My mother would supervise and help me light the oven when I baked box cakes on my birthdays, but as far as I recall she never baked a cake from scratch or made a pie—still, ‘you don’t miss what you don’t know’ so I didn't feel deprived. There was frozen Sara Lee, or Entenmann’s, or maybe a babka from the bakery down the street. I was more interested in salty crackers and chips.
Mom noshed mid-morning. A bisl bis (a little bite) to fit the side of a saucer or a paper napkin she’d de-crumb for later reuse, or on work days she’d tuck a foil wrapped treat in her purse. This was a habit she observed until her last days, an indulgence tenaciously guarded; her second cup of re-heated dregs with a bite of something sweet. I’ve come to understand how precious alone time can be, but as a girl I didn’t get it. To me her ritual seemed lonely and dreary and I was never invited to join.
I learned to bake long after I left home as a necessary extension of the life I’ve built cooking. I’m competent though lack passion, nonetheless I’ve mastered what my mother loved; rugelach, tender quick breads that are good with coffee, sweetened yeasted twists. She wasn’t tempted by milie feuille, cannoli or towering lemon meringue—those were deemed fancy and she was plain, and in cake at least, our tastes converged. But I never mentioned the cakes I baked and didn’t bring her samples though I've shared with everyone else. I was out doing her, being more her than she was, better but the same. I suppose too it was an unconscious revenge; “I wasn’t invited to your lonely kaffeeklatsch, well mine is tastier and more fun.”
In the weeks following her death I binge-baked, stocking my freezer for her memorial, rolling chocolate into rising dough, measuring cinnamon and cardamom, slicking danish with melted jam. The more heavenly the kitchen smelled the more sad I became, but not from loss. With her gone I could finally see the veil of depression that had blanketed our world.
Those meager bites she’d allowed herself for comfort never fed my hunger. The seeds and nuts buried like gems in the pastries she loved became seeds of my despair. I was neither good enough company, nor daring enough to rescue her.
In a dream I am a cartoon apple, Macintosh-like, round, red, easily bruised. I lay fallen in the shadow of the tree, waiting for a buck’s swift kick or howling winds to carry me off, ashamed I have no legs.
They say an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
1 c AP flour
1/2 c dark rye flour
1/2 c buckwheat flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t each: salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and unsweetened cocoa
3/4 c granulated sugar
1//2 c brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
2/3 c vegetable oil
2 t vanilla
2 cups peeled and roughly chopped apples tossed with 1/2 t cinnamon (approx 2 apples)
Pre-heat oven to 350o Oil and flour a bundt pan and set aside. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Stir to blend. In another medium bowl combine sugars, eggs, vanilla, applesauce and oil. Stir to blend. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well. Stir in apple. Pour the batter into prepared pan and bake 50 - 60 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the cake comes out dry.
(If you prefer, bake in a loaf pan but you will have a cup or so too much batter for a standard 9” x 5” pan—put the extra in a mini-loaf pan or a muffin tin and bake for approx. 20 minutes).
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Let cool. If you’d like, glaze the cake with 1/2 c confectionary sugar stirred with 2 t or 3t of apple cider.