cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Foggy Window Pane

a Poppy, a Grape, and a Window Cake

When the cake is shaped, the scraps are tossed aside to dry out on the counter board. Who will eat them now? They'll pass on into the garbage pail of dejection, along with that last cold spoonful of oatmeal left at the bottom of the bowl, the army of soggy spent tea bags, and the jaundice yolks stripped of their whites on meringue day. Garbage. As worthless as a sunken souflee or a foot-less macaron. Failures; close but not close enough. That tease and sudden dropping sense of complete bottomness. Holly Golightly sitting in the back of the cab with Paul, gee golly damn so close you can feel it with her. I never knit a ranch house, but i've seen the mean reds, and i'm a sap for chicken in chocolate sauce. Does life play the joke--you the real time star in some twisted sadistic daytime nighttime anytime melodrama. Failure; the royal fuck up. In life, in love--ill fated. We've all felt it before; that aching desire for just one day to not have to be you anymore, just one day where someone else could step in and you could have a break from everything you fault.

Standing at the sink, vacant eyes sunk in an anemic complexion, i wait to hear the electric water pot rattle its readiness. There is nothing pleasant about a Tuesday morning. The steam fogs the window it sits under, clouding the view of the neighbors ramshackle porch and the birdless-feader vacated for the snow. Smart birds fly south for the winter. Spokane is such a dismal place to live during these monotonous gray months of January, February, March, and into April. The noon sky is as dark as the dawn is at dusk. Yeah but how do you think the Swedes feel. The steam has fogged the entire breadth of the window. But even with its dreary view, its framed monotone hues, i need that window clear. We need to see that celestial death shroud in order to remember that through all of the self-pity, loneliness, and doubt, that the sun is still above us, hiding behind the haze, invisible, but still there. Life on earth continues, so by definition, by scientific definition--the sun did indeed come up this morning. So i brush my hand in circles over the foggy window pane to clear a starboard porthole, and do the same for my own socketed windows whose usual blueness has changed lately rather to a shade of red. There is nothing to see out this window, but perhaps if i keep it clear, and wipe off each boiling fog, i'll see something eventually.

I would guess you are feeling slightly depressive thus far in reading this diddy; don't. To write about life means to adhere to its foggy side as well. No want for pity or motivational speeches, only adjectives. Perhaps we have to get sad, mad, forlorn, in order to appreciate when we are happy. Maybe everything's a muck, and maybe i just like to yap, and maybe i like windows and sunshine a bit much. But regardless of its inspiration, be it born of ecstasy or despair, a cake is a cake is a cake. And for all the talk of window gazing, wandering thoughts, and failures, of course a window cake is born. on y va.

Originally my thought was to stick it (it being my complete sense of having failed life completely thus far in every aspect shape and form) by baking something i had previously attempted that had gone terribly wrong; a rebirth of a pastry failure to reverse all my woe. But thinking back on the duds, i realized that nearly all have been fixed and redone. I've made sunken quick breads, soggy muffins, drippy fudge, chunky mousse, feet-less macarons, wax-paper infused peanut brittle, and the list goes on. But never you mind those--for none, the reason unbeknownst to me, were taken personally as a mortal blow, but rather as a must get better next time. And they did. So, while peering out the window i turn, perhaps then something i've always wanted to do and never did. I jumped immediately to the stored mental image of a Battenburg cake i spotted on a blog a few years before this one ever lived (ehem, this would be Bron Marshall, the first food blog i recall ever seeing. for serious) and i fell in love with it. Battenburg cake, a window cake, perfect! How ironic, i will be such the romantic poet of symbolism it will make the whites of the masses roll back.

You are saying to yourself; eh eh, a Battenburg cake is pink and white. Correct, but this is not a Battenburg cake, it is a knock off hybrid window cake. A traditional Battenburg is a vanilla spongecake of which the cake batter is half dyed pink, and half dyed yellow. The cake is assembled into a four corner check pattern (like a window), the pieces of the cake are fused together with apricot jam, and then the completed rectangle is encased in marzipan. Very British you know. As such, I, being the tea-dumping American that i am, must change its pinky colour and flavour to a color and flavor of my own. Touche. Everyone is mixing poppies and lemons--good idea. But i did yellow last month, a contrast calls for something dark, where can i get black for my mood...poppy and...grape! No one does grape. What a yankee rebel .

