There is a lot of redemption to be gained in the simple act of baking a cake. Baking a cake in the afternoon without any heed of the end result. It starts out with the rattling of tins, the rooting around for the right tools. The unfolding of parchment paper necessary to line. The necessity of weighing scales, apron, the spoons, the chocolate, the eggs, the pure vanilla that reminds me of a trip to Juarez years ago, crossing the great Rio Grande with a precious stash in my bag along with a bottle of Tequila, a ceramic bell (which I still have in my possession) and an unsettling image of children desperately crossing the river to try and reach the promised land.
The baking of a cake was essential to my well-being on this day. But baking is a crucial part of my existence, I cannot deny that. So there I was. Planning the cake. Measuring out the flour. The silver speckled sugar. Sifting it all together. Melting the butter along with the chocolate and water. Water! Yes. Water is great in a cake. Why wouldn't it be? It makes sense. I remember being at a very posh dinner not so long ago where the chef, highly acclaimed, I might add, announced the cake included water in the recipe. Everyone at the table looked astonished. I bit my tongue. I had been baking with water for years. Alice Waters bakes a cake with water, well so do I. How could I have said that? It would have appeared rude, I thought. Pretentious to say the least.
But back to baking the cake. Baking the cake is a discipline. Don't try to bake if you are not disciplined. I am not as a rule - disciplined, that is, but I learned to be disciplined when it comes to baking. Baking teaches you a lot. And if you bake long enough you see that discipline pays off. There is absolutely no point in measuring an extra gram of flour when 240 grams are called for. You can forget it. You cannot lapse into any kind of mediocrity. You have to stand straight to bake. You have to pay attention. Something else happens though throughout this disciplined process because you tend to forget everything else. You verge into a beautiful zone. The flour falls through the sieve like fine snow on the peaks in Flagstaff, Az. and as I said, you take a whiff of vanilla and you are back on the Rio Grande. You break the eggs into the bowl and exult in how the albumen clings steadfast to the yolks, you think about Spreckels in California when you stir in the sugar. Not that you know Spreckels in California but because you drove by it the first time you happened to be in California and the name always stuck with you. You think about how life is a little like baking a cake. That's the best part. How all the lining and the preparation of the tins matters. The careful timing of the mixing. Not too much and not too little. The little things. Like the old measuring cups you have. How one, the big one, is missing a handle but it still maintains its purpose. How you admire the person who invented the hand whisk, the intricate weave of coils or the person who came up with the shiny measuring spoons with 1/8 spoon etc., etched into the handles. How the scales never lie. How the scales never lie? True. They don't. You can't fool the scales. If you do the cake will fail. Fall flat. Sink into despondency without any recourse.
So I baked the cake. It was a triumph. I served it up after dinner. Oh the joy. Moist. Blame it on the water, I said. The water is a great little secret to those who know. My son said it was the best cake ever. I'm not too sure about that. I could try to make a better cake. Delve into more recipes. Search around and eventually come up with a prize. But I don't know. This cake works. It not alone tastes good but just the baking of it goes far beyond what other cakes have promised. I think maybe I will hang on to this. Call it my piéce de resistance. Leave my mark. I suppose I could do worse than that.