I know, some of you will say ‘you can never have too much cake,” but after the past few weeks, I can’t even look at one. The thought of it makes my stomach turn, and the thought of baking one is even more troubling.
Yet, while I’m doing all I can to stay away from cake, it is a different story for the kids. They spot the cakes in the grocery bakery and beg for some, ask for cake after dinner, and wake up in the morning and answer ‘cake’ when I ask them what they’d like for breakfast.
The word cake has its origins in the days of Vikings, when a flour confection, called kaka, was sweetened with sugar or honey. It was, in fact, more bread-like than the cake we know today. Through the years, dried fruits and nuts were added, eventually leading to fruitcakes and gingerbreads (which were meant to last for several months). Modern-day cakes emerged around the middle of the 17th century in Europe, but it wasn’t until the mid 19th century that cakes really came to resemble what we Americans eat today.
Yes, we all have our favorite -chocolate, classic white, cheese, coffee, Devil’s food and angel food. And, we enjoy cake as we celebrate significant times in the life cycle – for birthdays and baptisms, weddings and graduations, and nearly every day in between. (One of Greg’s favorite cake snacks is to jam the cake into a glass then fill it with milk.)
And, that leads us to my current aversion to cake: An abundance of celebrations.
It all started at the beginning of May. It was Grayson’s First Communion, and I just couldn’t let the day pass without a cake (even if we weren’t having a huge party). The thing was, I was out of town until late the night before the First Communion. Luckily Mom offered to bake the cake and send it through the mail. All we would have to do was frost it the morning of, and we’d be ready to celebrate.
After the Communion Cake on May 1st, I looked ahead to the next two weeks filled with birthday celebrations. (Luckily, Mother’s Day slipped by without a cake to celebrate). First up was Grayson’s birthday. Unfortunately, I was on a tight schedule. I had only 2 hours to bake the bake and frost it. In the middle of making a delicious Julia Child Vanilla Pound Cake, my hand mixer died. I was awaiting delivery of a newViking stand mixer, so I pulled out my 20-year-old hand mixer. While adding the eggs to the batter, the motor made a strange sound and popped out the back end of the machine, sprinkling the batter with bits of plastic, and making it unusable.
In the interest of time (or lack thereof), I walked over toBaskin Robbins and bought Grayson’s cake for his birthday. Despite choosing a relatively small cake, the cost of it was more than I really wanted to spend, giving me the impetus to buy a hand mixer to get me through the next round of cake-baking this weekend.
The next day, I picked up a Sunbeam Hand Mixer to get me through the three-day cake-baking marathon I was about to embark upon. I needed something for Grayson’s classroom celebration (homemade Oreo cookies), followed by his baseball game on Saturday (baseball cupcakes), and another cake for a birthday party on Sunday with Grayson’s buddies (squid-shaped).
In the midst of all the Grayson celebrations, was my own birthday. This time around, it was a combination of lack of time and lack of flour and eggs (which I used up for my baking) that led Greg and the kids to walk down to Mill Valley Market to buy me a beautiful flowers-in-a-pot cake.
Yes, we love to mark celebrations with cakes. But right now, I could really go for some pie. I’m not signing off from making cakes all together, as I’ll be making cake soon for Greg’s birthday next month. But, until then, I plan to give my cake-baking hands a rest, and my waistline a chance to recover.
When it comes time to bake a cake once again, I’ll do so with much more excitement, anticipation and perhaps a bit more planning. And, I’ll be sure to try out my new Viking stand mixer, which happened to arrive on my birthday. Perhaps the Cake-Making Gods heard my cries for help.
In the meantime, here’s that Vanilla Pound Cake recipe I never got to make this time around.
Vanilla Pound Cake
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature, whisked to blend
- 1 cup milk, at room temperature
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Position rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan or other 12-cup decorative pan with a center tube.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together onto a sheet of waxed or parchment paper; reserve.
Put the butter into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or work with a hand-held mixer) and beat at medium speed until smooth. With the machine running, add the sugar in a steady stream. Stop the machine and scrape down the paddle and the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Continue to beat at medium speed until the mixture is very light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.
With the mixer still at medium speed, begin to add the eggs in small additions, about 1 tablespoon at a time. If the mixture becomes watery or shiny, stop adding the eggs and beat at an increased speed just until it smooths out. When the batter has come together again, decrease the speed to medium and continue adding the eggs, scraping down the paddle and sides of the bowl from time to time; it will take 3-4 minutes to incorporate the eggs. The mixture is properly combined when it appears white, fluffy, and increased in volume.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture and the milk alternatively – 4 additions of flour, 3 of milk – scraping the paddle and bowl frequently and mixing until the batter is smooth after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix just to blend.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto a rack, remove the pan, and cool to room temperature. The cake is best served in very thin slices.
Serves – 16 to 20
Source: Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan, 1996, A La Carte Communications, Inc.