Easy, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Sweet

Making the Grade / Maltesers Madeleines

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Nelson Mandela

This blog is about the inspirations and struggles of life and this week, a school in central London provided the perfect inspiration to write about a group of people, and one in particular, who I think are dedicated, passionate and wonderfully human.

If you don’t live in England, you may not be aware that national exam results for schools came out this week. It was the first time I paid much attention to the announcements — because my sister’s year at King Solomon Academy in central London, also the school’s inaugural year group, were receiving their grades.

Maltesers Madeleine - TIK

Here’s the thing about my sister’s school; it’s an organisational model of education that didn’t exist in England until only a few years ago. And because of that all the children receiving results yesterday, living in the poorest ward in London were, according to statistics like the one below, almost completely guaranteed to fail at school. 58% of her year’s students receive free school meals (children living below the poverty line receive free meals in Britain) and over 75% don’t speak English at home.

A universal and heartbreaking statistic about education is the more free meals in a school (ie: the more poverty), the greater the rate of failure in exams. It’s a well known and much debated fact.

Graph of Doom...

Graph of Doom…

There are lots of opinions and shouty people talking about this. I’m not going to add my voice to theirs, because what I want to tell you about today is my personal experience of watching my sister and her friends from Teach First who, in their 20s, started working with the ARK Foundation to build a school and education model from the ground up into a game-changer of British education.

These teachers regularly worked over 100 hours a week, teaching for 41 weeks a year. They were usually up at 5 each morning and worked until midnight almost every day for the last 5 years. My sister would be at the houses of her students frequently; calming parents while convincing her more intractable students out of bed and into the classroom. She spent hours reassuring parents who couldn’t speak English and so felt utterly overwhelmed, while desperately caring for their children’s happiness and success. And in frequent phone and email conversations with politicians and journalists as the idea of their school caught on. All that before she taught a single English lesson.

Maltesers Madeleines - TIK

During regular sessions from their first term onwards, the teachers set aside time to teach basic skills like how to get on and off a bus politely, how to hold a knife and fork, how to behave in public, how to speak in job interviews. When older, the students went on field trips to universities, theatres and concerts; they learned to play musical instruments (one of my favourite memories of my sister is hearing of her weeping incoherently as she watched her students perform in their first orchestral concert).

A large percentage of students had low levels of literacy when they came into her English classroom at 11, and the poverty-stricken local community struggles with all the usual crime and drug problems, based on their poverty alone academic failure can seem assured. But this isn’t just any group of teachers and, based on their principle of ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goals’ my sister had her students put on a full production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth when they were 12. In case you’re wondering, they rocked it. I visited one of her English classes when these students were 13, they were reading classical Greek literature and debating philosophy.

And they have so much fun. The teachers make up chants for the whole school to learn, they set the world record for the largest number of people rolling numbers, they create times table rock stars, students and teachers also Harlem Shake pretty well…

Amongst the successes were profound challenges. I can’t count the number of times my sister wept on the phone to me about a student’s living conditions, about the personal struggles some of them were experiencing, about her utter exhaustion, about the fear that maybe it wasn’t going to work and they were going to fail the kids — it was never once about her, always about the students she’d come to care for so deeply.

So this week, as her year group received Britain’s highest results ever for a school with over 50% of free lunches; and 93% of students received five A* to C grades, guaranteeing them places in further education and beating top private schools at the core subjects, I’m filled with overwhelming admiration for the tenacity and passion of these young teachers and their students. And I’m about the proudest big sister in the whole world.

A surely-as-inspiring idea I had this week were these chocolate, malt and honey madeleines… I was on the way to a completely different recipe and just wasn’t happy with it, before I was suddenly struck by a memory of my sister and I as children eating almost our entire body weight in maltesers before causing havoc with our sugar highs. It’s a lovely childhood memory and I wanted to honour both it and her.

Enjoy.

