By Vita Forest.
Last weekend I did some cooking. Not just the usual quick meal assembled fast at the end of a long day, but leisurely weekend baking. I was heading to Saskia’s place for the afternoon and thought I’d take a cake. Now as my children will tell you, recipes that require sugar are rarely chosen by their mother and are therefore a cause for celebration.
Which is exactly what sugar should be reserved for.
I perused my pantry and cookbook for a suitable recipe. My cookbook was a gift from over twenty years ago. It has a hard cover and colour-coded pages with a different pastel shade for Entrees, Meat and Poultry, Vegetables and Salads and Desserts, Cakes and Biscuits. It has been filled with handwritten entries, emails, cuttings from newspapers and sheets of paper begged from others to copy a just-tasted recipe while visiting. It contains a multitude of handwriting samples and the most popular pages are splattered with samples of the recipes themselves. I leafed through the book, flicking over tantalising headings that were first attempted during my childhood, my mother’s and even my grandmother’s. Jam drops, Self-saucing Butterscotch pudding, cupcakes. It really did evoke memories of times past (although there were no recipes for Proust’s Madeleines…)
Due to the low levels of sugar in my pantry, I settled on a Dutch Almond Cake recipe courtesy of my mother. (Don’t be fooled – it still required white sugar AND brown sugar AND golden syrup). I spent a happy half hour measuring teaspoons of cinnamon, cloves and ginger and watching glossy ribbons of syrup fold over and over themselves, before dissolving into a golden lake at the bottom of a mixing bowl. The whole procedure became an exercise in mindfulness – grinding the flour and spices through a strainer/come sifter (most of my utensils do at least double duty), listening to the clink of almonds as they toppled into a cup, stirring and stirring and stirring the golden syrup until its sluggish thickness was absorbed into a tawny milk mixture.
For forty five minutes, the apartment filled with the scents of wafting spices, my cats padding into the kitchen to peer in wonder at the show taking place inside the oven. What was going on in there? What was that smell? Their noses twitched as they peered inside the illuminated heated box.
The cake rose and split with a couple of fault lines, then rose some more. When it was ready, I ran a knife around the tin before upending the cake between two racks. The tin was gingerly lifted off, the baking paper peeled away, then the cake was flipped over again and set upright to cool beneath a netting canopy (to ward off curious felines).
Later that afternoon, we sat on Saskia’s balcony and savoured buttered slices of Dutch Almond cake with steaming mugs of tea.
Life is good.