Riding the Baking Edge #3: Singing Bird Cake
by Susanna Crossman
This is the third in a weekly baking series dedicated to Leonora Carrington, the beasts of the forest, sumptuous feasts and all sorts of cake.
Singing Bird Cake
Iris Murdoch wrote in The Sea, The Sea that, “One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.” Turned pages. Fresh socks. Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy”. Dancing. A new pen. Reading The Pillow Book. This easy cake also provides small lights. A sweet dappling. An inch of sponge and fruit. An assemblage of beatitude. Cake is a reality, and, if you concur with psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, “reality matters because it is the only thing that can satisfy us.” Cake brings exquisite satisfaction, pleasures, like Proust’s madeleine, rendering “the vicissitudes of life” indifferent, making “disasters innocuous.” We search for lost time.
Poet Wayne Koestenbaum penned a line about “the marble pound cake of tauromachy.” This fast-to-bake cake, good cake and simple cake, is an eat-it-anytime and everyday cake. A sponge cake of ubiquity, an omnipresent cake, an everywhere gâteau. Left plain, it matches morning coffee, or a lunchtime dessert. Bedecked, it fits summer or springtime celebrations. Use ribbons, sparklers, fruit and creams. Take diamonds, peacock feathers, pearl buttons. Go wild. The recipe can be tweaked, adapted and a little improvised. This is advisable.
This recipe fell into my hands on a day I don’t remember. Today, I baked this cake for my daughter’s 6th birthday. The heart is her request, her “heart is like a singing bird.” Read Christina Rossetti:
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.
1 apron. You may select the color, fabric and length. My current favorite is in pink plastic, bearing a picture of punk goddess Zara Rhodes who created Conceptual Chic.
130g self-raising flour
50g butter (salted or not)
100g plain yogurt
100-150g red fruit, such as raspberries, blueberries or strawberries.
The strawberries need to be chopped into pieces the size of your thumbnail. The raspberries and blueberries may be left whole. These ruby gemstones will decorate your batter, jewel-colored Japanese Carmine, an almost Old Mauve, Red Devils.
Optional: I like to add 2-3 heaped tablespoons of powdered almonds as it moves this cake towards a French financier. You could also add powdered hazelnuts. Follow your instinct.
Put on your apron. Wash your hands.
Preheat oven at 200°c.
Line a cake tin with paper, and grease.
Baking is all about preparation. Take your time, consider Rossetti, always consider her. “Accept the love that underlies the lays.” “Listen to the speaking silence of a dream.”
In a mixing bowl, place the butter, sugar and egg. Mix, either using a wooden spoon, or an electric hand-mixer. Feel free.
Peter Slade, a practitioner in spontaneity and improvisation, wrote of the rejoicing arising from “total expression, forms of flinging yourself against the sky on mountain tops.” In the kitchen, let this happen.
Add the flour and yogurt. If you like the idea of powdered nuts they can also be included at this stage.
Mix again, until you have an even batter. It needs to be quite heavy, so your red fruit doesn’t sink.
Pour the mixture into your prepared cake tin.
Scatter, sprinkle, speckle the batter with red fruit.
Place the cake in the oven.
Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Once cooked, either leave plain or decorate. Mystic, gardener, poetess and cook Hildegard of Bingen wrote:
Dare to declare who you are. It is not far from the shores of silence to the boundaries of speech. The path is not long, but the way is deep. You must not walk there, you must be prepared to leap.
About the Author:
Susanna Crossman is an Anglo-French fiction writer and essayist, winner of the 2019 LoveReading Very Short Story Award. She has recent/upcoming work in Neue Rundschau, S. Fischer (translated into German), Repeater Books, The Creative Review, 3:AM Journal, The Lonely Crowd and more. Nominated for Best of The Net (2018) for her non-fiction, her fiction has just been short-listed for the Bristol Prize and Glimmertrain. Co-author of the French roman, L’Hôpital Le Dessous des Cartes (LEH 2015), she regularly collaborates on international hybrid arts projects. Currently, she is showing the multi-lingual prose film, 360° of Morning, with screenings and events across Europe and USA. She lives in France. @crossmansusanna.