Secrets & Bees – Alice Hoffman’s The Probable Future

Hello dear readers!

Sorry it’s been a little while since my last post.

I have been deeply involved in researching my historical fiction novel (yes, I am an aspiring novelist as well!) It’s a historical fiction novel set in Estonia about two women working on opposite sides of the Stalinist regime, one running from the past, one fighting for her country’s freedom. Brought together by chance, they forge an unlikely friendship and come to rely on each other in order to survive this bitter period of Estonian history.

Anyway, it’s very heavy on the research, as you can imagine! Which leaves little time for cookies. Sometimes, though, I find the overwhelming tragedy of all that history just too much … And I need to read something light and ‘bake’ my cares away.

So here are some little cookies I did to accompany a book – The Probable Future, by Alice Hoffman- which I read last week. The book is not a new release – in fact, I found it at my local second hand bookstore. But it’s just gorgeous! Alice Hoffman is one of my favourite authors and Practical Magic (her most famous novel) is certainly one of my favourite books of all time! I love her magic realism, the way she manages to capture the prejudice and wonder of small-town America, and her uncanny ability to make us sympathise with even the most unlikeable characters.

Her fiction can be quite dark, and ranges from contemporary to historical (her latest book, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, is set in New York at the turn of the century). But her writing is intoxicating and magical; it leaves you breathless and always wanting more. She also loves to write about intergenerational families, how the secrets of a family’s past affect future generations and how the women who raise us have an amazing ability to teach us about ourselves.

In this novel, The Probable Future, we meet a young girl called Stella Sparrow. Like all the women in her family, she has a unique gift which only emerges on her 13th birthday. Her mother’s gift is the ability to perceive the dreams of others; her grandmother can spot a liar just by looking him up and down. Her earliest ancestor, Rebecca Sparrow, could not feel pain.

When Stella’s gift arrives, it is a dark one; she can predict death.

… As for Elinor, she felt light-headed as well. Like a fool, she had thrown something away, and now she was trying her best to get it back. The cake she was holding smelled like spring, a heady mix of pollen and honey, lilacs and brandy. Perhaps there was a cure for some things: what was ruined, what was lost, what was all but thrown away.

– Alice Hoffman
The Probable Future

Things start happening in the novel when Stella sees a murder and her father is arrested. With nowhere else to go, Stella accompanies her mother to the town of Unity and to her grandmother’s crumbling house, a place Jenny Sparrow had vowed never to return to. It is there that she learns about the secrets of her family’s past and the meaning of the special gift she has been given.

This beautiful novel is SO worth reading; it is a gorgeous, lyrical novel and life and death, mistakes and misunderstandings. One of my favourite scenes is when Grandmother Sparrow places a brandy-infused cake in the garden as part of a spell to entice the bees back into her life. With this in mind, I found myself last week creating a special cookie dough, infused with honey and spices.

I rolled out shapes using a bee cutter and a wedding cake cutter and kept the icing simple, piping delicate white scrolls across the naked cookie surface.

The recipe is below, if you would like to try it!

I highly recommend seeking out a copy of Alice Hoffman’s The Probable Future – and maybe making some honey spice cookies to eat while you read!

Happy reading and baking until next time x

Honey-infused Spice Cookies (adapted from the plain vanilla recipe)

This recipe makes roughly 24 cookies, depending on size of cookie cutter.

250g butter – softened to room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
I egg
3 cups plain flour plus extra for dusting
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp honey (any kind)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Step 1.
Cream together your butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy; at least two minutes.

Step 2.
Whisk together flour, spices and baking powder in a separate bowl

Step 3.
Add your egg, honey and extract for flavouring.

Step 4.
Add your flour/baking powder mixture to the butter mixture in three batches, mixing slowly and on a low setting in between each addition.

Step 5.
Shape the dough into two balls and pat them down, shaping them into disks. Cover with cling wrap and place in the fridge for at least an hour.

Step 6.
When you are ready to roll out your cookies, unwrap the dough and let it thaw for ten minutes until pliable. Then place it on a surface lightly dusted with flour.

Step 7.
Using a sheet of non-stick baking paper over the top, roll out the disc, trying to keep the thickness as even as possible.

Step 8.
Dust your cutter in flour, then cut as many shapes from the dough as you can in one go. Transfer shapes to a cookie sheet lined with baking paper or a heat-proof baking mat.

Step 9.
Roll up scraps and repeat once, then do the same with the second ball of dough.

Step 10.
Transfer cookie sheets to freezer and leave there for 45 minutes. Then place directly into an oven heated to 180 degrees Celsius.

Step 11.
Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes, swapping the tray around at the halfway point. The exact time will depend on your oven settings and the thickness of the cookies. I like to keep an eye on mine the whole time and check them. They should not have brown edges but should be cooked in the middle and not translucent.

Step 12.
Remove cookie sheet from oven to baking rack. Leave for at least ten minutes before transferring cookies to another rack to finish cooling (doing this prevents them becoming soggy). Any earlier and they will still be soft and warm and may break easily.

This cookie dough can be frozen for a month and baked cookies are good to eat for up to two weeks.

Happy Baking!

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