Passover cakes can bring heartache.
Last night I baked a banana cake. The recipe is from Edith, my son-in-law's mother, who is a culinary queen. I made the cake last year, and it was delicious. The ingredients are eggs, sugar, bananas, lemon juice, ground nuts, vanilla, baking powder, oil, liquor. No flour during Passover, so we use potato starch instead.
I separate the eggs. I beat the whites, adding half the sugar, until they have formed glistening peaks. Into the yolks I add the rest of the sugar and vanilla, the mashed bananas (I flash to the days of my young motherhood, when I would coax spoonfuls of the mashed fruit into the mouths of a child), lemon juice, oil, a teasing few tablespoons of brandy. Then half the potato starch-baking powder-nuts mixture.
I fold the whites into the yolk batter. I work in slow movements, careful not to stir. I don't want to disturb the magic of the egg whites, which began as a small amount of liquid and have been transformed--how?--into tall glorious, Alpine mounds. (The Yiddish for meringue is "shnei," which means snow.) I fold in the remainder of the potato starch mixture and pour the batter into a tube pan. Last year a friend advised me to lift the tube pan an inch or so above the counter and let it drop to the counter. "That will get rid of any air bubbles," she told me. I follow her advice.
These cakes are delicate. When I was a newlywed, some thirty years ago, I made five Passover cakes. Two sponge, three with walnuts. Each cake died. My husband tried to console me. "We can still eat it," he said. He scooped up a chunkful of the cake that had plopped from the inverted tube pan onto the counter. "Delicious!" he pronounced.
The cake is in the oven. A while ago--I'm not sure when--the bulb in the top oven flickered and died. I never replaced it. But I peer through the dark oven window every few five or ten minutes. The cake isn't as high as last year's--last year, the batter rose and threatened to spill over the sides. I caution my husband and my son. "Don't slam any doors," I say. "Don't make noise. Cake in the oven."
Baby on board.
An hour later the oven timer buzzes. I slip my hands into mitts and remove the cake. The top is a golden brown. Firm. I smell a hint of bananas and brandy. I quickly turn the tube pan over and set it on the cooling rack on the counter.
I bend down and gaze at the cake. It looks fine. Stationary.
I shut off the oven, but my eyes are on the tube pan. A few seconds later--ten, fifteen--I bend down again and look at the underside of the pan. I see a barely noticeable bulge.
A second later the cake falls. A silent earthquake, not even a hiss, as the insides slither to the counter.
This morning my husband took a chunk of the fallen cake with him to work. "My snack," he told me before he kissed me good-bye.
I am past crying about fallen cakes, but I replay the scene. Too much liquid? Too much folding? Too many people walking back and forth in our small kitchen? (I transferred a load of laundry from washer to dryer and was less than careful in shutting the dryer door. "I thought you said not to slam anything," my husband said.)
Having a book published, I think, is like baking Passover cakes. I create the story, the characters. I have high hopes that, like with the meringue, my words will turn into magic.
Sometimes, even if the words produce magic, hopes are dashed.
I plan to attempt another banana cake today.