If you know me, then you’re probably familiar with my affinity towards cake. In fact, the phrase ‘cake-devourer’ occupies a very prominent position right next to my name on most (if not all) of my social media profiles. But here’s the sad truth. I don’t actually eat cakes all that often. Mostly due to the fact that I’ve been blessed with such awesome fat cells; ones that make sure that I'll put on weight by merely inhaling the aroma of a cake being baked. And truth be told, I’m ok with that now.
For me, the idea of cake is synonymous with comfort. I’ll let you in on a little secret. When I’m upset, I naturally think of baking cakes. Little sponge gateaux or cupcakes dancing around with shimmering rich icing on it. And then out of the blue, a grin appears on my face as I mentally mix and match the ingredients thinking of the unlimited possibilities. Sort of like a professional wardrobe assistant swaps the pairing of clothes.
There is an inexplicable joy in taking simple ingredients and turning it into something decadent; something so artfully sinful and delicious. I still remember the first time I’d tried my hand at baking. It was probably like one of those high-school home-economics projects. You’d think that all that butter, sugar and flour would make the end product delicious. Guess what? It doesn’t. And that was my lesson number one about the art of baking :
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If you’ve made it this far down the post, there is a chance that some of you are probably thinking, ‘This is it. Sid has finally lost his marbles’. Don’t worry; I haven’t. Not yet, anyway.
Take whisking the sugar and butter together, for instance. In theory, it’s a simple process. You take the ingredients and beat it into a fluffy mixture. But only patience and the right amount of whisking can make the mixture tender and obtain,quite literally, a ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ texture. You’ll hear people often say that this is the perhaps the most difficult part to get right; but take a moment - stop beating; now dip that little finger of yours into the glistening mixture; scoop out a small amount gently and lick it. Yes, the exact kind where the tongue caresses the curves of your finger.
Wait for a brief second. Feel your lips curve upwards as they break into a smile when the silky buttery flavour jostles your tongue, slowly engulfing the every crevice in your mouth. And then, close your eyes as some of the still-granular crystals of sugar gently dissolves in the pool of saliva that is now your mouth.It’s at some point right about now that you feel that sorrow slowly start to melt away - one glorious mouthful at a time.
Gently tap the shells of those eggs now. Imagine, that with every crack of the egg-shell, your worry is starting to ooze out. Feel it leave your body and you’ll soon feel as light as one of those egg shells. Beat the eggs into the mixture and carefully fold in the flour. This, perhaps, is the one of the most fascinating parts of baking. Watching it all come together into this little gloopy sort of mixture, as my wife so often calls it.
Do you know what I enjoy the most about baking cakes? The tasting at every step. It’s like a tender, yet reaffirming pat on your back, when you know that the taste is spot on; just like what you’d imagined it would taste like, when you first pictured it in your head. For me, the simple act of dipping your finger into the mix acts like a little time-travel switch. It transports me back to my childhood, when my mom would often bake cookies and cakes. My mom would say that whenever I knew she was baking (or making payasam), my eyes would just shine brightly. It wasn’t just because of the fact that I knew she was baking. It was also because it was my little ‘treat’ to be able to lick the bowl clean, after she transferred this gloopy mixture into the baking tin.
Of course, the most difficult part of this ‘tasting’ is to remember that you are not meant to devour all of it. So, you somehow stop yourself and with the enthusiasm (as well as trepidation) of a kid who scoops up wet sand for his sand castle, you gently scrape out every last bit of this gluey, yet delicious mixture and fill up those polished cake tins. And as a part of you marvels at the amazing vibrancy of the mixture, the other part furiously wonders why you aren’t just devouring the heavenly concoction.
You know that skill I briefly mentioned earlier? Yes, the very same one called patience. As you place those cake tins into the oven and turn the timer to the better part of 30 minutes or so, you’ll realise what I’m talking about. Of course, it’s easy to just be away from the kitchen and come back to check on the cake. But where’s the happiness in that?
[clicktotweet tweet="One of the best aromas in the world is that of the cake (that you made from scratch) being baked. " quote="One of the best aromas in the world is that of the cake (that you made from scratch) being baked." theme="style3"]
It starts as a warm buttery aroma, that playfully tantalises your nasal passages, making your gently smack your lips together. And as the eggs start to coagulate, there is this ever so slight sulphur-like smell; one that briefly reminds you of all those funny experiments in your high-school chemistry lab. And just as quickly as it appeared, it fades away. Only to be replaced by the sweet fragrance of sugar crystals browning as the intense heat slowly caramelises them; and you deftly wipe away the drool that’s formed on the sides of your mouth.
See! I told you that waiting’s the hardest. But it’s also one of the most enjoyable phases. I think of it like a sly foreplay of desires and wants - a variety of indulgent fragrances playing a teasing game with all your senses. This is the perfect time to make yourself a cup of tea and get some crunchy biscuits to dip into it. What amuses me is that the biscuits try really hard to satiate that inexplicable craving that your taste buds now have, but try as they might, they fail miserably.
Part of the joy of baking is being able to see this physical - and very visual - transformation of the cake batter into this rising mountain of deliciousness. At this point, there are perhaps enough chemical reactions going on within the batter to rival Dexter’s lab. And as the timer goes off, your mind gently nudges you to check on the cake. As you suddenly notice the familiar crumbed-crust, your heart skips a beat and your mind joyfully tap dances when you realise that the cake’s almost ready.
The grand finale is perhaps the toughest part of it all - letting the cake rest. Those ten minutes or so, when the cake cools down. There’s nothing that tests the very definition of self-control more than seeing that gorgeous sponge cake mocking you at your helplessness at not being able to touch her. So, we do what we do best - we continue to look longingly at the glistening crust and airy layers. Perhaps we may even notice that the sides of the sponge have retreated away from the sides of the baking tine; very much like an introvert who shyly slinks back into their shell when they see a large group of people. I should know; I’m one of them.
Of course, we could just put this time to good use and make some of that delicious melt-in-your-mouth icing and apply it generously over the sponge. And maybe drizzle some luscious chocolate sauce all over it. Then, make yourself another cuppa, cut yourself a very generous slice of this cake and devour it lovingly and gently. And slowly watch all your worries evaporate away, even if it’s for a few minutes.
This, my friends, is bake-o-therapy. And there’s nothing quite like it.