Blog 18 Apr 2018
The Gift of Quality Delights
FOOD and Culture
Cakes are healthy, too. You just eat a small slice. Mary Berry
For those accustomed to numerous everyday opportunities to sample fine pastries and confections, this will seem an unusual topic to go on about. Since I moved to my current community, I have found such opportunities exceedingly few and relatively new. New businesses of this type are sprouting up partially due to two government incentives for business start-ups and partially due to strong entrepreneurship in the region. This has been good news for our entire area. I hope they succeed so I can enjoy the fruits of their labour.
Never one to jump on food fads, I have followed the advice of the Greek poet, Hesiod, who is credited with saying “… moderation is best in all things.” I have not been lured by the gluten-free fad and have tasted truly abominable foods that were free from gluten. Three years ago, to test the claims about gluten and health, including belly fat, I eschewed all gluten for a month. At the end of the 30 days, nothing had changed. Perhaps not enough belly fat to lose? My condition remained as before. Perhaps, you might say, I was not on the regime long enough. Perhaps. What I have found is avoiding fried foods (very easy) and desserts—sugar is a problem—is what keeps my belly fat down and my weight normal. Of course, I do recognize a small percentage of people have celiac disease. However, I would never intentionally seek out gluten-free food—until now.
Last October, I met the Kitchen Mechanic, Beth Pfeffer. Not only was I astonished by the look of her chocolate and yellow cakes, I was bowled over by her scrumptious brownies. This is cake baking at its best. I did not taste the cakes at the time but was told by 2 or 3 attendees how delicious they were. Beth learned from her grandmother how to bake cakes, cookies and squares packed with flavour, excellent crumble, fluffy texture and richness. This is a precious legacy. All of this is accomplished without cloying, synthetic flavours and too much sugar. Beth is a baker who could hold her own when compared with some of the best. She has the knack.
Beth offers several sorts of cakes, cookies and delicious light, non-gummy chocolate peanut butter balls, beautiful in their execution.
It’s been decades since I’ve experienced the taste of home-made cakes (other than mine or those of friends and family, unfortunately few and far between these days) with delicious (moderately applied) frosting, moist with dense flavour and light texture. There’s no sign of the spongy, compacted, tough textures of cakes found in most restaurants these days with their industrial affinities to various chocolate, caramel or other store-bought candies in Beth’s offerings.
I was delighted to see Beth again at an International Women’s Day event in March 2018. This time, a lemon square caught my eye. Beth’s samples had been at the venue for perhaps an hour but remained exquisite. The lemon curd was beautifully tart. The mixture fresh and clean. I love strong, distilled lemon flavour. What took the cake was the combination of the lemon topping with a base that was at least a full quarter inch thick, dry and completely stable: no crumbling or disintegration, thus, easy to eat with aplomb.
Bravo, Beth! Your wares are beautiful, delicious and irresistible. Best of all, they are real, demonstrating your expertise and love for what you do. Based on my experience, I would never suspect that these delectables are gluten-free.
Suffice it to say that I will continue to not seek out gluten-free foods. There is the slight chance I might try something new. If something proves to be good, that’s good. Beth’s cakes and confections are not good because they are free from gluten; they are good because she is an excellent fabricator.
In this article, I am speaking about layer cakes or squares with an American and to a large degree also, Canadian stamp. They differ markedly from the traditional types of cakes in Europe, tortes or tortas, where they are very often made with ground nuts – almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts being very popular – therefore, flourless. It’s not uncommon to use buckwheat or corn flour as well. One characteristic of a European layer cake is to slice the layers very thin and spread them with flavoured whipped cream or curd or ganache, etc. There are also those that are one layer and finished beautifully to resemble large bonbons.
As I was contemplating this article, I realized there was more I wanted to say. Lo and behold! I came across a marvellous cake history cookbook akin to the type of historic approach taken by Norma Jean Darden and Carole Darden (Lloyd), Jessica Harris, Camille Glenn, Pearl Bowser and Joan Eckstein regarding the origins of various kinds of, what has become, North American food writ large. This book is revealing, and exciting. It creates a craving for fantastic cakes never before experienced.
Read the Blog on Cakes coming soon.