I'm a terrific cook and baker, and sometimes I fail. I want you to know that. In the kitchen, I'm gentle with myself — the antidote for all those years working in French restaurant kitchens.
This photo was in my Instagram feed last week. I can't swipe past an almond cake. That right there is love to me.
There was an occasion, and I made it one night after working all day and spending a few hours writing. I hit the kitchen at 9:00 p.m., which is a cool time if you don't wake up at 5:00 a.m. Conditions could have been better.
It's an egg leavened cake. A delicate creature. Think soufflé. Almond flour and fine cornmeal give it structure. Honey adds sweetness. A tart lemon and rosemary syrup soaks into it after baking. It's a keeper cake. On day three, it's perfection — moist, dense, a Yo-Yo Ma of flavour.
Baking international recipes calls for some MacGyver calculations. Just know that for an egg-leavened cake, if you have a different pan size, it's better to go slightly bigger. If it's smaller, the centre has trouble rising and will often sink.
I turned my oven on to preheat. The big mistake is it was the upper element only.
The cake is made without a hitch (having two bowls for my mixer is essential for beating egg whites alongside the batter).
I put it in the oven and then sat down to read. Twenty minutes later, I smell something burning. I wonder who's having toast in the building. Then it dawns on me the smell is coming from my kitchen. When I open the oven door, the top is charcoal. The colour of a Basque cheesecake. I take it out, curse a little, and then in a few silly manoeuvres, cut off the top and return it — centre wobbling — to the oven. It works but is so far from perfect.
In my mind, I hear Julia Child saying, "Never apologize." And I won't. Because I make nice plans, and sometimes they go sideways.
I will bake the cake again under better conditions (I have to for Gourmet Traveller and Emma Knowles). Because it's a beauty even with all the problems. The flavour of the honey comes forward with sitting. I used almond flour with the skin on which alters the colour of the cake.
This is a good recipe for American Thanksgiving. You can make it on Monday or Tuesday, and it's wonderful on Thursday evening with a big heap of thick cultured cream the colour of okra flowers, or a fat quenelle of boozy ice cream with a claret-hued slice of poached quince.
For those who are curious, my favourite almond cake recipe is from Joyce Goldstein. She made it when she was a celebrity chef in residence at the Stratford Chefs School. I went on to make it for bistro menus at the school during the Christmas season. There's marzipan in the batter, and that's never a bad thing.
Cake is a measure of my mental health. Baking is a way I protect it. I am not alone. It's also good for friendships. Right now that's important, again on the well-being front. Connecting with others in an upside down world seems vital.
My heart is breaking. The loss piles up in numbers that are unimaginable. A big part of our world's future. A generation or more. Rudimentary news knowledge, has me nervous. I've asked Google war-related questions in the last week. Crisis tumbles into crisis. Lies roll on to lies.
So I'm night baking. At home. Aware of my privilege.
There are artists who leave us before we are ready. We experience cultural loss, even though some leave us with much. I would have liked to see Matthew Perry get old.
And Whitney Houston. The golden imprint of her voice. Imagine being in that audience. The quiet way she starts and then looses herself to it. Her range was impeccable.
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