Saturday, November 1, 2014

Malala Cake

Ok, so this is the agenda for this post: A) Cake excuses, B) a recipe for Malala cake so far, such as it is, and C) Cake economics.  

Yep, you read that right.  Malala cake.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Cake excuses:

The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was shared by Malala Yousafzai and Kalish Satyarthi.  I had never heard of Mr. Satyarthi, but I knew about Malala, and I was so charmed and so uplifted by the fact that she won the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17 that I pulled over to the side of the road---I was on my way to work in the morning---and sat there for a few minutes smiling.  I called my wife to share the good feeling. 

Malala herself says that she doesn’t deserve the prize, but if other people in the world had a reaction anything like mine it may not matter whether she deserved it: the fact that she was awarded it brought a lot of gladness into the world, and that may be enough justification.  And while I understand her reluctance to accept a prize before she’s succeeded in achieving her goal, I don’t agree with her on this: she does deserve it.  She is a startling example of why those of us who have become older, and in the process have become jaded, tired, and bruised by life, need in the end to pass the torch to others who are still young, still eager, and filled with hope for the future of the world. 

So I decided to make a cake for Malala. 

That’s really a pretty odd response for me. I don’t usually like cakes very much.  I rarely eat them, and I have no particular skill in making them.  I generally find the cake part too clingy and the frosting too sweet.   

Celebrations are generally cake-events, though, so I was stuck.  I had to bake a cake.  But I have a problem here: since I don’t generally make cakes, I don’t have a go-to cake recipe to pull out for special occasions.  I can never follow recipes anyway.  I mean, I guess I could follow recipes if I really had to, but usually if I’m going to spend time in a kitchen I figure I might as well spice up my time with at least a little bit of adventure.

So by deciding to make a cake, I had sort of decided to invent a cake. 

I had to do some research on cakes, but I know where to start any research project: Google.  I looked up a lot of cake recipes, took a bit from here and a bit from there, and added some flavors that seemed to me in my cake ignorance to be very distantly appropriate, and invented my cake.  It didn’t occur to me until much later that maybe I should put it out here on my blog, partly to see if anyone has suggestions, and partly as an invitation to my friends to come over and try some while it lasts.  I wanted to wait until it was perfect but---well, that would have been a long time, I think.  

And then I read that Malala had donated all of her prize money to rebuild schools in Gaza. 

I can’t wait for perfection.  That much youthful altruism has to be celebrated now.

The recipe is below giving you all the extremely small benefit of what little cake expertise I’ve managed so far. 

The cake:

I’ve made this cake three times now, with slightly different methods each time.  Every time the cake fell after it got out of the oven---not drastically, but it did fall.  It still tasted great, and the texture was acceptable, but it didn’t manage the lightness I had intended.  So, back to the web to figure that out.  After some effort and research I discovered that flourless, egg-risen cakes like this one are kind of thermally monogamous; their instinct is to mate for life with whatever temperature they’re with at any moment.  It’s not that they can’t change.  But they become attached to their temperature of the moment and are reluctant to abandon the relationship even when they know it’s not good for them in the long run.  Unless they are treated gently they’re not at all comfortable moving to something thermally new to them.  For example, when the cake is done baking in a hot oven, don’t just yank it out and put it someplace cool: it’s guaranteed to sulk about that.  The cake knows that if it remains in that high oven heat it will eventually become charcoal, but it still has to be gently coaxed to leave.  Turn the oven off and leave the oven door ajar for a few minutes to let it get used to the idea of moving on.  Then open the oven door wider, and leave the cake for another few minutes.  Then, when you think it’s ready, take it from the oven and put it on top of the stove where it’s warm from the air released from the oven below it, and let it cool there for a while before moving the whole thing to a wire rack.   Your kitchen might be arranged differently, but you get the idea: slowly cajole the cake, one step at a time, to accept the new temperature. 

In a way, this starts even before you even start mixing the batter: take the eggs and butter out of the refrigerator half an hour ahead of time, so that they are warmish when you start.

Here’s what I did, which I guess I should call a recipe. 

(your name here)’s Malala Cake:

So I called mine Stuart’s Malala Cake because it’s a cake and I’m Stuart and I made the cake, but I don’t feel all that possessive about it; if you are like me and can’t stop tinkering around with things, come up with a variation and call it your own Malala cake.   You could put flaked almonds on top.  Or you could use marmalade instead of apricot jam, then you could call it marmalade Malala cake, which is not only charmingly alliterative, it actually sounds pretty tasty…I may have to try that.  But here’s my version, so far. 