Poppy & Grape Window Cake
*(pardon my french and portuguese please, it's a language practice activity)
ingredients: 1 cup flour (farine, farinha) ~ 1 cup sugar (sucre, açúcar) ~ 1 tsp baking soda (leveur chimique, bicarbonato de sódio) ~ poppy seeds (graines de pavot, sementes de papoila) 2 sticks butter (beurre, manteiga) ~ 1 packet vanilla sugar (sucre vanillé, baunilha açúcar) ~ 4 eggs (oeufs, ovos) ~ grape jam/ syrup (confiture de raisin, uva horas) ~ marzipan (pate d'amande,

method: 1) cream butter and sugars, add beaten eggs 2) combine flour and soda, slowly add to butter mixture but don't over mix--it will be kinda thick 3) pour half of the batter into a separate bowl and mix in poppy seeds 4) line a square 8x8 baking tin with parchment paper and spray slightly, add a separate piece of parchment that hangs over the middle to act as the divider 5) while holding up the diving piece of paper, pour one batter into the pan and smooth out, pour the other into the other side and trim extra length off of the paper divider 6) bake at 350 until done, and let cool completely 7) cut and groom cake into 4 equal geometric strips 8) stick them together with the grape jam or syrup slightly heated in microwave 9) roll out thin a hunk of marzipan, measure your cake with a ruler, and cut the sweet stuff accordingly. yes it will feel like an architectural project. get over it 10) brush grape jam on marzipan (i put it on the cake) then drape over, fasten and smooth.

Self doubt is a fault. It seeps from one event and trickles into all others. If i did this so wrong, then maybe everything else as well. What exactly do i have anyways? In a moment the thought of being you is so enervating you pity anyone unfortunate enough to have to talk, think, and even look at you. Failure. Just like the cake scraps. The problem is sugar, you're stuck being you. So here's what i did instead; i cut the scraps into cubes, set them in a bowl, sprinkled with sugar, and set them out on the table. No one's the wiser of their previous worthlessness. Great things come from windows. We'll try to remember that for the next time.

footnote: if you are wondering where the lake came from in the photo above, it is Lake Coeur d'Alene, in Idaho, about thirty minutes drive east of Spokane

à bientôt


Elra said...

Oh Battenberg cake, I made it in September for "Love British Food" event. It was delicious. Your look wonderful as well.

Aran said...

the slies might be grey and moody in Spokane but your photos manage to turn that "dullness" into beauty. lovely, lovely, lovely mallory!

Colloquial Cook said...

It looks like it has snowed on your cake, on the last picture. You can almost see a tiny handyman scraping the snow with a mini shovel on the marzipan. J'adore! J'ai toujours préféré regarder les Battenburg en Angleterre plutôt que de les manger, mais celui là a l'air drôlement appétissant, avec sa confiture de raisin!

Kaiser Penguin said...

This looks absolutely delightful and makes me wish I took more time to follow food blogs. Cheers!

Christy said...

I love the amazing lighting you ahve in these photos, Mallory!! Especially how you reflect light off the surface of the marzipan!! And I love those glass jars, too, they look amazing---I want to have cupboards-ful of them!!

Your post came just at the right time. Only last night I felt that life would be so much better if I do not have to be me; if I only could care less about everything, and to be more forgiving on myself. But you are who you are, right?

At least your cake and your photographs turned out so beautiful and comforting.

prettytastycakes said...


Your photos are beautiful, your writing poetic, and your window cake so creative. Evokes that closing door/opening window expression (cliched perhaps, I believe there's truth to it). You are so talented!


Tartelette said...

I'd rather have this than Battenberg cake...Oh yum!
Your life pictures of town are always so perfect!!

Núria said...

The cake and the window picture is brilliant!!!!

Mallory I think you need to visit some Australian blogs to see that sun you are missing :D
I'm missing the heat so much this winter.... it's beeing toooooo long!

matt wright said...

Awesome photography - my first visit to your site, and I LOVE it. The outdoor shots are fantastic, very cold. Food shots rock. Great looking cake.

mmmm cake.

Sierra said...

"Perhaps we have to get sad, mad, forlorn, in order to appreciate when we are happy"....this so perfectly describes so many of our chats hah :)

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