“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map.
It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together.
Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”
Pour me plaindre ou m’aimer je ne cherche personne;
J’ai planté l’arbre amer dont la sève empoisonne.
Je savais, je devais savoir quel fruit affreux
Naît d’une ronce aride au piquant douloureux.
Je saigne. Je me tais. Je regarde sans larmes
Des yeux pour qui mes pleurs auraient de si doux charmes.
Dans le fond de mon coeur je renferme mon sort,
Et mon étonnement, et mes cris, et ma mort.
Oui ! Je veux bien mourir d’une flèche honteuse,
Mais sauvez-moi, mon Dieu ! De la pitié menteuse.
Oh ! La pitié qui ment ! Oh ! Les perfides bras
Valent moins qu’une tombe à l’abri des ingrats.
“You see, he was going for the Holy Grail. The boys all took a flier at the Holy Grail now and then. It was a several years’ cruise. They always put in the long absence snooping around, in the most conscientious way, though none of them had any idea where the Holy Grail really was, and I don’t think any of them actually expected to find it, or would have known what to do with it if he had run across it.”
― Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
I love you also means I love you more than anyone loves you, or has loved you, or will love you,
and also, I love you in a way that no one loves you, or has loved you, or will love you,
and also, I love you in a way that I love no one else, and never have loved anyone else,
and never will love anyone else.
“Here we are again!
Bless me, I believe I said that before—but after all you don’t want Christmas to be different each year, do you?”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters from Father Christmas
Christmas for my family was different this year.
One (1) of my three (3) brothers couldn’t come to the East coast for Xmas.
We’re celebrating in the city, rather than upstate, which means an apartment and a baby tree rather than a big house with a fireplace.
And we have the cutest, most adorable mini addition to our family with my baby niece, Emilia.
I honestly can’t believe how perfectly cute she is.
Cannot get enough of her chub!
So although we didn’t have some of our traditions this year, we still had a lovely time together.
Gifts were opened, brunch was had (I made Belgian waffles, my mom made a delicious polenta dish, we all drank mimosas and coffee), and much cooing over the baby was done.
Now that I’m not a kid anymore, I am reminded each year that what I love most about Christmas is being with my family.
This year, I am especially reminded that home is where your family is.
So, about this cute little pastel Christmas cake.
Technically, everything except the reindeer’s ribbon scarf is edible. (No toothpicks used here, just uncooked spaghetti lol.)
The decorations are made of (non-gelatin) fondant that I added tylose powder to to make it more like gumpaste (firm and quick setting/drying).
Sculpting the reindeer took days, as I did each piece in turn.
I painted it with gold food coloring and used pink luster dust to add the blush.
The gingerbread house is made of a new recipe of gingerbread that I created, which has no eggs or water so that it doesn’t bubble and maintains its shape. It’s much more building-friendly, and although it doesn’t taste quite as good, it is still far more delicious than “construction” gingerbread.
Let me know if you want the recipe!
I stuck the gingerbread house together with melted white chocolate, and I will never use anything else! It is far more dependable than royal icing, because it sets quickly and, importantly, is just a little bit pliable when it sets—you can avoid things cracking and falling all apart because of a little push or drop here and there. It even survived a subway ride where it was rattling around in a tupperware a little.
A simple royal icing made the piped decorations, the snow on the trees, and the icicles.
My inspiration was the endlessly creative and cute Juniper Cakery, a bakery in the UK.
I hadn’t worked with fondant in so SO long, and while it’s not the tastiest thing in the world, it’s not entirely inedible, either. It also makes sculpting work so enjoyable and smooth.
For making something like a gingerbread house or a figurine that is unlikely to be eaten and isn’t integral to the cake, I really recommend it. You might be surprised as I was!
The cake itself is a soft-crumbed, lightly fragranced orange spice cake, redolent with cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and cloves, with orange and lemon zest.
It’s made using a reverse creaming method, meaning that you beat very soft butter into the dry ingredients, including the flour, before adding the wet. Bittersweet orange marmalade is spread between the layers to add an extra hit of citrus.
Finally, salted chocolate buttercream, made with unsweetened chocolate and extra cocoa powder to really amp up the chocolate flavor, enrobes the cake.
