At some point in our young lives, my sister made a cake. This stands out because my sister doesn’t bake. Food is a necessity to her, lucky woman, unless we’re talking about salsa or hot sauce. Okay, apples, popcorn…she’s a grazer. She’s petite and lean — fit. And she’s more beautiful than she’s ever been. Don’t misunderstand. She’s always been a lovely woman (outside of her cranky junior high phase), but at this point in her life she is truly lovely. Is it the recent empty nest? Perhaps the East Coast climate? Or is it that she is blissfully free of those of us on the West Coast where she truly belongs?
My sister is coming from Virginia with her oldest daughter in a couple of days. They used to be California types like us, but life’s necessities took her family to the East Coast for a few years before they were able to return to the Golden State, and then, opportunities not available here saw them back in Virginia. Forever. We stay in touch on Facebook, with occasional emails, and like a few mornings, ago phone calls from the grocery store while she was looking for cake flour. My lovely, svelte sister is not a baker. Lucky woman.
I miss her quite a bit these days, wondering if I’m suffering from the realization of not having taken advantage of her being closer when she was here. There were quite a few years when she and I were each raising a house full of children and like most families, found time to get together for barbeques on birthdays and holidays, but we both had careers, so life was quite busy then. I have three boys, and she, three girls. She wanted a boy, and I a girl, but that wasn’t what happened, so I always thought I might get my fix of girls from spending time with hers — as in have sleep overs. Tea parties. Dressing up and painting toenails lots of crazy colors. I guess one of my biggest flaws is idealism. Silly me. One can’t exactly have a tea party unless one invites a few tea party goers, can one?
Her youngest daughter– the last of our six boys and girls — is just finishing high school and so both my sister and I are facing very different times in our lives. Mine has been focused on learning to live in a very quiet house newly void of boys since seeing my youngest off to college this past fall. She is preparing for a wedding — her oldest daughter is to be married this coming summer.
As much as I missed many chances to get to know her daughters better than I have over the years, I was pleasantly surprised — humbled actually — to have my bride-to-be niece call late last year and ask if I might consider making her wedding cake.
Sure, I’ve made cakes. Lots of them. But I’ve never made a wedding cake.
I’ve never made anything with fondant, either, choosing instead to watch from afar as others work wonders with it.
The cake is to be round, not square. Three-tiers of lemon with vanilla buttercream for 100 guests. White fondant with varied shades of yellow teardrops cascading down the sides. Clean, sleek, simple.
And I have to figure out how to get it to L.A. where the wedding will be held.
Thankfully, I have many baking friends willing to share their experiences with fondant with me, as well as other great resources I’ve been learning from. I’ve also buried myself in my favorite cake book, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. I enjoy it because of the way the recipes are organized including both weight and volume in the ingredients list.
Since we’ve had an amazing variety of citrus to enjoy this winter, I decided to use that to begin my first experiments in wedding cake baking. Three types of citrus curd and buttercream filling six little square cakes covered with a reasonably edible fondant may seem a bit over zealous for a first attempt, but I have a tendency to be that way in general. It pushes my thinking while I make an enormous mess in my kitchen.
My next practice session begins today so my niece and sister can sample the flavors when they arrive, then I’ll make necessary adjustments and practice a few more times before the real cake is baked in July.
Wish me luck, and by all means, if you’ve done this before and have any recommendations, I will be more than happy to listen.
As the rest of the food world in the northern hemisphere is beginning to notice the gold and amber in leaves, refreshing dampness in the air, and hope to soon realize their desires for large pots of savory delicacies or comforting treats made of apples and cinnamon, I’ve decided that a bit of lime and blackberries are in order. After all, the southern hemisphere is just now packing away flannels and sweaters, perhaps wanting bright flavors that conjure a dreamy afternoon spent in a place perfect to accomplish not much of anything. I wouldn’t mind that about now, sitting here with slippers and a sweater wrapped about myself, our windows snapped shut earlier than I can remember in years. October will be here in a couple of weeks, and still the warm fall days I expected to make up for a summer that never really was, have still not arrived. The air here is damp as well, and the salt-tinged breezes blowing in from the ocean tend to be brisk, making my evening walks a good time to breathe deeply, taking it all in. It’s good weather for taking stock, and thinking about what might be if one can put her mind to it — always a good thing.
Some would say cupcakes are always a good thing as well, but I’m not sure I agree, not completely understanding the semi-maniacal swoon inducing craze over what amounts to a bite or two of cake. A sometimes too precious thing that, if you’re not careful, will land frosting side down when you least want it to, spoiling the perfect swirl of creaminess that, when the first big bite is taken, often ends up in your nose.
Not exactly precious, but definitely hilarious. A redeeming quality.
Sometimes I’ll ask my husband what sounds good — to smack his lips together and let me know. It’s only fair since I’m the one who always decides what we’ll eat. He barely gets a request in edgewise, so I give him the chance once every other blue moon.
“Key Lime Pie,” he answered when I asked a few days ago. Not a question — a statement. Okay.
I’m fairly good at anticipating much of what he comes up with — dinner or dessertwise — but this one threw me for a loop. Even though we’re experiencing typical San Diego weather now (it’s always hotter in the early Fall…) I’ve had baked apples and braised meat swirling through my head for weeks. Key Lime? Talk about shifting gears.
It sounded so tropical and fresh — so summery. Not to mention that my regular market doesn’t always have them. But it must have been his lucky day, because not only did I find them, I found a bag of them — tiny green orbs of heaven from Mexico.
Key limes are quite a bit smaller than regular limes and often have skin that is more yellow than green. To me, the taste isn’t as bitter as that of a regular or Persian lime, and the aroma more sweet. They’re so tiny, I have to get out my wooden router instead of using my old glass juicer which is so much neater. Yes, the wooden one works, but somehow, my technique must be rotten; I end up with lime juice everywhere but the bowl I want it it!
So how did we end up with cheesecake instead of key lime pie? I’m still working on that cheese drawer and happened to have two packages of cream cheese that needed to be used. Besides, I couldn’t resist the lime custard in this recipe. Oh. My.