“Can I please have another piece?” the little girl with the long blonde hair asked her mother. Looking at her daughters big blue eyes the mother gave in. “Just one more” she said as she carefully handed the little girl another piece of the cake she had made earlier in the day. Happily the little girl skipped out the door with her treasure. Arriving to her destination at the side of the house, just past the bird house, the little girl carefully peeled the icing off the cake, and in one swift movement lifted her hand and threw the cake over the bank. Sitting down she savored what was left – the sweet goodness of the fudge icing.
For as long as I can remember my mother made the same cake every year for my dad’s birthday. A very dense spice cake loaded with raisins, with a brown sugar fudge icing. If one was very careful they could lift the icing from the cake in one whole piece. I perfected that art of icing lifting! Over the years I learned to like the cake, but would still lift the icing and set it to one side, to savor, when the cake part was done.
Through the years I would often phone my mother for this recipe or that recipe, but somehow I never asked for the recipe for this cake. It was her cake. The one she always made for my dad’s birthday – the one I thought she would always make for his birthday. Then she was gone, and there was no one to make the cake, and I just could not bear the thought of my dad not having his cake on his birthday. It was tradition, it just was the way things were supposed to be. I had to make it happen. For him, for her, for me, for all of us.
I tried to think of an easy way to ask my dad for the recipe but he must have been thinking about that cake as well, for when we were over visiting him he told me he had found her recipe for ‘the’ cake, he was just not sure about the icing. We flipped through some of the cook books, and I told him what I remembered of the icing. Then the last time we were over visiting he handed me the recipe all typed out. Looking it over it sounded right. I was set!
Yesterday was cake day.
I checked to make sure I had all the ingredients, which I did, and so I set to work.
1 cup brown sugar
1 ¼ cup water
1/3 cup margarine
2/3 cup raisins
½ tsp nutmeg
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cloves
Boil the above mixture for 3 – 5 minutes. Then cool.
I carefully measured each ingredient into the pot making sure I did not skimp or over estimate anything. As I stirred the mixture waiting for it to boil, I thought of my mom and the many times she had made this very cake. How she had laughed when I first confessed to her that as a little girl I would eat the icing and throw the cake part over the bank. She told me she thought it was funny that I would never eat cooked raisins in anything but this cake. I heard the echo of her voice saying “Would you like to come over for Dad’s birthday – I will make him his cake” … Boil for 3 – 5 minutes? Which is it, 3 or 5? I picked 4, figuring that was a safe spot in-between. I pulled the pot off of the burner and set it aside to cool.
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp soda
2 tsp. water
Mix these together, then add to the boiled mixture. Gradually add 2 cups of flour and 1 tsp baking powder. Beat until smooth. Bake in a greased and floured pan for 50 minutes at 325 F.
“Funny how this cake is made on top of the stove, just like Aunt Betty’s chocolate cake” I thought to myself. “It was different back in those days I thought to myself, they probably didn’t have the many bowls that the kitchens of today have, so they just did it all in a pot – saves dirtying so many dishes”
“This mixture is really thick” I thought to myself as I spooned it into the prepared pan. “Must be why it is such a dense cake. “
Bake for 50 minutes – ok, I will set the timer for 40 minutes and check it, then give it the extra 10 minutes if it needs it.
While the cake was baking I gathered the ingredients for the best part – the icing! I also did a bit of tidying up in other parts of the house, in preparation for the company that would be here the next day. ‘Ding, ding, ding’ – it was time to check the cake. I pulled it out of the oven — ack… why is it so dark around the edges?!?!?! “It is ok I said to myself, it is only the edges…. Ok and maybe a few raisins on top are a bit dark… but it is fine I am sure. So I set the cake to cool and finished with my tidying.
Back in the kitchen… Icing time!
2 cups light brown sugar
¾ cup evaporated milk
½ cup water
1 tbsp butter
¼ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt.
Combine sugar, milk, water, butter, and salt.
Bring to boiling point and stir constantly until sugar is dissolved. Boil without stirring until mixture reaches the soft ball stage. Cool to lukewarm. Add vanilla. Beat vigorously until creamy and stiff enough to spread.
As I stirred the above mixture waiting for it to come to a boil, flashes of different scenes of years past, presented themselves to me. Bitter sweet memories.
Finally the mixture started to boil, and I inserted the candy thermometer. “Don’t let it touch the side of the pot”, I hear my mother’s voice. Slowly, ever so slowly I watched the blue line move up – close now, very close. Wait for it…. Softball! Take the pot off the burner and set to cool for a little bit.
Lukewarm — so start the beating process – 5 minutes, 10 minutes still beating – 20 minutes still beating – nothing , it is doing nothing! What to do, what to do, what to do…. Almost panic
Back on the stove – softball again – cool to lukewarm – start the beating again – 10 minutes, 15 minutes, ok my arm is about to fall off… it is thicker this time though – I bet it will set up more if I just put it on the cake.
On the cake it goes – ok looking good.
So I walk away from the kitchen and putter some more in the house. I happen back in the kitchen, look at the cake … the icing as all drifted off of the cake to the edges — get a spoon and spoon the icing back to the top of the cake… and so the night went. Every 15 minutes or so I would go back into the kitchen and push the icing back onto the cake. Shaking my head each time.
Fast forward to this morning.
The icing is mostly still on the top of the cake with only a few bald patches showing, which I cover with icing that has slipped to the side….
I could go one of three ways here.
Throw it out, and start again – which would mean going to town for more ingredients – with no guarantees the second attempt would work out any better.
Make a totally different cake – one that I know would turn out, and start a whole new tradition
Leave it be – serve it up with the story of the cake – have a good laugh – salute my mom for her cake making abilities – enjoy the evening and watch as everyone pretends to enjoy the cake. Laugh some more, and pull out my backup. (Cinnamon Buns)
It took my mom 53 years to perfect this cake. Why should it take me any less? I think I will head to the kitchen now, and make cinnamon buns! I will attempt this cake again – next year.
Happy Birthday Dad!