Orange, chocolate, and spice is a warming, cozy combination that evokes winter and Christmastime to me. If you’d rather leave out the citrus, a chocolate spice cake would also be delicious.
Merry Christmas, everyone! And to those who don’t celebrate this holiday, a peaceful and happy day.
Orange Spice and Chocolate Cake
makes 1 2×6-inch layer cake
for the orange spice cake:
1 egg yolk
150 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) yogurt, sour cream, or buttermilk
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) flour
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground anise
113 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) butter, extremely soft
for the chocolate frosting:
175 grams (1 1/2 sticks, 12 tablespoons) butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
50 grams unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate
340 grams (12 ounces, 2 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1-2 tablespoons cream or milk, only if needed
orange marmalade, if desired
Make the cake: grease and flour 2 6-inch pans.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk eggs, egg yolk, and buttermilk together.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, zest spices, and salt together.
Beat butter into the dry ingredients until it’s fully incorporated; mixture should be clumpy but there should be no large pieces of butter at all—aim for more of a paste, without overmixing.
Slowly stream in the wet ingredients while whisking.
Once fully incorporated, scrape the bowl and whisk another few times.
Portion evenly into the two prepared pans.
Bake for 18 minutes, or until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the buttercream: whip butter on high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, gently melt the chocolate over low heat with a bain-marie or in a microwave, going in small bursts.
Add the salt, half the powdered sugar, and cocoa powder to the butter; whip until incorporated.
With the mixer running, slowly stream in the melted chocolate.
Once fully incorporated, add the other half of the powdered sugar a spoonful at a time.
If the frosting is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of milk (I didn’t have to do this) and whip to incorporate.
Level the cakes if they have domed and spread 2 tablespoons of orange marmalade over the bottom cake.
Crumb coat the cakes with the frosting, and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, and up to 2 hours.
Frost the rest of the cake thickly; I had about 2 tablespoons of frosting leftover, so if you want to add decorative piping, frost the cake a little more sparingly.
Decorate with fondant if desired!
“Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star.
It’s dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago.
Maybe the star doesn’t even exist anymore.
Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything.”
—South of the Border, West of the Sun, Haruki Murakami
In the throes of warm happiness; or the bleak confines of sadness; or the boiling, poisonous depths of anger, it is hard to imagine a stronger emotion than that which has caught you, in that moment, in a tight, isolating embrace.
But increasingly, I find myself believing that nostalgia is the strongest emotion.
When you think about it, of course it is. This revelation is indeed not one at all, for no other emotion so fluidly combines each of your senses, as likely to be triggered by the scent and taste of a food or someone’s neck as the sight of a landmark or beauty mark, or a chilled wind or brush of familiar fingers or the soundtrack of a particular time of your life.
The empty melancholy of nostalgia makes my brain vibrate with a painfully pleasurable resonance. I can feel it mushrooming through my body, as my chest walls and throat constrict, as if I am hugging myself ever closer, ever tighter.
Wandering around the chilled campus of my alma mater for the first time since I gathered up all of my unknowns and heartbreaks and moved across the country, I felt that familiar emotion bubbling up aggressively, threatening to burst the tight seams that I have so much difficulty loosening.
I will admit to only a couple hot, confused tears borne of happiness and sadness.
Walking underneath the gates where we passed as first years, in our welcome ceremony, and then returned underneath to graduate into adulthood, I felt shivery and strange.
Always the students three years above seemed older, wiser, more ready. They left and I was temporarily sad, but the next year, life mostly just ticked onwards. It always felt far away.
In the end, I watched myself graduate into adulthood at essentially the same detached distance as I had all those who had gone before me, not because I wasn’t feeling intense emotions, but because it was simply a function of time passing, and naught can be done to stop that.
It happens whether you accept it willingly or not.
Still, the nostalgia I felt under Cobb Gate wracked me. My memories surprised me with their proximity. I yearned to be back in that time of my life, to be that person who I was when I first passed underneath the archway, or at least to be the person I was when I filed through for the last time.
I’m well past college at this point, emotionally and timewise.
Still, the nostalgia brought me back in an instant.
How lucky our species is, that possibly our keenest emotion is actually the dullest; the sharpest, clearest edges are smoothed by the blurriness of reminiscence.