Maltesers Madeleines - TIK

  • 90g unsalted butter, very soft
  • 100g caster (superfine) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 80g plain (all purpose) flour
  • 20g cacao powder (if you don’t have cacao, a dark cocoa will work as well)
  • 10g powdered malt (I use Horlick’s)
  • ½ tsp baking powder

Cream the butter with a tablespoon of the sugar

Whisk the remaining sugar with the eggs and a pinch of salt in a separate bowl until light and fluffy

Hand whisk together the flour, cocoa, malt and baking powder in a separate bowl before gently folding into the egg and sugar mix

Scoop a third of the batter into the butter and whisk vigorously

Transfer into the remaining batter and fold very gently

Scrape the batter into a plastic piping bag and chill for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days

Preheat the oven to 220˚C / 430˚F

Butter a madeleine pan and dust with cocoa powder

Snip a small (8mm) hole from the tip of the piping bag and pipe the batter three-quarters of the way up the prepared moulds

Reduce the oven temperature to 180˚C / 350˚F and bake for about 15 minutes, until the edges are slightly crisp

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes in the pan before turning out onto a wire rack

While the madeleines are still slightly warm, pop the piping nozzle of the honey malt cream (recipe below) into the mound of each baked madeleine and squeeze about a heaped teaspoon’s worth of the cream into each madeleine while slightly wiggling the nozzle to get into all the spongy crannies

Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately, while still beautifully warm

Honey Malt Cream

  • 80g double (heavy) cream, cold
  • 15g powdered malt (again, I use Horlick’s)
  • 30g set honey
  • Seeds from 1 vanilla pod

Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until the cream is super thick and all ingredients are well combined

Maltesers Madeleines portrait - TIK

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27 thoughts on “Making the Grade / Maltesers Madeleines

  1. This post brought tears to my eyes. Your sister rocks, as does her dedication to education in a new model. Just awesome. My mum has taught students with severe disabilities for years and the selflessness of people like her and your sister are constant sources of inspiration. Love, love maltesers and these madelines look the business. Photos are fab.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your sister sounds awesome. I went to an inner london state school and came out with straight A’s and A*’s doing better than anyone I knew who went to private school. My husband also got into Magdalen Oxford from a state school who are regularly the top Oxbridge college in the Cambridge/ Oxford league tables!

    I personally wouldn’t work private as an occupational therapist either but then I am from a very working class background myself.

    Take care

    Emma xx

    Like

    • That’s amazing, you guys would’ve had to work harder and smarter than any of us private school lot to achieve that. I was definitely spoon fed education from an early age and had to come by tenacity much later. Inspiring to read about both your successes. xx

      Liked by 2 people

  3. That’s just what I needed tonight, a real-life reminder of the Margaret Mead quote:
    ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ Awesome 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is just beautiful…Your baby sister is not only excelling at her job, but she has taken these children under her wing and has become their parent and mentor. As an interpreter, I have sat in so many parent / teacher meetings where I really felt for the children whose parents didn’t speak English or were illiterate, they had to work so much harder than their peers. It takes a great teacher to be able to compensate for the lack of support at home.

    Like

    • She really has taken on so many roles, and so many of the parents are an amazing part of the school community. Some bring home cooked food to her regularly – others focus on introducing her to local eligible bachelors! I didn’t know you were an interpreter, I love how many interesting people are in my online community. Do you work for a particular group? Which languages do you interpret?

      Like

      • It is great to see that the parents are involved, looks like a wonderful school community have been created. Haha, eligible bachelors!!
        Yes, interpreting is my profession. I work mainly for government agencies, mainly courts and legal interpreting. The language is Arabic in all of it’s beautiful dialects, I am also a freelance writer for an Arabic newspaper. I write mostly about local issues.

        Liked by 1 person

          • I hate that WordPress doesn’t have an edit tool for making mistakes in comments on other people’s page! What a fascinating job, I’m sure there are lots of challenges but I’m really inspired by the idea of helping others to communicate.

            Like

            • Yes totally agree, it’s annoying. Added a comma by accident too in my correction lol maybe I need to have my eyes checked. The screen is too small.

              Yes, I love my job. It allows me to see what is happening in society from so many different angles, for example I get to sit with police, barristers and social workers. It is a privilege and such an eye opener to be able to listen to people’s personal stories and to be allowed into their lives.

              Liked by 1 person

  5. “Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.” Andy Rooney
    I bet your sister too will be remembered by thousands. That’s my kind of celebrity!

    Like

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