Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Adventure of the Epiphany Cake

Seven days in, I have no complaints about 2009 so far. I've had several job nibbles, two of them for very good money, the dogs are healthy and so are the Blochers.

I'm about to brag a little, and you should take it with a grain of salt. In my experience, going back over 30 years into high school and beyond, when I brag that I'm doing something or about to do something, promising some great self-reform, the final result tends to be underwhelming most of the time. On the other hand I have, at different periods in the past, lost 70 pounds, finished the first full draft of a novel, and graduated from college with an accounting degree while working full time. It's not as if I'm incapable of accomplishing anything.

So where do I stand, seven days into the new year? At this moment in a separate window, I am logged into CPAExcel, where I've watched some introductory video and read part of the introduction to the AUD (Auditing and Attestation) course. I've also registered today for the 40-day guided seminar of the FAR (Financial Accounting and Reporting) course, to prepare for the largest, most crucial part of the CPA exam. That doesn't start until January 18th. I could have started one of the courses yesterday or today, but first I want to get my feet wet, get back into studying mode and sample the different sections in case I decide to start with a different one. I just applied for an entry-level (sort of) auditing position, so I may well want to start there. Also, I got the impression that 40 days was about the right length for the FAR section, and the current course starts are not for that length. I don't want to try to cram it into 30 days, or stretch it into 60, at least not before I get a better idea where I stand given the extent of my practical experience and the rustiness of my academic study.

Reorganized shelves...

...and clean desk.

What else have I been up to, aside from obsessing about the dogs and Doctor Who? (John says, "You realize that most of your entries lately are about dogs.") Well, I've done some organizing of the shelves in the den, and a fearsome number of dishes, and cleaned the top of the stove. The burner top thingies are currently soaking in the sink, although I'm sure they will never be clean again. Tonight, now that the Twelve Days of Christmas are officially over, I will pack up the Christmas tree.

The aftermath of Epiphany cake, Karen-style.

And yesterday I celebrated Epiphany with the Adventure of the Epiphany Cake. See, as I understand it (my knowledge of all this is admittedly rather vague), Epiphany Cake (or King Cake) is sort of a fruitcake / Christmas pudding variant, served between Epiphany and Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras). At St. Michael's each year there's a pot luck after the Epiphany mass on January 6th, at which Epiphany cake is served. Baked into it, or hidden inside after baking, are three items:
  1. A dime - predicting wealth,
  2. A ring - predicting love, and
  3. A thimble - predicting work.
I'm not so sure about a nominally Christian foodstuff getting into the fortune telling business, but there are certainly many folk traditions of the sort that have developed around the Christmas season over the centuries. At St. Michael's it's just a silly, fun community thing, and only one of the three "favors" in the cake has a practical component. If your piece of cake contains the thimble, you're supposed to make the cake the next year.

Last year I got a yellow plastic thimble inside my piece of cake. I have no idea where that is now, but it doesn't matter. I also have a toy ring somewhere from a previous year, which I likewise could not find. The point is, for January 6th, 2009 it was my randomly-designated turn to make the Epiphany cake. To be honest, I'd been looking forward to that for years. I'm not much of a cook and even less of a baker, but I've always wanted St. Michael's to end up with an Epiphany cake that was at least something like a traditional Epiphany cake, whatever that might be.

But January came around, and I hadn't researched recipes, or even bought the candied fruit for my conception of what the cake should be. Mindful of my joblessness, and possibly aware of my lack of baking prowess, Father Smith offered to have the church buy a spice cake on my behalf, but I declined the offer. I wanted a cake that at least had some elements of fruitcake - not the alcohol, not the aging, but at least the fruit. So I went to Safeway and bought a spice cake mix and a cranberry orange muffin mix, plus walnuts, milk and vegetable oil. But they were out of the candied fruit! So was Albertson's, were I got the eggs. Finally at Fry's I found multicolor candied pineapple for only 50 cents per container. I also got two disposable aluminum pans, two kinds of frosting and some whipping cream to make the frosting more light and less sugary.

Yesterday afternoon, I preheated the oven and proceeded to make an awful mess. The cranberry stuff was easy - just add water, mix, fold in the canned cranberries and bake. I found a 9 inch round cake pan and poured in most of the mix, along with half a container of the pineapple; but put the rest of the batter in one of the big aluminum pans. It clearly wasn't going to be enough batter to be baked adequately in that size pan, so I set it aside and started on the main cake. Spice cake mix, oil, water, eggs (one of which was broken in the carton), find the electric mixer and the beaters for it and start mixing. I added the leftover cranberry batter, and then the rest of the fruit and half a bag of walnut halves, and poured it in the aluminum pan. Last I pushed in the freshly-washed "favors": a dime, and a little toy ring with a smiley face on it, and one of three metal thimbles that finally turned up in the sewing box I'd been looking for since the previous week. Then I started cleaning up after myself. A bit.

Ten minutes before I was due at mass, the cranberry bread was maybe-done, and the spice cake was sorta-kinda-hope-so done. The knife came out clean, on the third try. I tried to ice the cranberry, and then read that you have to let the cake cool first. So I packed up the two cakes and the icing in the back of the car, and went to pick up Kevin. We were five or ten minutes late for mass, so we set it down in the kitchen and headed into church.

After mass I went into the kitchen. There were the icing and the cranberry cake, but where was the main cake? Someone had put it in the oven! I thought this was a mistake until I pulled it out and tried to upend it onto a serving tray. It wasn't done in the middle! So it went back into the oven.

Fortunately there were lots of non-dessert goodies that other people had brought. I thought I'd eat a plateful of that and then check on the cake, but before I finished, the person who had initially tried to bake it some more reported that it was now burned on the edges. She pulled it out and set it on the serving pan, and advised me to dribble the icing over it. ("That's the fashion now, in the fancy restaurants and on the cooking shows," she told me.) So that is what I did. It was horribly messy and lumpy, and you could still tell it was a little burned. It reminded me strongly of a book I read when I was seven years old, in which a boy named Billy tries to bake a cake for his mother. I still remember bits of it, including this:
"Hmm. This cake looks kind of bumpy.
Maybe Ma won't see it's lumpy.
I know it will be good to eat."
At the end of the story, Ma, who can see signs of the 20 eggs Billy put in without breaking them first, wisely announces she will keep the cake forever rather than eat it.

My epiphany cake wasn't quite as extreme as that, and I hoped it would be good to eat. And in fact it pretty much was. The spice cake came out in non-cohesive lumps, but it looked and tasted quite a bit like a light, moist fruitcake. People seemed delighted with the pineapple bits and the overall flavor, and ate up every crumb, some of them strategically waiting until after the thimble was found before claiming their pieces. I got many compliments, and Father Smith was asked if he knew where I found the recipe. "I think she got it online," he told them.

Nope. I got it from Billy and his mother. And I call it a qualified success.


1 comment:

Georganna Hancock M.S. said...

If you have a CPA/audit kind of mind I'm sure you'll do well in all the courses and secure your certification with flying colors!