5 eggs, separated
2 Tbsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
pinch cinnamon
¼  cup raw cane sugar (because I like it better---it has a hint of molasses flavor),
¼ cup refined sugar (for the egg whites---dissolves better)
¾  cup almond flour   
¾ cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
Pinch of salt


Separate eggs into yolks and whites. 

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  

Place a round of parchment paper on the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan, and grease it and the sides of the pan with butter.

In a large bowl, beat together the egg yolks, lemon zest, and 1/4 cup raw cane sugar and the vanilla and almond extract until good and thick.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the nut flour, nut meal, spices, baking powder and salt.  

Beat the egg whites to fairly stiff peaks, but don’t keep beating beyond that.  As the egg whites begin to increase in volume, gradually sprinkle in the ¼ cup of refined sugar and the 1 Tbsp of lemon juice into them.  This last, lemon juice, is experimental; I read on the internet (here) that an acid like vinegar, lemon juice or cream of tartar helps maintain the loft of beaten egg whites.  It’s worth a try.


Add the nut flour mixture to the egg yolk mixture and beat until smooth. 

Fold the beaten egg whites into the almond mixture a third or so a time.  The first third can be mixed pretty vigorously; it’s basic purpose is to make the batter more liquid so that it’s easier to fold the rest of the egg whites into it.  Be a bit more gentle with the second third, trying to make the result pretty fluffy and light.  The last third should be folded in quite gently, just until incorporated and no more, to blend but to still preserve the lightness and airiness of the beaten egg whites as much as possible.

Gently pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and place in the oven. Bake for 40-50 minutes.  It will be dark on top, don't let that scare you.

Remove from the oven gradually (see above) and let it mostly cool. If necessary---it probably won’t be, because the cake will probably retract slightly from the side of the pan on its own---but if necessary, run a sharp knife around the edge of the cake to help separate it from the side of the pan.

Release the springform pan side, and gently move the cake (on parchment) to a serving plate.

For the soaking liquid or glaze:

Put ½ cup of really good apricot jam into a pan, and heat together with ¼ cup Cointreau, if desired.  If you’re really trying to make it for a 17 year old Muslim girl, you might want to use something non-alcoholic instead (maybe orange juice). That’s it.  Heat until it dissolves.  While it’s warm it should be pretty liquid.  Let the hot dissipate from everything, both cake and glaze, and pour the slightly warm glaze over the slightly warm cake.  Brush some of the glaze around the sides of the cake too, just to make it shiny.

That’s the cake I made.  As I said, I’m not an accomplished cake maker, and this cake tends to fall a bit.  If any bakers out there reading this, anyone who is actually good at cakes and wants to explain how I should have done it in the first place, I would honestly appreciate that.  Just go to the bottom of the blog post and click on the tiny print that says “comments”, or if you’re the first one here it will say “no comments”.  Or alternatively, you can go to the very top, to the title of this post, where it says “Malala Cake”, click on that, and then scroll down to the bottom and there should be a place for you to enter any suggestions you have.  I’d like to get this right.

Cake economics:

Naahhh…I’ll do that tomorrow.  Instead of economics, I’ll use this space to ask any of you out there who know Malala, or who have the chance to meet her somewhere, to thank her for me for inspiring me to make a cake.  It turned out pretty well, to my nearly unbounded surprise. 

And tell her also that she does deserve the prize. Alfred Nobel’s will says the prize should go to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”  It doesn’t’ say the winner has to have actually achieved peace forever.  The purpose of this prize is not just to celebrate already accomplished goals: it’s to inspire the world toward peace, and to celebrate people who are pressing the world toward peace instead of conflict. 

I said something at the top of this post about the older among us being wounded by life, and the young being eager and hopeful.  I don’t really know whether that’s always true; there are counterexamples.  Ghandi, who never did win the Peace Prize because he was killed the year they were probably going to award it to him, and Mandela, and Mother Theresa.  They all managed to save some hope well into old age, and all of them were plentifully bruised by life.  And there are some young people who are filled with other things than hope: bitterness, or anger.  But Malala, in spite of living through a terrible assault, is not bitter, and not angry.  She was young, and strong, and would not allow bitterness to deflect her.  So I don't know.  But there’s any truth to the idea that the young are more resiliently idealistic than the rest of us, please tell Malala that I hope she stays eager, stays hopeful, and stays young forever.  

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