The Search for the Perfect Cake

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From Wayne Thiebauld’s collection of cake paintings

I fell in love with cakes at a young age. My childhood best friend had older sisters who would often bake what I thought were the most delectable creations. They would huddle over their dining room table with their mixing bowls and recipes and whip up the most amazing cakes that I could only dream of making. I thought they were all so beautiful and dainty as I witnessed them sifting and whisking and mixing. I adored them. And I adored whatever they made.

I was eleven when I summoned the courage to make my first cake. And that came with a lot of sneaky planning. My family was scheduled for a trip to the city and I volunteered to stay home to take care of the pets. I had everything deviously planned out. If whatever I make would turn out to be a disaster, I would just chuck it out. The evidence of my failure would be gone and I will not breath a word to anyone.

So the long awaited day came when it was just the cat at home to witness my first trial. I rolled my sleeves up and baked. It was good. And no, it’s not a biased conclusion of an 11-year old girl. It was truly good! It took  a lot of self-control to not finish the whole 9 x 13 inches of chocolatey goodness! I had to painstakingly wait for everyone to come home so they could taste it, be gobsmacked that I made something unbelievably good, (yes, I was that confident, haha!)  so that they will let me do as I please with the oven now that I’ve proven I could work with it. Boy was I so full of myself that time! 😉

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Because every cake is an achievement! 😉

I was not able to make cakes that were as good as that first one the next couple of times, or years for that matter. But I achieved my purpose then–for them to let me tinker with the oven and play with whatever ingredients I could find in the shelves. My love for pastry and baking grew as my search for the perfect cake began.

Cakes as we know them today have come a long way from the first ‘kaka’, believed to be of Viking origin. The ancient Greeks then popularized ‘plakous’ (meaning flat) which consisted of flour blended with honey, eggs and nuts. Now we have modern cakes, fancy entremets, multi-layered paves, and visually out-of-this world cake designs that I cannot even dream of conceptualizing. But throughout the years and a couple of unwanted pounds after, I realized that if I want to eat cake, I want to taste cake. By that I mean enjoying it with its wholesome basic elements–a flavorful base and just the right amount of frosting or not, no garnish necessary.

These days when I gave myself the opportunity to try out different recipes with whatever stuff I can find in the pantry, I realized that there are those I love to make and those that I hate. Some I could finish a slice and some I could not even bring myself to taste. I’ve grown a very discerning palate or sense of preference but it weirdly does not have anything to do with flavors but more of how a recipe speaks to me. I realize that I always delight in something that brings nostalgia.

Like with most foods and smells, our senses get excited more strongly when we can relate, and such associations are mostly founded on memories. In my case, I always go back to those days when every slice of cake regardless of what it was made me giddy with excitement.  To those cakes that were made by my best friend’s older sisters. My aunt’s banana cake with lemon glaze. My sister’s squash cake that was so delightful even without any frosting. My mother’s big, fat pancakes. And to that one fateful day that I schemed to bake for the first time.

I haven’t found my perfect cake yet. Because there probably isn’t one. But it is for this reason that I’m equally excited every time there is a new one to slice and try. It might just be that.

 

One Comment on “The Search for the Perfect Cake

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