Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thirteen Cakes

Cake Spread
With anything else, 13 would be unlucky.  Somehow with cakes, 13 makes a party.

This year Pavel turned 50.  It occurred to me that I should be sure to throw him a nice party.  Mainly because he deserves it.  But also because precedent has taught me it’s in my best interest.

When Pavel turned 40 we had a big dinner party—choucroute garnie for 30—to celebrate.  Two years later, he returned the favor by taking me to Venice and Rome to celebrate my 40th.  I’m pretty quick on the uptake, hence the 13 cakes.  My 50th is in two years, and there are many places I’d love to travel to.

Actually, I really baked 19 cakes--14 different types.  Francesca pointed out that I’d probably baked more cakes in two days than I did in all of last year.

Two of the cakes didn’t make it to the table.  They were called Nutella Swirl Pound Cakes, but mine ended up more like Nutella Quagmire Pound Cakes.  The Nutella sank to the bottom.  The result tasted okay, but wasn’t that pretty to look at.  The cakes went into my freezer for a desperate day.

But Flo Braker’s Meyer Lemon Chiffon from The Baker's Dozen Cookbook turned out wonderfully.   I feel a familial bond with this cake—my mother is sometimes credited with helping popularize the Meyer lemon; my mother-in-law often provides me with bags of the lemons from her backyard tree.

Fran Chiffon

Too bad the first Meyer Lemon Chiffon Cake I baked didn’t feel a bond with the side of the cake pan! You know that neat trick for cooling Angel Food and Chiffon Cakes?  The one where you invert the tube pan onto a wine bottle, and the cake miraculously never falls out?

Fallen Chiffon
Turns out that’s not quite true—sometimes gravity does win.  But it wasn’t a horrible problem.  If I’d only had to bake that one chiffon cake, this disaster would have ruined my day.  But since I was in production mode (I baked 17 cakes in two days), it was mainly amusing.  And a nice snack.

One other important fact.  Pavel likes stripes.  So much that my sister-in-law dubbed blue-and-white striped patterns ‘pavelflage’.  So of course we had one striped cake:

Striped Almond Torte

Well, two.  Almond Tortes, from my mother’s cookbook, Chez Panisse Desserts.  My father did the stencil and sugar work.

Striped Heart Almond Torte

And the rest of the line-up:

The actual birthday cakes (you know, with layers and icing and candles):

Devils Food with Boiled Brown Sugar Coffee Icing

Loni Kuhn’s Devil’s Food cake from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book.  This one iced with coffee-brown sugar 7-minute icing, and decorated with gold leaf.

Fran Lane Cake

Edna Lewis' Lane Cake from The Gift of Southern Cooking.  This is one of my favorites.  You can make it far ahead (I baked it 4 days before the party), in fact, you should—this allows the bourbon-rich filling and icing to settle into the white cake.

Fran Devils Food Gold Leaf

The rest of the cakes were a collection of Bundts and loaves, chosen largely for how well they kept (I didn’t want to bake on the actual birthday).

Aunt Maggies Boiled Raisin Cake

Aunt Maggie’s Boiled Raisin Cake, from Gourmet magazine.  Another good keeper—supposedly up to 2 weeks.  We were still eating this one, quite happily, 9 days after it was baked.  It’s made by boiling together butter, brown sugar, coffee, raisins, and candied orange peel.  After that cools, you add the flour etc. and bake.  Delicious.

Two cakes from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours.  Banana Bundt with Lemon Icing…

Banana Bundt with Lemon Icing
…and Chocolate Gingerbread:

Chocolate Gingerbread

Bourbon Soaked Pound Cake
Another favorite of mine, Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake. But I used Bourbon. A lot.

A trio of pound cakes: Citrus Pound Cake and Cardamom Vanilla (both from Gourmet), and the very traditional Mace Cake, from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book.

Citrus Pound Cake Mace Pound Cake
Citrus and Mace Pound Cakes

Cardamom Vanilla Pound Cake
Cardamom Vanilla Pound Cake
A couple of jelly rolls, made with a plain sponge cake spread with red currant jelly.

Red Currant Jelly Roll
Jelly Roll
The shadowy interior of the jelly roll.

Last, but not least, Flo Braker’s Heavenly Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Rum Glaze from The Baker's Dozen Cookbook. I couldn't resist adding a little coffee to the glaze, so I guess that was Mocha Rum Glaze.

Hazelnut Cake

It's possible I overdid things.  We were eating cake for breakfast for a few days (not that anyone complained).  For Pavel's birthday it seemed like a good idea to err on the side of plenty: plenty of cake, plenty of champagne (we have a few boxes stowed in our basement), and plenty of stripes.  And maybe it will put him in a good frame of mind for planning my 50th birthday.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dave Frishberg Day in Portland

Yesterday was Dave Frishberg Day here in Portland.  Though I only knew that because it was announced at the Frishberg concert I went to Sunday night, part of the Portland Jazz Festival.

I don’t know much about music.  But I will tell you that while I was sitting there listening (and watching) I was taken back to sitting in the seminars in Key West last month.  How lucky am I?  I’ve had the good fortune to listen to both Dave Frishberg and Calvin Trillin in two months. 

And I was struck by their similarities.  Frishberg and Trillin are about the same age, both soft spoken.  They go about their work (at least on stage) so easily, I imagine some might think they’re just sending it in at this point.

But they’re not.  They’re delivering.

Here’s a description of Frishberg I wrote years ago after a concert:

The keyboard is keeping him on a tight leash. His back is covered with a beige suit jacket. The wrinkles that form in it when he moves look skeletal, suggesting every motion he makes. He could be a model in a life drawing class, doing rapid poses for gesture drawing.

He seems to be doing everything exactly as my childhood piano teacher forbade. His shoulders are scrunched up next to his ears; in fact, all his body, except his feet and hands, hangs as if rigidly connected by a fishing line to the keyboard.

But his right foot is swinging. Sometimes it just pumps up and down, but when he really gets going, the right foot tries to run off. His left hand is playing stride piano, the octaves are yelling out at us. His right foot circles around, out from under the piano and is just about to take off when Snap! He pulls it back to the pedal.

And his hands, really almost claws, travel up and down the keyboard, sidling each way, crablike. At once they are rigid, severe, unbending, but also elastic. They defy reality. I can barely follow the sounds, there are so many at once.

Suddenly the crabs turn into ballerinas, pirouetting sweet trills on the black keys before something goes wrong. The ballerina hands transform fluently into a drawn pistol, and the trigger finger pulls off a note. Bang! The ballerina is gone for a while, but she’ll be back. The final note is played, surprisingly quiet, without flourish. His hands fall off, his shoulders relax with a shudder, and--only for a moment--his forearms are suspended quivering, parallel to the floor, before they, too, relax at his sides.
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