If you've never made a cake from scratch, you have to try it! What a rush!
Joselle walked me through my first, full-fledged lesson in cake baking this past Saturday. It was a real high; something we both needed after a two-hour literal walk along the trails of Center City Philly (i.e., the relatively new and forward-thinking Schuykill River Park and City staple Boathouse Row, along a sculpted Kelly Drive and Fairmount Park). We felt winded from rock climbing at the Water Works, and made our way over to the nearby Whole Foods before nightfall. Joselle and I sought out some dinner comestibles (as she would say) and a bunch of ingredients for a cake recipe selected from How It All Vegan, one of the two whole entries in my dusty collection of cookbooks. It was kind of like we were squirrels in search of sweet treats. And sweet treats we did uncover!
After a simple dinner experiment of pasta elbows slathered with Aldi tomato sauce and carmelized onions mingling among Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs---accompanied by fresh salad and cooked broccoli blanketed in a layer of Earth Balance and salt---the Mutual Menu was prepared to bake. We were all set with utensils in hand, when Joselle shocked this cookie rookie with a single blunt statement: "We forgot the baking powder." I quickly replied with obvious naivete that there was a box of some in the back of my fridge. A few things I neglected to mention to my culinary queen: 1.) This box had been in the back of my fridge for more than two years; 2.) This box had been open for an equal amount of time; and 3.) This box contained baking soda, not baking powder! Neither of us was entirely sure of the difference, but Joselle's experience suggested there's a method to all this madness.
Off came the slippers as she and I put on our hiking sneakers to trek all the way across the street from my building to the Quick Stop, a cigarette-smoke infused former 7-11; the frequent rest stop for neighborhood vagabonds and junkies-with-the-munchies. Case in point, Joselle noticed that you can actually buy a pancake-sausage breakfast sandwich there for $.99. What a steal, I suppose, if you're not in the market for a vegan cake's missing baking powder like we were. And, although we never found said baking powder, we stumbled upon a fresh box of baking soda from said Quick Stop. The fact that the trusty Arm & Hammer logo was defending other nearby bakery sale items on the shelf sustained our optimism. The plan would proceed!
The next hour or two invited new experiences for me and increasing yawns for my instructor. A bleary-eyed Joselle advised her student on the importance of fresh ingredients and a gentle mixing form. And, since I consider myself a gentleman, I mixed the select contents of my retro-pink ceramic bowl, and we heated things up! We also licked all of the utensils in sheer abandon, considering there seems to be less of a threat of salmonella poisoning with vegan recipes. As for the vanilla cake with maple walnut fosting...it's all good! The baking soda didn't kill us. Instead, it just gave the candy-sweet cake a dense flavor similar to a soft pretzel. Since I'm from Philly, I guess that should taste like home, right?
Joselle later researched this arcane difference between baking soda and baking powder. It seems that baking soda---although a considerable subsitute for the similar powder format---has a unique quality that helps to neutralize the acidity of traditional baking ingredients like buttermilk or citrus additives to make a recipe come together cohesively. Baking powder, on the other hand, is self-reliant in this regard. As a hypothetical solution to Saturday evening's dilemma, Joselle suggests adding a teaspoon of vinegar to the mixture to give baking soda something to neutralize; just a little source of satisfaction that we're all looking for in this world. If you find yourself in a similar scenario, give it a shot!
I've already managed to enjoy quite a few voluptuous slices of our creation since Joselle headed back to New Jersey on Sunday evening---but I tend to eat when I get depressed. And I get sad because---even more upsetting than watching such a sweet treat disappear with each passing meal---it makes me feel downright blue to see a woman so sweet suddenly retreat to her seemingly distant life once again. One day, the Mutual Menu's members will be able to be together without having to say goodbye to each other for another week every single Sunday night of the year. I just wish there were a way to eternalize such a great-tasting cake like the one we made together. Well, I guess it's back to the old mixing bowl and oven mitts!
For the Mutual Menu's take on this recipe, please get in touch---or pick up a copy of How It All Vegan to add to your own dusty collection!