I’ve never been fond of surprises. When I was eight I figured out the Santa Claus hoax because I wondered how Santa Claus climbed down the chimney we didn’t have in the apartment we rented in Brooklyn. Did Santa improvise? Realize that fire escapes were the de-facto point of entry? Or we were too much work; did our parents have to improvise? More importantly, who was eating my CHIPS AHOY COOKIES? My curiosity, and the fact that I hated the present surprise on Christmas morning, inevitably wore my mother down. She was the cookie culprit. She was the one who hid the presents under the tree. She was Santa with an afro and an acrylic sweater who made the best chicken cutlets I ever had. And ever since then my impatience, and fear of the unknown, have been my flaw.
Hitchcock once said that horror movies were frightening because we feared the jump. Not the inevitable moment where we knew we were set for doom, where the heroine finds herself besieged with birds, but rather that split second before, that space of time between what would happen and what happened and how we felt in that frame of the darkness. The jump was emblematic of the unimaginable. We allowed ourselves this trespass to imagine the worst possible thing, and in that moment we went there. Immersed ourselves in the horror of what we don’t know to the despair of what we do. So when people ask me why a movie like The Shining gives me comfort, it’s because I know what will be around every corner. I see beyond the jump, and I’m realizing that that cold comfort isn’t really comfort at all — it’s complacency.
What I’m trying to tell you is this: want the jump. Crave it. Ferret it out. Become a fakir if you have to. It’s the only way.
Lately I’ve been allowing myself to fail. I’m deviating from all that is familiar in my repertoire and attacking recipes, tools and techniques that are foreign. The concept of new ingredients, converting grams to cups, making a hybrid soufflé is akin to the jump and I’m finding comfort in that.
Was this cake a success? No. It was good, decent, a fair slice of lemon loaf that was gobbled up midday by coworkers craving their sugar high. But while it wasn’t a technical success (I ignored using caster sugar; I attempted some shortcuts with bringing cold butter to room temperature), it was a personal one. This delightful cookbook — all recipes from an English point-of-view and sensibility — is one of the many jumps I’m seeking out. And I invite you to step on the edge, color outside of the lines, and find yours.
INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Julian Day’s Classic Artisan Baking
For the cake
1 stick plus 4 tbsp salted butter, softened
3/4 cup + 1tbsp caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup ground almonds
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup self-rising flour (or 1/2 cup AP flour + 2/3 tsp baking powder + 1/4 tsp salt)*
Cooking spray/butter for the pan
Equipment: 7-inch round cake pan, lined with parchment
For the Syrup
3/4 cup caster sugar (I used icing sugar)
juice from 2 large lemons
3 tbsp water
*The original recipe called for 1 cup of self-rising flour. Since I used cane sugar instead of caster (who has this on hand??! MADNESS, I TELL YOU) my dough was drier than anticipated and 3/4 cup of self-rising flour made the dough even drier, bordering on stiff. I would start at 1/2 cup self-rising and add from there. You want all of the ingredients to be absorbed and a thick elastic consistency to the dough. Then again I could have saved everyone the trouble and just bought caster sugar, which costs $1.5 MILLION DOLLARS, or ground the cane sugar using a coffee grinder, but I don’t own one. But a woman digresses.
Pre-heat the oven to 325F. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time, whisking until smooth. Fold in the ground almonds, flours, lemon zest and juice with a spatula.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake pan. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 40-50 minutes until the top has browned slightly and a toothpick/knife comes out clean.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, whisk the three ingredients to make the syrup until all of the sugar has dissolved.
With the hot cake still in the pan, pierce the cake to about 3/4 of its depth with a skewer, creating holes all over the cake. Slowly pour the syrup all over the surface and allow it to soak in. Cool in pan before serving.
The cake will keep for 5 days in an airtight container or frozen for up to 2 months.