I believe, almost to the point of a religious fanaticism, in feeding my family fresh and healthy food. I use food as a way for us to stay connected. I feed them what they love so they want to come to the dinner table. But last Friday, I decided to take a short cut. I was tired and had a two very busy weeks at work; some of you may have noted my absence. Friday was burger night and I decided to bump up the comfort level by baking a cake. Andy and Zoë were on their way home from school, via the grocery store, so I had time to bake a cake. Light bulb moment – I remembered I had a box of yellow cake mix in the back of my pantry. I pushed aside all the tenants of my food beliefs and dug into the pantry to find it. I didn’t read the nutrition facts and I didn’t check to see if there was an expiration date. I just kept remembering how much I loved to lick the beaters as a kid. I remembered the smell of cake and how it was always a special occasion when Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines came out. I got all fuzzy feeling thinking about the childhood memories I would create with Zoë.
I decided to make the cake look a bit more homemade by using a Bundt pan. I didn’t alter the back of the box directions; I
just thought it would look inspiring. I broke out the mixer and 5 minutes later the cake was in the oven. I licked the beaters. The batter wasn’t as tasty as my memories. It was thin and flat and very yellow. It occurred to me that it had to have taken a lot of food coloring to get that hue but then the house began to smell sweet. It was the sweet smell of classic yellow cake. How else could you describe it? I knew that Zoë would love to come home to the smell. As the cake baked, I looked for a glaze recipe to drizzle over the cake when it is done; I was too tired for frosting. I opened The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook and I saw a recipe for Pear Pecan Cake, it had a simple glaze recipe. I paused. We had pears, we didn’t have pecans but we did have walnuts. I read the recipe twice. It was easy. It wasn’t as easy as classic yellow cake mix. But the directions were only about a paragraph long. The glaze was even easier and I focused again on my tiredness and want of quick and easy comfort. I made the glaze and 30 minutes later classic yellow cake was out of the oven and cooling on the counter.
They came home and smelled the cake. Zoë was so excited she jumped into my arms and told me how much she loved me. She wanted to see the cake in the pan, so I made a big display of putting on my oven mitts and told her to be careful because the cake was still hot. She inhaled the classic yellow cake aroma. I saw the memories being made. The cake easily popped out of the pan, I glazed it and displayed it on the counter.
Burger night was going well and Zoë had decided to eat apple slices instead of onion rings. She still won’t eat French fries. We were talking about our day and how Andy enrolled Zoë in to soccer tots. She wasn’t too excited but says she will use perseverance to get through (the word came from a Disney book). Zoë was careful to save room for dessert.
It was time. I cut and served the cake. Andy ate it; he remembered yellow cake, too. Zoë took a taste using her fingers and contemplated. I told her she should use her fork and she made a fake attempt to cut a piece with her fork. I took her plate and cut the cake in bites. She took a bite with her fork. She looked at me and said, “It is very yellow.”
She doesn’t like it. I asked her why. She said it tasted very yellow and it was yucky. I looked at Andy and he said, “Well, it is starchy.”
Oh my god, they don’t like boxed cake mix. I suddenly felt a little un-American, had I really raised a family of purists? I was happy to see they didn’t like processed food but yellow cake. I suppose I did this to myself. I made the hard decision and threw it in the compost bin. After all, I am American enough to “nibble” on it until it is all gone.
Here is the recipe for the cake I should have made:
Pear Pecan Cake
From The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook
Makes One 10-Inch Cake
I haven’t made this cake yet but I would definitely use whole wheat flour. I would think that substituting apples with a sprinkle of cinnamon would also work.
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Bosc pears, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly grease a 10 –inch tube or Bundt pan.
To make the cake: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt, making a well in the center. Stir in the oil, eggs and vanilla. Stir in the pears and pecans. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until cake tester inserted into center of the cake comes out clean. Let cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely on wire rack.
To make the glaze: In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and the water until smooth. Drizzle decoratively over cooled cake. Garnish with pecans if desired.