Like most children, I spent a great deal of my childhood wishing I was an adult.
I was going to be a teacher (naturally) and wear a long tartan skirt (I have the preliminary sketches) and spend my evenings watching endless episodes of 999 with nobody mithering me about it “probably not being appropriate for children”.
But what excited me most about adulthood was the prospect of being in charge of what was for dinner.
Of course I now know that this crushing weight of culinary responsibility involves daily trips to Sainsbury’s where I agonise over whether a stir fry meal deal is actually good value if I don’t really want a sauce sachet, but back then I had it all mapped out.
I was going to have a Sara Lee Double Chocolate Gateau for dinner every day.
I have so many fond food memories (which will become the basis of this new Friday blog series, assuming I remember to keep it up) but none compare to that creamy chocolate “cake” which would emerge triumphantly from the freezer.
A terrible stock image of the perfect dessert.
Part of me assumes that anyone who lived through the nineties will remember this dessert, but a cursory Google search doesn’t bring up a great deal. A small Facebook group (152 wonderful members) have tried, unsuccessfully I should add, to convince Tesco to bring it back.
A Weight Watchers forum poster has scoured Iceland, Farm Foods and Asda with no luck but refuses to give up hope that they’re still in production, thanks to a woman known only as “Grace’s Mummy” swearing blind she saw one recently in the village shop.
A different forum sees people discussing the moist layers almost as if they’re not quite convinced they ever existed.
But they did exist. And they were perfect.
This dessert was by far and away our family favourite and a Sunday roast wasn’t complete without it. We didn’t have it every week (IF ONLY) but the best Sundays were the ones where it did make an appearance.
I think at first it was rolled out as a special treat and then it just had to become a more regular thing because my sister and I had become like rabid vampires who had tasted the sweet chocolate cream nectar and now had gateau lust. We often referred to it just as “Sara Lee”, despite the fact the brand made lots of different frozen desserts.
There were different ways to eat it and I liked to combine these techniques within the same sitting. You could take a spoonful that encompassed all three layers for that intense textural hit or you could painstakingly scrape the cream away from the cake and eat the components separately. The scraping was a key part of the enjoyment. We would be told off for playing with our food, when perhaps we should have been praised as early pioneers of the deconstructed desserts trend.
As we got older, we’d convince our parents that the gateau should just be cut into four. I vividly remember thinking a quarter of a triple layer gateau was a normal portion size and then being devastated when having it at friends’ houses where the mums wanted to stretch the dessert out over two dinners. (Or just not promote childhood greed which, with hindsight, is understandable and correct).
Gateau leftovers were never quite right the next day. The “cream” quickly become rubbery and I remember putting my insatiable desire for chocolate above common sense on numerous occasions. If you’re having to chew cream then you should probably step away. I do know that now.
Of course the opposite of chewy cream and dried out cake layers was the problem you’d have when mum didn’t quite get the gateau out of the freezer in time. Rather than take the sensible option and save it for next Sunday, we’d insist she tried to defrost it anyway and inevitably find the inner core rock solid. You’d work your way through – it was still Sara Lee after all – but it wasn’t the same.
My favourite Double Chocolate Gateau memory came about on a New Year’s Eve in the mid nineties. We were all at our family friends The Forsters for a party and Adam and I were given an entire Sara Lee to share if we would essentially shut up and stay in the kitchen whilst the adults played board games in the lounge. It was one of the best nights of my life. HALF A GATEAU EACH. I can’t remember what Heather, Nicola and Clare were up to (I feel like they were in an upstairs bathroom necking Pringles, I could be wrong) but the stomach ache that followed eating half a gateau was worth every last gripe.
I know better than to hope this gateau will ever grace British freezer aisles again, but it really was a triumphant dessert.
If I’d known the last time I’d have eaten it would have been the final mouthful, I’d have savoured it just that bit more.