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Wednesday, 10 December 2014 09:31

Rising to the occasion a baker’s motto

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Elsie does not like to bake. Her sisters are bakers. Her mother is a baker.


Even her twin brother, I believe, has been said to know his way around the kitchen.
Meanwhile, one of said sisters owns a farm market so popular that it sells out faster than it can stock, and routinely hosts celebrity cooking classes. Vikram and Meeru Vij have taught at Lepp Farm Market in Abbotsford.  Rob Feenie has taught at Lepp. And the Mennonite Girls Can Cook ladies have been known to show up and teach an eager crowd how, properly, to roll zwieback.
So it happens, when family reunions or other potlucks take place, Elsie, who is a writer, is expected to bring salad.
“It’s okay,” a sister may say to the family or friends gathered. “Elsie cooks with words.”
Today, however, is Elsie’s eldest son’s 31st birthday. And she is determined to bake his favourite cake.
It’s easy peasy, she says. With few enough ingredients that it’s possible, even for a writer whose mind is often off sifting paragraphs together, to get it right...nearly every time.
By 6 o’clock in the afternoon, there is a silent shriek on Facebook.
At the top of my Newsfeed, Elsie writes:
“Son's birthday cake failed! Does flour go bad? I'm sure I added baking soda. It's a simple cinnamon crumb cake; my mother's recipe. It's gummy. How can a cake be gummy?! I put love into it. LOVE!!! And still, the kitchen hates me.”
Very soon, “Impotent baking soda” becomes the general consensus in the comments that follow.
Some commenters snicker and ask whether Elsie’s husband should, perhaps, have been given the task.
Others meander off topic, where Facebook commenters often tend to go.
Meanwhile, I remember the day my plum platz refused to rise. How it sunk into a dense and gummy layer at the bottom of my pan. All because I thought I’d added the baking soda.
“It can happen to anyone,” I offer. Especially a writer whose mind is stuck on a page.
“Can it be redeemed into a trifle?” asks a well-meaner.
It cannot.
And by now Elsie, with time running out before her children begin to ring the doorbell, is ready to throw in her oven mitts.
Until Elsie’s son, whose birthday it is, calls to report he’s been following online, the tale of his failed birthday cake. Offers to fetch a bag of flour on his way over.
A second cake, however, is already in the oven, and it turns out the soda works just fine, so long as it’s added in the first place.
Now, at the top of my Newsfeed, is a comparison photo of the two cakes.
It’s possible to see how they might be related. They are both the colour of cinnamon. Both square. Both on a plate.
One of these cakes, however, is not like the other.
The first one was made with love.
The second one was made with baking soda.
Susanne Klassen’s Crumb Cake
(contributed by Elsie K. Neufeld)
2 cups brown sugar
3 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup margarine (or butter, I suppose), softened.
Mix the above and reserve 3/4 -1 cup for "crumbs."
Add 2 tsp BAKING SODA to 1 1/2 cups sour milk (or buttermilk). Whisk with a fork.
Pour into the dry mixture. Then beat 2 eggs and add. Turn on mixer. Beat until your intuition tells you to stop.
Pour into a 9x13 inch pan. Top with reserved crumbs.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 or so minutes.
Bakers’ notes: I wanted to keep Elsie’s mom’s recipe worded just the way it was. I used a different method, so include these few notes:
Whisk together sugar, flour and cinnamon. Cut in butter until crumbly. Set aside 3/4 cup crumbs. Whisk baking soda into remaining crumbs.
Whisk together buttermilk and eggs. Add to crumb mixture and bring together with a fork, until the consistency of muffin batter.
Pour into a buttered pan. Top with reserved crumbs. Bake until a tester comes out clean.

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