When I tell people my mother is a pastry chef, their eyes widen with childlike delight and they exclaim something like, “oh how AMAZING,” as if I grew up in a gingerbread house with my Donna Reed-ish, apron-clad mother feeding me petit fours and chocolate truffles. They sigh, and tell me that if they could, they would quit their jobs and open a bakery.
At this I laugh, gently inform them that they are crazy, knowing full well their dream of a quaint life in a sunlit kitchen decorating cupcakes (and making money) is a sweet delusion. Then I think of my mother, a rebellious Irish Catholic lass from New York who swears like a sailor (and can drink like one too). She has a death stare that makes even the most hardened men
in her kitchen (a loyal crew of Latinos who aren’t used to such a powerful woman, nor one that is a good 5 inches taller) shudder in fear. My mother’s hands, after 30 years in a bakery, are like that of a construction worker. Her scars speak of a thousand burns and countless encounters with a paring knife. Unlike her dainty daughter, she isn’t afraid to get dirty. A typical day could mean 16 hours in steel-toe boots, hunched over giant mixers and hot ovens and long steel tables covered in flour and dough. At Christmas, it means decorating by hand 3,000 gingerbread men, baking hundreds of pies, so many that you develop a gag reflex at the mention of the words apple or pumpkin. That is the life of a pastry chef, at least my pastry chef. If I ever tried to glamourize my mother’s job, she would probably hit me over the head with a rolling pin and tell me to get real.
And yet, for all her toughness, my mother creates the most extraordinary sweets, things so good you eat twice as much as you thought you could. Some are decadent and rich (her dulce de leche cake is legendary), some are light and summery (I used to help her glaze fruit for fruit tarts when I was a kid), and some tell a perfect story of season and tradition. Even though she would never admit it, my mom is a big-hearted softie, who loves nothing more than seeing people smile when they eat her cakes and cookies, who thrives on feeding her children, her children’s friends, and her children’s friends of friends. All that love, I’m convinced, came out this season in her eggnog poundcake. My first bite of my mother’s eggnog poundcake transported me to childhood, of drinking eggnog by the fire and counting the hours until I could go to bed so Santa would please get here FAST. I had to have this recipe, so I could post it on my blog and everyone could make their own. Tis the season to share, right?
Well, it turns out reading the recipe is like a window to my mother’s baking soul: no bullshit, no order as far as I can see, just an instinct (and some booze).
From: Joan Gallagher [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Sunday, December 14, 2008 08:23 AM Eastern Standard Time
To: Morales, Noria
this is what I was doing yesterday…not the best pix of the # but maybe you can doctor it up…For recipe: copy a basic # cake recipe add 2t of cinnamon 1 t of nutmeg and 1 t of ginger..(of course I am making this up) taste the batter. Close your eyes and taste the batter..You should be able to taste the spices, if its not pronounced enough add a t more of all. To make the soaking glaze: heat a pint of heavy cream add .5 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 stick of butter, 1 T of cinnamon 2T of nutmeg and 2 T of ginger. 1/4 c of cognac and 1/4 c of dark rum. heat to a boil and pour over the finished cake while its still hot in the cake pan. while cooling, plump golden raisins in booze. to make finishing glaze: 6 egg whites (or buy a small container at the store) mix together w/ powered sugar till it can thickly coat a spoon.Add a t of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Invert cooled # cake and ladle the sauce over the cake. top with boozy rasins
Rebecca’s Cafe (accepts orders for poundcake, and maybe she’ll give you a discount if you say you read about it here.) Visit website here.
Ed. Note: Author wants to make it clear she did not write this to score better Christmas presents this year.