I reckon perfect recollection would be a heavy burden indeed.
Instead, we sweep aside the boring and mundane entirely. We often view old flaming passions with bemusement. The trenches we trudged through seem much less deep and dark when looking backwards.
The gashes rent by grief, blessedly, are smoothed and filled in by fonder, treasured memories.
Even wild happiness is bridled in hindsight, as we shape it to fit what we know would come next; the magnitude of joy may stay the same, but there is little, if any, mystery or surprise to nostalgia.
Nostalgia is not an act of discovery. It is the opposite. It is an act of returning to a place—or a time, or a person—that feels like home.
RETROUVAILLES, subst. fém. plur. Fait, pour des personnes, de se revoir, en particulier après une longue séparation.
The cake I’m sharing today is unexpectedly nostalgic; a bit of a surprise twist on a classic.
The base swaps carrots for parsnips, imparting an extra earthy softness to the flavor; it’s rounded out with nubbly coconut and a hearty hit of warming spices. Miso caramel sauce, brought almost to the point of burning so that it retains a faint smokiness, is layered between the cake as well as mixed into the fluffy, creamy buttercream.
An extra pinch of salt here and there cuts the rich sweetness.
The frosting is swirled with extra caramel, and the cake is topped with the prettiest color-coordinated sprinkles.
Thanks so much to Wilton Cakes for providing me with materials used to make this cake!
Speaking of nostalgic, I’ve been using Wilton products since I started baking from scratch—I literally bought all of my starter items from the AC Moore in Ithaca (before it closed!). They had 2 1/2 aisles of Wilton products, and whenever my mom would go to pick up scrapbooking supplies or frames, I would wander over and daydream about making fondant flowers, baking armies of cupcakes, and using every cookie cutter ever invented.
Below are some links to products I used for this project, and how they can help you create beautiful baked goods more easily.
for the miso caramel frosting:
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
60 grams (1/4 cup) water
90 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) heavy cream
30 grams (2 tablespoons) butter
2 tablespoons white (shiro) miso
big pinch salt, to taste
225 grams (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
650 grams (5 cups plus 3 tablespoons) powdered sugar, as needed
60-80 grams (1/4 – 1/3 cup) heavy cream, room temperature, as needed
big pinch salt, to taste
Make the cake: grease and flour 3 6-inch pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grate parsnips finely, using a cheese grater or a food processor with the shredding blade.
Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt together.
Stir sugar and canola oil together, then whisk in the eggs one at a time.
Gently stir in the shredded parsnips and coconut, being sure to break up any large clumps.
Add the dry ingredients over the wet, and gently fold in, stirring firmly once or twice at the end to ensure homogeneity.
Portion out the batter evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs and the cakes are golden and the tops springy to the touch.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely.
Make the caramel for the frosting: place sugar and water in a small pot over medium heat.
Cook the caramel until it reaches an amber color; immediately remove it from the heat and whisk in the heavy cream and butter.
Whisk vigorously until the mixture is homogeneous, then pour into a bowl and add the miso and a pinch of salt; whisk again until the miso has broken up and incorporated.
Allow to cool completely, then add salt to taste if needed.
Make the frosting: whip softened butter for at least 3 minutes, until light in color and fluffy and smooth.
Add 1/4 cup of the miso frosting and start mixing on low speed.
Add in 1/4 cup of the powdered sugar at a time, stopping regularly to scrape the sides of the bowl.
Once 4 cups of the sugar have been incorporated, add 1/4 cup of heavy cream one tablespoon at a time.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and whip on high for 30 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Add the remaining amount of powdered sugar if the frosting is too thin; add an additional few tablespoons of heavy cream is the frosting is too thick.
Place 1/3 cup frosting on the first cake round; drizzle on about 2 tablespoons of caramel.
Repeat with the next round, then crumb coat the whole cake.
Frost the cake thickly, placing dots of caramel randomly around the cake to swirl into the frosting as you smooth the outside.
Pipe decorations on top as desired, then decorate with Wilton sprinkles!
Disclaimer: I was provided with a product in this post for free, in exchange for my honest and fair review. All opinions are my own. Bisous!