My mother is a fantastic baker. She had a Racold round oven when we were children. It had a lid that lifted and a glass window at the top. Over time, it became slightly cloudy. Racold baked a million cakes, puddings, biscuits, macaroons, and most of my childhood memories this round. The oven taught me that the vanilla scent of freshly baked cakes would be what heaven smells like if I got there.
Although it is hard to believe, there was a period in our history when, given the choice, you would have chosen to be born into a family where your mother baked. While one might dream of a glittering life if they had a trust, hard work, and talent cannot make up for the fact that the only cake available on the shelves is what you are destined to consume.
It was the dark ages before cordon bleu pastry chefs and artisanal bakery owners opened cake shops to sell exquisite confections. If you did not live in a metropolis or a mountain station, and your mother did not bake, the best way to celebrate your birthday was to buy a milkshake at the local halwai.
We were blessed twice. Mummy was a great baker and did so often. Our grandparents also lived in Dehradun, widely regarded as the Newcastle of cake, i.e… The mother lode is Dehradun, which has a variety of bakeries with over 100 different types of cake.
This accident of my birth has made me into a monster. A purist. A connoisseur. And a cake lover. I keep a knife in my purse if I have to cut a piece of cake from someone else’s. The cake is my go-to when I am happy. Cake soothes my anxious or worried mood. When I’m contemplative, the cake helps me to be more grateful. I’ve whipped and licked cake batters. I waited excitedly, glued to the oven window, until the cake had risen. I opened the door to the oven midway to see how it was doing, and the cake collapsed. I have stuck a thousand knitting needles or spaghetti sticks into cakes, ostensibly to see if the cake is made, but in reality, to stab and lick the half-baked cake batter. I’ve baked a billion cakes and eaten a trillion.
From this pedestal of expertise and greed, we can see the truths of the universe in the clumsy and delicious cake crumbs.
1. There is nothing better than a freshly baked cake. You know, there are two things you can count on if you’re the type of person to pull a cake out of the oven as soon as it is made. You will burn your hands handling the pan because of impatience. You won’t even be able to cut the cake with a knife because it will be so delicious (although slightly less sweet than when it cools down). A cloud of delightful steam will greet you, and if you reach out to grab it with your fat fingers, you’ll burn yourself.
2. a. Frosting isn’t cake. It seems obvious, but people still don’t understand it. It’s like reading or reviewing a book based on the font or taste of Frosting. If you blabber about Frosting, please be aware that you reveal your callousness, mischief, and lack of trustworthiness. You are not trusted and should be forced to sit in the corner until you have finished your barrel of Frosting.
As a consequence, cupcakes are not cake. Cupcakes are made to be beautiful, photographed, and make people envious on Snapchat. Sometimes people forget this and have to eat wood for days to get rid of the horrible taste of cupcakes.
3. A chocolate cake may be the answer, but a fantastic chocolate cake will make you swoon. Every chocolate cake has a different look, taste, and appeal depending on the cocoa type used and its reaction to the leavening agent in the recipe. I’ve wept with joy when eating a chocolate cake made with cocoa from all ends of the spectrum of “real” cacao–from Dutch-process cocoa to cocoa with only a passing acquaintance with the cocoa plant. These cakes were leavened using baking soda, sour milk, buttermilk, or any combination. Even though I love flourless chocolate torte and I use double Dutch chocolate powder to make my cakes almost black these days, I’ve eaten brown chocolate cake, red chocolate cake, auburn chocolate cake, and burnt sienna at different times. No matter how sophisticated, how childish they may be, how many frostings they have, or how dark they are, chocolate cakes must always taste chocolate. They should hug you with a chocolate embrace when you bite into them. Some people put beetroot into a chocolate dessert. They should be disfellowshipped and sent to the corner of the frosting eaters. While beetroot can be delicious in its own right, especially when roasted with goat cheese, there is no reason for it to ruin my chocolate cake.
4. The sponge cake reminds us of our starchy but much-loved aunts. A good sponge cake is light, fluffy, and fat-free. It’s also a great way to get into trifle heaven. This is a comforting and delicious treat with a bit of compote or jam on top.
5. The Brothers Grimm never should have allowed the Black Forest Cake to leave the Black Forest. They should have locked it up in a tower along with Rapunzel.
6. Cakes from childhood will continue to have an unnatural attraction over us. My friend is weak-kneed by a pineapple-upside-down cake, and I am drooling over the rum-laden caramel-fruit cake my mother created and won in a recipe competition for which she received a mixie. We called it mixie for years, and I can still say objectively that a pineapple-upside-down cake, Black Forest cake, and Rapunzel should all be locked up in a tower together. But the mixie is a delicious taste revolution just waiting to happen. The carrot cake we ate as children was light, flavourful, and made us feel virtuous. The American carrot cake is a different story. Its cream cheese frosting can make you sink a few inches into the earth daily.
7. Banana bread does not qualify as a cake. No way. No, it’s not cake. It may be delicious, dense, and grainy, bringing back childhood memories for many of us. It’s not cake.
8. Different people can have different ideas about cake. It could be a chocolate cake, fruit cake, lemon-poppy-seed cake, or spiced sticky ginger cake. The cake everyone loves, no matter where they are, is pound cake. A pound cake is made from a pound of butter, flour, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. The cake is tough to make because it is so simple. Mahatma Gandhi is the cake of all cakes. Empires crumble and wilt before their inner splendor. The cake is deceptively simple, with no frostings or layers. But its virtues shine through every bite. Every slice is simplicity, comfort, pleasure, and redemption. Anyone who has eaten a thick, velvety piece of this cake and been enchanted by the buttery flavor knows how delicious it is. It doesn’t even matter if the mother made it or not.
Here’s the deal. I’ve got a wonderful, if incredibly unorthodox, recipe for pound cake. I created it after trying around 50 other recipes (some people are willing to do anything to help the human race advance, but they are selfless). Please write to me if you would like it. But please include a generous slice of the cake that you imagine when you think of cake. Remember what I said before about beetroot and Frosting? Black Forest cake. If your cake brings me to my happy spot, be prepared to be dazzled by it.