Wednesday, November 2, 2011

On Love and Cake

I had a panic attack on the first flight. "I should have packed my cake decorating stand," I thought. I ran down the list again, a suitcase already packed and checked: 3 sizes of cake pans (2 of each), a full size off-set spatula, same in mini, a box of pastry tips, piping bags, parchment paper, two jars of vanilla bean paste, and a jar of Duke's mayonnaise*. "When can I get into the kitchen? Will there be enough fridge space? Is there even a mixer?" The panic continued.

Last Monday I flew to Seattle for a a long visit home. I went to bake the cake for see my mom get re-married. She didn't get the kind wedding little girls dream of the first time around. She married my dad in the back room of his parent's general store, wearing her prom dress as wedding gown.  I'm sure there was cake - but I imagine it wasn't anything she dreamed up. This cake, the one I traveled home to make was kind-of-a-big deal.

I've made cake for most every occasion you can imagine: birthdays, baptisms, baby showers, even the a wedding cake for friends of a friend. But this cake had caused a panic.

I became a comfortable traveler when my parents split and choose opposite coasts. I don't panic about packing. I like to be early to the airport but not two hours. I actually kind of enjoy turbulence. I didn't panic on Monday when I couldn't find my i.d. between flights. Or when I ran into my childhood sweetheart - me no make-up, six months pregnant, sweaty-in-a-wedding-cake-panic, him relaxed, hungover, tan from a week of vacation- at the airport only to find out we were on the same return fight home(!). 

This wasn't even my first cross country catering gig. I've shipped boxes of salt, pans, even knives for holidays, family functions and the like. But the cake panic continued even as the tall handsome man who gave me my first kiss some fifteen years ago, offered to take carry-on and help me to my seat.

On the second flight, I found my i.d. I decided I could rig a lazy susan as a rotating cake stand. I started a prep plan for the minute I landed. I made a shopping list. And I started wonder why I was in such a tizzy about cake.

I didn't dream of weddings as a little girl. I dressed up like a "business lady" and my dolls were "clients" instead.  I was mortified when she'd buy bridal magazine as a single mom. But my mom was always dreaming about being married again. She got all three of us through school, even earned a Master's degree for herself, and bought a house as a single mother. At a certain point I figured that was enough of a life for her.

As I wrote my prep list, I thought about growing up with a single mom. Remembered watching her through times alone and times in failing relationships. I thought about all she gave up to be a mother at 18. She never gave up her hope, not the one of a fairy tale wedding but, of some one to grow old with, a soul mate, a hand to hold to the end. I realized my feelings about the cake weren't even panic. They were overwhelming excitement, happiness, even relief for my mother.

On Saturday, I watched her marry a good man in a church in a real wedding dress. There were lots of tears, laughter and dancing. And, of course, there was cake.

This is my favorite yellow cake and the cake I used as the base for my mom's wedding cake. It is also Brian's favorite cake, and the cake most likely to appear at our wedding.

Our Favorite Cake

makes 2 9 inch rounds, Serves 10 to 12

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 cup whole milk

6 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Butter and flour two 9 inch cake pans. Heat the oven to 350˚F.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl, set aside. Heat the butter and milk in a medium saucepan over low heat.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until thick, pale and a “trail” will hold in the mixture for 3 seconds, about 5 minutes.

Bring the milk and butter mixture to a boil by increasing the heat to medium. With the mixer running, add the hot milk to the egg mixture. Stir in the vanilla.  Add the flour mixture on low speed and beat until moistened.

Divide the mixture evenly between the two prepared pans and bake 40 – 50 minutes until golden brown and cake springs back when pressed.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely, about 1 hour, on a wire rack.

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