Now that my Archaeology assignment is out of the door (phew!) I’ve got some time on my hands. And now that the Christmas cake is out of the oven (after 2 hours and 40 minutes) and out of its tin and sitting and looking at me temptingly… I’ve obviously got cake on my mind.
My love affair with cake goes waaaaaaay back. Cake was really the first thing my sister and I learnt to make unsupervised. I think I must have been about 6 the first time we did it, but we’d been helping our mother for a couple of years before that – mainly by licking clean the mixing bowl (something I’m still very good at).
I remember the cake mix curdling once in the early days. My father was around at the time, I don’t know where my mother was, so I asked him in a worried way what I should do. He just added some flour to it and mixed it up and it looked fine. I’ve never been scared of cake mix curdling after that (which is why I blithely ignored the Christmas cake recipe when it suggested mixing the egg in teaspoon-by-teaspoon to prevent the mixture from curdling), but I’ve also never asked my father for help with cake ever after that. It was kind of worrying even having to do that, because cake-making was not supposed to be his thing, that was supposed to be my mother’s area of expertise.
Anyway, cake-making was a significant part of my growing up years. We always baked for birthdays and sometimes for other occasions, and we baked when we were bored and needed some excitement. We tried out dozens of recipes, some new, some well tried and trusted. We made plain cakes and cup cakes and sponge cakes and tiered cakes, and cakes with fillings and icings and frostings and butter creams and piping and chocolate slivers and glaces, and roast almonds. We made tarts and pies and chocolate eclairs, and chocolate logs, and profiteroles, and scones and muffins (and, in those days, I knew the difference between them) and – once – croissants and occasionally breads and…
There must have been more, but memory fails me (plus, I can hardly type now that I’m salivating so much).
When we weren’t baking, my sister and I learnt some of the more mundane cooking… Rice first, then rotis, then dal, which I eventually began to specialise in and built up an impressive range of six different types of, in an effort to beat the sheer boredom of dal. Then we went on to non-veg dishes, which of course culminated in fish fry and mutton curry. Veggies we never wasted much time on, which explains why my idea of cooking veg involves throwing assorted veg into a saucepan with lots of garlic and very little oil and leaving it to steam for a few minutes.
But cakes in particular (and baking, in general) remained my true love. When I got married and encountered the rather minimalist bachelor kitchen that Amit had, the first thing I did was to buy an electric oven. It was three thousand hard-earned rupees in the days when that was 25% of our monthly income, but it was money well-spent.
All the same, baking lost its charm after I moved away from my parental home. Amit has only half a sweet tooth and he is so very health conscious and calorie conscious that it’s practically cruel making him a cake. Worse, it’s cruel to me as well, because baking is a performing art and needs an appreciative and enthusiastic and participative audience to really flourish. In eleven years of marriage, it’s an art that I’ve almost completely lost touch with. And that’s sad. There was a time when I thought that if I ever set up a business, it would be a cake-supply or small cake-shop type of business. In those days, I had the repertoire to make it possible, but not any more.
Maybe, as the kids grow up, the charm, the excitement, the thrill and romance of baking will slowly come alive again and I can one day return to my former expertise at this delicious art.
But for now, there’s that Christmas cake, looking at me and reminding me that all is not lost.