Cream together the butter and sugar. These instructions begin the recipe directions of probably 90% of all basic cake recipes.
I understand the function of creaming the butter and the sugar together. The air incorporated in the mixing of the two ingredients helps the cake rise fluffier, as the sugar crystals create spaces in the butter that catch the gasses created by the leavening. The practical function of the creaming notwithstanding, I love these recipe directions. They are so familiar. When I add the sugar to the butter and then mix them together, I know how the resulting mixture will look, smell, and taste. These things never change, and that’s why sometimes, when a day goes wrong or life somehow seems confusing, to bake a cake seems the best, most stabilizing action to take. I find myself baking a lot more cakes these days, as I finally admit who or what I am not . . . . and try to find out who or what I am. What I am not: a businesswoman. And although I sense some failure in having not figured this out sooner, I am relieved to be beginning this year having reconciled myself to this fact. Now I can move on.
In March 2015 I opened my online business, ATX Ultra Eats, to market gluten-free, grain-free muffin mixes. In January 2017 I listed all my mixes as out of stock on my website and removed them from Amazon.com so that I wouldn’t get any more orders. I held onto my website, though, just in case I decided I like running a business after all. In December 2017 I closed down the website, finally certain I’m not a business woman. I don’t like promoting myself or my product. I detest using most social media (and frankly I lack the motivation to learn how most of it works). None of the material I researched and read about starting a business helped me to realize that God did not design me to run a business. Sadly, I had to spend a lot of money and time to reach this moment of self-realization. I somehow missed the significance of the moment, early on, when I might have changed my course. One of the most pleasant aspects of having started my business was working with Daniel Maldonado, an Austin-area marketing consultant. He’s a super down-to-earth man who shares many of my values. At our first face-to-face meeting, Daniel asked me what I want to guarantee I have time to do in my life. I answered that I want to guarantee time with my grandchildren and time to run. If he asked me that same question today I’d add time cooking for family and friends. I think maybe I assumed I’d have time to do this thing since my business was food-focused. I didn’t realize at the time that packaging and marketing a food product is pretty much unrelated to what excites me about food preparation and food itself. Daniel, in asking the question, explained that many small business owners work their way into jobs they hate because it leaves them little time for doing things they love to do. He talked to me about achieving balance between the hard work required of a small business owner and managing my time so that I could still do what I love to do. It is good advice. For me, however, balance wasn’t enough. I just didn’t enjoy enough about running a business to do what I needed to do to grow the business. In fact, I dreaded making sales; sales meant more time in the commercial kitchen packaging, more trips to the post office to mail orders, and less time in my home kitchen cooking. Obviously someone who thinks as I do needs to do something other than run a business. So I stopped. And now a void.
What to do now? I have no idea. I thought about returning to teaching freshman composition, but loved ones in my life tell me that the idea is just escapist. I’d be going backward just to find a comfortable place where I found little satisfaction to begin with (freshman comp, as a required class, is full of students who would rather be anywhere else). I’m quickly approaching my sixtieth year, but I share the angst of people in generations much younger than mine. What to do? What to do? Phillip asks why I feel I need to do anything. I have my cooking classes (which I LOVE teaching – the face to face sharing of love for food and exchanging ideas about cooking), I help with our young grandsons when I’m needed (and we have TWIN grandsons on the way, so I’ll be needed even more pretty soon), and I have time to run (just finished my third year running streakversary on December 31st, with 2300 miles for 2017, and 6,456.2 miles total for the three years I’ve been streaking – all barefoot miles). He says that maybe all God wants me to do is what I’m doing. I’m not so sure. I’m not getting a clear answer to prayer – I think – so I keep praying for discernment. In the meantime I’ll go back to doing what I always do when I’m happy, sad, celebrating, mourning, secure, and confused: spend time in my kitchen, finding my joy and solace in making tried and true familiar dishes and experimenting with unfamiliar dishes and ingredients. The best thing about cooking is that even when one attempts to create new recipes in the kitchen, the unfamiliar is based upon the familiar. Certain culinary truths transcend the unfamiliar: salt enhances the aroma as well as the flavor of food, caramel made on a humid day can get way too sticky, and gluten-free bread dough requires only one rise. In my kitchen, in uncertain times, a chestnut cake can comfort me in its steadfast agreement to rise in the pan when its butter and sugar are well-creamed, and lemon curd can reassure me with its consistently characteristic sweet tartness. These things stay the same, always. They are like the North star guiding sailors on vast, lonely seas in ages past.
The other best thing about cooking (we can have more than one best thing about something, right?) is that cooking for loved ones and friends is a tangible way to show love and to nurture souls. Preparing food for others, and with others, is a way to connect on a spiritual level through food. On its very basic level, food provides the body sustenance it needs for life. But food plays a much larger role in life than just its basic nutritional function. If it didn’t, then we’d have little use for foods that we associate with our childhoods, cultures, and holidays. We wouldn’t hold onto the memories of foods that made a particular vacation spectacular or a certain meal amazing. This spiritual, relational aspect of food, which includes the appeal of flavors and aromas to all the body’s senses, it an amazing aspect of something that in its most basic role prevents our dying. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing now, but I’m pretty sure that the way to wherever I end up is through my kitchen.
Gluten-Free Chestnut Cake with Lemon Curd Filling
The slightly smoky flavor of the chestnut flour combined with the sweet tartness of the lemon curd filling gives this cake a unique, delicious flavor.
- 1 cup butter
- 400 grams sugar
- 5 eggs
- 150 grams chestnut flour
- 100 grams super fine brown rice flour
- 75 grams cassava flour
- 50 grams arrowroot flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 cups whole fat milk
- 1/2 - 3/4 cups lemon curd, for filling the cake
- 1 recipe classic buttercream frosting flavored with 1 tablespoon pure almond extract
Preheat oven to 350 F. Oil or butter well two 8 inch round or square cake pans. Using a stand mixer, hand mixer, or food processor, cream together the butter and sugar, until the mixture is fluffy and the sugar grains are mostly dissolved. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Whisk together the dry ingredients; add half the flour mixture to the batter. Mix well. Add half the milk. Mix until blended. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture and milk. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees until a cake tester inserted into the center of each layer comes out mostly clean (with only one or two crumbs attached), about twenty-five minutes. Cool the layers in their pans on wire racks for about ten minutes. Remove the cake layers from the pans and cool completely. To assemble, pipe a dam of frosting on the perimeter of the bottom layer. Fill the dam with lemon curd. Place the top layer on the cake; frost, then decorate as desired.
*A commercial all-purpose gluten-free flour can be substituted for the flours used in this recipe. Just use 125 grams of chestnut flour and 250 grams of gluten-free all purpose flour.
**Any buttercream frosting recipe will work with this recipe. Just replace vanilla extract with 1 tablespoon of pure almond extract.