I read something a few weeks ago where people were talking about their experiences with work during the pandemic, and one person they profiled had been laid off and never happier. I can relate to that. The two times in my adult life I’ve been unemployed…I had time and energy to do something I enjoy: bake.
Baking takes planning and patience, and the energy to summon the ingredients and be home, ready to rotate the cookie pans or put the bread in the oven only once it has proofed. In other words: things I haven’t had in years, as we’ve hectically raced from cubicle to grab the kids to home, to throw some dinner together, all while packing and getting ready to head elsewhere for the Christmas holiday.
So this year, for Christmas, I gave myself the gift of baking something. I chose to make an orange bundt cake for our holiday dessert. I’ve always liked citrus cakes, and I associate Florida navel oranges with Christmas since my Depression-era father used to give them to us in our stockings. And yet I don’t think they ever, not even once, made it into appearance as the star of a holiday dessert growing up. What a tragedy!
And for whatever reason, orange and lemon cakes often catch my eye in the winter on food blogs, and I bookmark them, hoping for some distant future day when: a) I’m eating carbs and b) would allow us to have an entire cake sitting around and c) have the time and energy to bake, and enjoy the experience.
Usually this time of year, we’re packing, hustling through some combination of airports, trying to get to someone else’s house, where they already have the slate of foods readied for us. I appreciate the thought there – that your guests arrive, ready to just relax. On the other hand though, it robs me, who thoroughly enjoys the contemplative and quiet and act of baking by myself, of a gift of an experience. I have on occasion baked once at family’s homes, and I’m sorry to say it’s often not a good experience. They either don’t have quite the right pans or I’m unpracticed at baking at altitude, and the result ends up disappointing.
So this year, with nothing better to do, I engineered our holiday meal around giving me time to bake. I ordered a platter of cheese enchiladas & beans from the place around the corner, so I wouldn’t have to bake around a colossal mess of a kitchen. I read multiple recipes so I could come up with just the right approach. And I was able to procure all of the ingredients well in advance (although, to be honest, butter was scarily scarce at the grocery store, I’m lucky we got enough!). And I proceeded to bake.
The cake came together beautifully, even though 30 minutes into baking, I realized my mom had mistakenly set the oven 25° higher than it was supposed to be, when I had asked her to turn it down 25°. I didn’t stress though, but it did mean I couldn’t just leave for my afternoon-in-the-sunshine-destinationless-bike-ride when I wanted while it baked. I was trapped at home, awaiting it to be done. Luckily, that meant it was done sooner, and I still got my ride in.
So yesterday, after eating WAY too much chocolate, and enchiladas, and beans, and I don’t even know what else, around the dinner hour, when I’d concluded I’d eaten way too much to want anything else, my 9 year old asked about the cake.
Oh yeah, CAKE, we said!
So we sliced her a piece and I asked My Better Half to bring me “a tiny slice” and he brought me a slab. And I ate it all. And it was delicious.
It was moist, thanks to the orange simple syrup I had drizzled over it as it cooled. It had a lovely cake crumb, neither too dense, nor too airy. My only regret is that I hadn’t doubled the amount of orange zest in the recipe, as I wanted a stronger orange punch.
A lovely end to a quiet and uneventful holiday.