Today I didn’t bake a cake. It was time to take a day off and besides, I had no butter in the fridge. Recently I have been baking in those early hours when even the blackbirds are still asleep out there, up in the safety of tree foliage. The idea came to me one dawn as if someone spoke the word. Bake. But, I said, fighting my way out from beneath a twisted duvet, I loathe baking, don’t you remember? All that flaming baking palaverance at Tapselteerie, when guests expected tea and cake after a day out and me in the kitchen facing yet another flatpack frisbee, burned at the edges and refusing to rise to the occasion? Remember that? And I never got better at it, not in 15 years. That’s because you refused to follow a recipe, she snorts. So? I hate following anything or anyone.
Bake, she says again and I watch the bee words fly about the room, hear them laughing. I get up to flap them away but they are too fast for my morning flaps. They follow me down the stairs and perch, one on each shoulder. Bake, bake they say again, tweaking my ear lobes before lifting like bluebottles into the air. Well dammit! Alright, alright I will bake but the idea is ridiculous because I don’t eat cake and rarely have done so throughout my long and cakeless life, and the only time I did was because it was someone’s birthday. I breakfast and perform a few mindless chores, mindlessly.
This is my point, says Bake Voice. Mindless tasks are not enough for you, not these long solo days. Not any more. It is time to push away the walls of your comfort zone, to reach beyond your beliefs that you have no point, you are done, might as well sit and brood thing. If you bake, they will come. Who will come? I feel defensive. I don’t want any ‘comings’ thank you very much. I am just fine on my own, fine without cake. Bake Voice is quiet for a bit and just as I’m thinking she has gone to harry another poor cake-disliking soul, she says this. Give the cake away. Now that peaks my interest because I am a giving-away sort of woman who takes great pleasure in the process. Who to, I begin to wonder, and how much to who to? I hear Bake Voice chuckle. She knows she’s got me.
Stocking up with stork and butter, icing sugar, jam, castor sugar, flour and soft fruit, I lightly baste a deep cake tin and flip on the oven to 160 fan. This cake will rise I tell the line-up of ingredients, wagging my finger. You will rise. Nobody responds which I consider a good student reaction. They are subdued and obedient. I haul out the big mixer and affix the whirly thing although it takes me a few minutes to remember how to, and set the process in motion. Apple Cake today, I decide and I slice up dessert apples, pouring a hefty tablespoon of artisan chocolate rum over the pieces to marinade. Assembled and smelling divine, I feel a little tipsy at 5 am which is something I haven’t felt since I was a teenager. I smile, pour the mix into the cake tin and slide it into the oven. Although I have made this recipe up, I do know that a deep cake full of drunken apple slices will be a slow cook. 45 minutes should do it.
Although I can barely believe it, the cake rises and remains risen, its top warmly golden, its centre cooked through according to the clean tip of an inserted skewer. I leave it to cool a while in the tin then turn it onto a wire rack. I am excited and very proud. Share your pride with me, says Bake Voice from the other side of the kitchen and I drop her a deferential curtsey. Later, once cooled, I split the deep cake and fill with jam, sliced strawberries and butter cream icing. I take a photo, just to prove I have evolved from my frisbee period. My neighbours are delighted. So are the local shopkeepers, passing strangers, the chimney sweep, the plumber and the gardener. Some of them are going on a diet. Each morning I bake. Lime cake with gin and blueberries; Raspberry sponge with strawberry jam, lemon zest and plum brandy. Yes, it sounds confused yet it still rises into a moist and delicious Not-Frisbee. Each recipe is made up, magically. None of them should work, let alone rise, but they all do. I am obviously a gifted cake genius.
It isn’t magic, says Bake Voice, startling me from where I sit watching the birds flit and flut among the feeders. What? I say. It isn’t magic, she repeats and you’re no genius. It’s me guiding you. If life had been left up to you, it would be same old same old. I got you off your butt and into elevated thinking. I un-dulled your mind. I smile. She’s right. I have felt excited and curious each day as my thoughts dance through an unlikely list of ingredients, turning them into gifts that bring happy smiles to cake-loving faces. So, Smartarse, I round on her, when I have run out of friends because they all weigh 28 stone and hide when they see me coming, what then?
Oh, she grins, don’t worry, I’ll come up with another idea. Trust me.