Life & Culture

I confess - I just can't bake a cake

Claire Cantor feels the pressure as Yomtov approaches


It’s Yomtov again and the dinner wars have begun. Oh, the pressure! To have no less than 16 people around the table, to devise a menu that is traditional and contemporary at the same time without simply adding quinoa or pomegranate seeds, and, above all, to produce a honey cake worthy of a Bake Off champion.

I lack an essential quality of the authentic Jewish mother. I cannot bake. Rosh Hashanah sends me into a spiral of insecurity and self-doubt.

Everyone is sifting and stewing, spreading and rolling, producing masterful strudels, kuchens and bundts. Can I slink off to Daniel’s for a gateau without guilt? Can I secretly add an egg and some milk to a mixture from a box and hope that the judges, I mean guests, will be satisfied? Can I move on from Nigella’s fairy cakes and Evelyn’s one bowl wonders?

I marvel at people who bake for pleasure, who “substitute” without fear of flop, adding a bit of this or that, like witches concocting a magic potion. I wonder if there is a deeper meaning to my floury phobia. Why do I fear all that weighing and measuring, why do I lack scientific accuracy? I call a psychologist friend to discuss this, she says “Can I call you back? I’m just baking some flapjacks.” The words “just” and “baking” effortlessly are thrown together in the same sentence, with no regard for the disadvantaged.

My mother is a prolific baker. She’s my one stop shop for birthday cakes and plavas. At home we would talk over the the monotonous drone of the Kenwood mixer as she rustled up some mandlebrot, kipferl or her signature Viennese swirls.

I google ‘easy honey cake’ recipe, yet there doesn’t seem to be anything easy about it. In fact a degree in chemistry would not go amiss. I must pay attention to acid and alkaline balance, be “very” careful when weighing ingredients including nuts and orange juice, coffee and vinegar, cinnamon and spices. Then, once baked I must leave my finished product for four to five days before even tasting. It’s impossible.

As for my kitchen, it is woefully ill equipped. I harbour no useful appliances. No silicone moulds or baking beans. No mixers, no blenders, choppers or processors. There’s a notable lack of piping nozzles, measuring spoons or cutters. A simple wooden spoon and mixing bowl are my only tools. I try and channel Mrs Patmore, the Downton Abbey cook, with good old-fashioned stirring.

Rosh Hashanah 2017 will be my year. I’ve read the Lakeland catalogue from cover to cover. My kitchen smells of spicesand syrup. I shall produce a cake to impress Paul and Prue. All I need is your grandmother’s secret recipe…

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