small to drop over with a bottle of prosecco on a Tuesday night. Earrings seemed to glitzy, clothes too presumptive. It seemed safer to go with something baked.
What went next door were a tray of pastry presents.
They were somewhere between a blueberry tart and a cheese strudel. Not too sweet, not too heavy. There was a mashed banana for bulk, a touch of lemon zest to make them sprightly and a dusting of powdered sugar over the top for a sticky glow.
A production line was set up on the dining room table. There was filo pastry for paper and melted butter for sticky tape. And this time, I got to choose the music to wrap by.
When they came out of the oven, they were as pretty as a picture.
All that was missing was a bow.
Blueberry pastry presents
Makes 14-16 pastry cigars
1 pastry brush. 1 damp tea towel. 1 baking tray. 1 mixing bowl. 1 spoon.
1 egg yolk
1 cup of cottage cheese, strained for 5 minutes
Zest of half a lemon
1 very ripe banana, mashed
14 -16 sheets of filo pastry
1 heaped tablespoon of melted butter
1 handful of fresh blueberries
Here’s how we roll
1. Mix together the banana, cottage cheese, lemon zest and egg yolk.
2. Tumble in the blueberries and gently combine
3. Set up a work station with the filling, baking tray, melted butter and pastry brush and filo pastry (make sure it’s covered by a damp tea towel).
4. Take one sheet of filo pastry. Cover the others. Brush it with melted butter. Fold it in half lengthways, so you have a rectangle with the short end facing you.
6. Bring the sides of the pastry up so they meet in the middle. Brush the folded sides with butter.
7. Create a triangular ‘present fold’ at the end closest to you. Fold it up and over the mixture. Secure it with a brush of melted butter.
8. Create a very long triangle on the other end by folding in long sides of the rectangle by 30 degrees. Secure it with a brush of butter.
9. Roll the parcel of mixture mixture all the way down the long triangle to the other end.
10. About 5 cm from the end, do a ‘present fold’ on the other end to neaten it.
11. Secure the parcel with one more brush of melted butter.
12. Place it on the baking tray and repeat for the others.
13. Bake for 25 minutes in a 180 C or 350 F oven. If the blueberries have leached through the pastry, take the parcels out of the oven and use a paper towel to mop up any of the wayward juices. Gently turn each of the parcels and bake for another 15 minutes to crisp the bases.
14. Serve dusted with icing sugar.