Making Cake

I feel like baking. I feel like creaming butter and sugar till the mixture is pale and fluffy. It is one of the wonders of the world that sugar and butter can turn to this. Of course it is easy to do in this in the Sunbeam. The butter is cubed; usually it is still too cold from the fridge and the sugar is measured into the glass bowl. The motor is switched on and at first the mixers have trouble because the butter is too hard and the bowl vibrates and it all feels like it will never come together. Like an old car starting on a cold morning. Another image hard to conjure these days when cars start no matter what the weather. I use a spatula to push the stuff down to the centre so the mixers can start churning the butter and really soften it. It starts to change colour to a paler yellow as the sugar is rubbed into it.  The granules of sugar, so clearly detectable before, are dissolving. It is turning to something other than butter and sugar.

I wonder who thought this could happen. Who was the first to discover that sugar and butter could do such a thing? And the end result of cake has no resemblance to its individual ingredients . When the people of France were starving during the French Revolution and there was no bread the French Queen was supposed to have said – Give them cake. She lost her head shortly after. My mother loved to tell us this whilst creaming.

When we were very little, before my mother had a mixer, and even after she had one, since she wasn’t very good at using machines, she made cakes by hand. This meant beating the sugar and butter together with a spoon. By forearm and wrist. It was aching stuff. Everyone got a turn at sitting with the bowl in their lap and having a good beat. Till their arm was so sore and it was handed over to someone else. You needed to sit down with a tea towel in your lap because you didn’t want to be the one to drop the bowl and you were too little to do it on the bench.

The necessary implement for this is a wooden spoon and the butter must be soft. The cake making must be known to be happening and the cake maker has had to get the butter out and put it on the sink well in advance of the need to use it. It cannot be a spur of the moment decision to make a cake where the butter and sugar must be creamed. And who would make a cake that didn’t need creaming. It is the only real cake after all. Easy quick cakes that just need melted butter and are whisked together are not cakes, proper cakes, my mother would say. And so later when she turned to the White Wings packet cakes this was what I thought. The thing did rise, it was still soft and cake-like, but it wasn’t a proper cake. After all the thing had come from a cardboard box and white sachets had been ripped open and poured into a bowl and a bit of milk or only water added. How did they turn eggs to powder. Mother didn’t know but she thought it was marvellous. Hardly any beating was required. Somehow all these dry powders made a cake that before had needed work, real work.

Back to the real cake; the arm is aching and the adversary – butter and sugar – seems unbeatable. Then it happens that the two have melded. Slowly they have transformed themselves from two things separate and different to one thing – magical and soft. Perhaps ten minutes has passed.

Then the eggs are added. One at a time. Some one might have to go down to the chook house for more. Cracked into the bowl and whisked into the beautifully smooth mixture. But oh the mixture looks ruined. It separates and yellows and curdles into bits. All that work creaming seems wasted by the adding of eggs. But a mother knows this is just a stage. It’ll be better when some flour is added. The sifted flour is sprinkled in. It binds and heals the curdled mixture. Another egg – more flour. Some milk too. Pale yellow and air light the mixture is scooped into a baking tin, already lined with parchment.

Then there are spoons to lick and a bowl too. One sibling gets the spoons and the other the bowl. Depends how fastidious a mother has been to get all the mixture into the bowl. Who will get the better deal?

Jasper shares the mixers with no one. Being a single child he has no siblings to squabble with over whose turn it is for the bowl. So sometimes the mixture is too much for him. I am left with the bowl. Pushing a finger around its rim. Like a child again I feel furtive, even though I am allowed. Something tells me it is greedy to keep licking. To keep poking a finger about till every morsel of mixture is gone. The bowl hardly needs washing.

But the mixture is so good. Almost better than the cake. Always.


One Reply to “Making Cake”

  1. This is some of your best kind of writing I think – the mix of nostalgic description with heart and lovely language…..


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