Sunday, 29 April 2012

Dear William Burroughs (1914 - 1997),

Today I looked in my fridge, sighed at the array of leftovers, and thought of you.

You were a human assortment of bits and pieces – aristocratic, yet addicted to heroin; Harvard-educated, yet uninspired to work; conservatively dressed, yet with a tendency to get drunk and play “William Tell”.* No part of you was particularly harmonious with any other part of you.

Plus you lived past 50, which is wildly rebellious for a Beat writer.

Which is why, when I opened the fridge door to find a cup of tamarillo mush (leftover from sorbet), some ground, cream-steeped hazelnuts (leftover from a hazelnut custard), and a thick caramelly sauce (origin uncertain), your name popped into my head.

You and your friends (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and other assorted Beats) were very good at cobbling things together from bits of detritus. You were arrogant or brilliant enough to decide that whatever random thoughts were bouncing around in your brains were pure gold, and should be published immediately in whatever form they took. Planning? Undesirable. Editing? Optional. Obscenity trials post-publication? A mark of honour.

You, in particular, didn’t see the need to produce original writing at all. After a few early novels, you developed a technique which I’m going to steal for my baking: the cut-up method. As in, take whatever is around you – I’m sitting next to a cracker box and a TV Guide, for instance – and cut it up into a new text. This, Mr. Burroughs, is the sort of thing that literary critics love. They can wax lyrical for decades to come on how the author is obsolete, and all writing is pastiche, and all composition is merely an act of collation. That’s all very well and good, but my poem on the “100% Natural Sesame Kardashians” is probably not destined for posterity.

At any rate, I think cut-up baking could be the next big thing. (Got leftover turmeric fish in the fridge? Make cupcakes! Er, maybe not.) Luckily, my fridge-orphan ingredients get along quite well.

And by another stroke of luck, the cut-up technique allows me to bypass your actual feelings about food – that it is somehow a debasing necessity which distracts us from other highs – and avoid cooking to this literary menu gem from Naked Lunch (1959):
Filet of Sun-Ripened Sting Ray basted with Eau de Cologne and garnished with nettles / The After-Birth Supreme de Boeuf, cooked in drained crank case oil served with a piquant sauce of rotten egg-yolks and crushed bed-bugs.
So here you go, Mr. Burroughs. Your very own Cut-Up Cake. Containing zero afterbirth.

But I make no guarantees about the crushed bed-bugs.

William Burroughs’ Cut-Up Cake


150g butter
½ cup sugar
3 eggs
½ cup caramel sauce                                         -
1 mushy banana                                                -            Or any other tasty combination of
½ cup fruit sauce or jam (I used tamarillo)         -            leftovers you have lying around.
1 cup roughly chopped hazelnuts                      -
¼ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt


Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, caramel sauce, vanilla, milk, half of the hazelnuts, and the banana, and stir to combine. Sift in the flour, salt and baking powder. Mix until just combined.

Pour into a greased cake tin and top with spoonfuls of fruit sauce or jam, interspersed with raspberries. Bake at 190C for around an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean. Once the cake is cool, drizzle it with more caramel sauce and sprinkle with hazelnuts.

Enjoy with a cup of tea... because the method may be Burroughs', but the libations probably shouldn't be.

NB. Depending on what leftovers you use, the cooking time could be wildly variable, so keep an eye out. If there's any naughty over-browning at the edges before it's cooked, you can cover the top with foil.

*Not a joke: just ask his second wife and the Mexican police.

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