Donna Hay: Am I a domestic goddess? I don't know.
I'm agog when Donna Hay heads in my direction. I am corralled in the media section of the Astra Awards, described as subscription television's night of nights, late last month.
The red-carpet staff ask me: would I like to speak with Donna Hay? I would. She's Australia's own domestic goddess, with her own magazine empire, range of cookbooks and pretty duck-egg-blue boxed cookie kits. She is on the red carpet as a nominee for her work on the LifeStyle Channel and wins acclaim with the award for favourite female personality, beating the likes of Sarah Murdoch and Megan Gale. She stands under the blinding lights and answers the questions I yell at her over the din.
How did you establish yourself as a massive food icon?
Donna Hay poses with the award for Favourite Personality at the 10th annual Astra Awards at Sydney Theatre on June 21 in Sydney. Photo: Getty Images
Donna Hay: I just worked hard. I had a very simple philosophy of trying to get people interested in cooking at home. It's an easy philosophy. A couple of fresh ingredients and hopefully people can get dinner on the table in about 20 minutes.
Are you a domestic goddess?
DH: No. Am I? I don't know. I'd like to be but I'm not sure I am.
Hay has built herself a culinary empire... pictured are Donna Hay Molten Chocolate Chunk Brownie and Vanilla Cupcake kits. Photo: Melanie Faith Dove
What's your favourite dessert?
DH: I'll eat any type. Ice cream and me, we are as one. I'll bake anything. If you want me to bake anything for you, I'm more than happy to, any time.
What was your biggest ever kitchen disaster?
DH: The biggest one which involved a call to the fire brigade was when I put 24 cobs of corn on the barbecue. I'm a stylist: I tied all the husks at the end so people would have something to hold on to. You are meant to soak them first, I ran out of time. It was quite a large fire.
What are your top food photography tips?
DH: Use daylight. You have to cook it fresh and be really quick. The rest comes with practice.
What words of encouragement and advice do you have for home chefs?
DH: Start simple, accomplish great things and keep going.
That's all Hay has time for before she scurries away.
Inspired by my brush with culinary celebrity, I opt to cook a Donna Hay recipe found on her website. The buttermilk puddings with passionfruit syrup look tempting as well as simple.
I start by producing the simple syrup by dissolving the sugar in water and adding the fruit pulp. Next, the buttermilk component. This is just a question of dissolving some powdered gelatin in a small quantity of buttermilk, then adding it to the mixture made up of more buttermilk, cream and sugar.
The thing is, my powdered gelatin is the unflavoured kind from Aeroplane Jelly, specifically a packet of Create-A-Jelly. I am not certain whether this is the same thing as powdered gelatin. Real powdered gelatin is probably a lot more potent. This would explain the problem I encounter after the two-hour setting time: my puddings have not set. They are still liquid, so much so that attempting to put the passionfruit syrup on top results in the syrup sinking to the bottom. Even freezing them doesn't do much good.
They still taste good, albeit like a rich tasty drink rather than a nice wobbly pudding. My lesson this week is to pay attention when substituting ingredients or you could end up with a mess, if not a corn cob fire.
Claire Low is a staff feature writer on a mission to master dessert and pastry making.