Every Christmas I re-open a jar of high hopes and reach to the bottom of it to grab anything I can find. I always find quite a lot, despite the collection of broken jars I have hidden in my metaphorical closet. Maybe it's the magic I'm trying to re-capture, this firefly that's almost always too fast. I get to touch a wing, I feel a flutter in the air, catch a glimpse of it in the darkness, but can't ever hold onto it. You shouldn't be chasin' fireflies, you'll say. I can't help it, I'll respond. I've been in love with Christmas since I was but a bear cub; big-eyed, curly and thirsty for that gooey feeling dripping slow and heavy like honey.
It all started with snow, I just know it. One snowflake and I was helpless. What is it? How does it simply fall from the sky, changing both our outside and our inside? It's like a big chunk of love has been frozen, then broken into a million pieces and spread all around, for everybody to get their share. I still find it amazing; I think it's nature at its best and most generous. The softest memory I have from my bear cub days is the “Bear-cub goes into the snow” one. It begins on a cold day, bear-cub looking out the window. You know: big eyed and all, bewitched by the world's snow coat. Bear-cub feels excitement gathering up in her stomach like a pack of fireflies, warming up her insides and lighting up her face. Bear-cub wants to go outside. Papa-bear is very protective; he is afraid that bear-cub is too fragile for the outside world, especially in this cold. He tells mama-bear to layer little bear-cub as she would a cake. Mama bear agrees and piles fabric after fabric, infinite layers of cotton and wool, topping it all with a big cosy hat, a fluffy scarf that covers half her face, mittens tied with string and of course, a big fur coat. I know, she's a bear, why would she need another one? Silly worried bear parents, they're so worried they don't make sense anymore. Bear-cub has grown fussy and impatient. Enough is enough! Door opens, cold enters, a gust of wind carrying snow hits bear-cub in the face. She is out of breath for a second, then recovers and takes her first step into the snow. It gathers under her foot - bear-cub's ear twitching under the big fluffy hat - and it makes the most satisfying sound she's ever heard (apart from the sound of the spoon accidentally hitting the sides if the honey jar). She dares to take another step, and another. Suddenly, she's part of the story. Mama-bear leaves bear-cub to play with other all-kinds-of-cubs, slowly closing the door, with lingering looks to make sure her bear cub is going to be alright. That was the most fun bear-cub has ever had in her life so far. She stayed outside as long as she could, even though she couldn't feel her feet anymore, her hands were wet and her chubby cheeks were berry red and cold as popsicles. When mama-bear called her inside she felt relieved to “have” to go - to have someone help her say goodbye - because she felt it was too hard of a decision to make on her own. She said “goodbye”, “thank you” and “see you tomorrow”.
Oddly enough my favourite part of this memory is not the cookie, but the after-taste. The after-taste is the feeling of sweet exhaustion and the big smile on my face. It's warmth slowly invading my numb body, it's my mother's hands cupping my cheeks and lending them their loving heat. It's my dad's worried, slightly disapproving look because “Look at you, you're all wet! You're freezing, you're almost blue” - said with fake authority, tenderness and care. It's that moment when all wet layers are shed, I sit on the floor, on my back, my cold feet up on our old terracotta stove, and I look up. I look at the world above me, my mum cooking, my dad moving around smelling everything. It was like watching the clouds on a sunny day. Their feet moving around me, making the floor shake was the music of life, of laughter and beginnings. That is my favourite firefly and the most elusive of them all.
In honor of those days and of my love for snow, today's recipe is a Romanian classic: Snow White Cake. I've always associated it with Snow White and the 7 dwarfs instead of the obvious “it's an all white cake, just like snow” explanation. Blame the Brothers Grimm, or Disney... Always blame Disney.
- Things and stuff: a big ass baking tray, a rolling pin, one or two mixing bowls, a pot, hand mixer/old fashioned whisk, a grater, a spoon
- It was this big: about 30 cube shaped lil' cake bites
- It took this long: 60 min.
Ingredients and quantities:
Pre-step: Heat that oven at 180 degrees.
Step 1: Egg, sugar and a pinch of salt. They boogie until foamy.
Step 2: Add the oil, little by little.
Step 3: Squeeze the juice from the lemon wedge all over the baking soda. Yes, in that little spoon. Yes, you can trust me. Do it. If you squeeze it, it will foam.
Step 4: Add le milk.
Step 5: Incorporate flour.
Step 6: Keep adding flour until you get a smooth, elastic dough.
Mine looked like a wrinkly baby from one side. Here's a close-up:
Step 7: Divide the dough in 3 as-equal-as-you-can parts and start rolling. The sheets should be thin and long. Place them on your upside-down tray. No need for perfect looking sheets of dough. Not that type of cake.
Step 8: Pop it in the oven for 7 to 10 min. Don't just trust the oven. Look at it. When the edges are getting nice and brown, you're good to go. Or you get them brown all over, like I did. It was definitely by choice.
THE VANILLA CREAM
Pre-step: Take the butter out of the fridge and cut it into small cubes. You need that nice and softened.
Step 1: Sugar and eggs do the twist again, like they did... well, a little while ago.
They go from this:
To this foamy looking motha' lovin' fellow:
Step 5: That cocaine lookin' white stuff is your flour. Be a good boy and mix that until it disappears.
Step 6: Pour your milk into a pot. Get your vanilla in there, grate some lemon (I grated a bit of orange too, cause I'm sentimental like that) and bring that up to a simmer. Have it hot but not boiling.
Step 7: Come on, you know where I'm going with this. You're gonna make me say it anyway, aren't you? Fine. You pour the milky goodness over the eggy stuff, while whisking with feeling. I'm not gonna impose a feeling here, be your own master.
Step 8: Back on the stove. Low heat. Stay there and mix constantly. The minute you go away it will stick to the bottom of the pot and ruin your dreams. You wouldn't want that to happen, right?!
Step 9: When it reaches a almost custard consistency, let it chill in a cool spot. It doesn't have to be cold, just not hot. Warm is good. At this point, add the juice from half of lemon and incorporate the butter.
Step 10: Layers, love!
Step 9: Finish with cream on top. Sprinkle desiccated coconut and fairy dust. I mean, dusting sugar.
Step 10: Cover that with cling film all over and let it sit overnight in the fridge. The cream will soften up the cake and you won't believe how heavenly this turns out. I have many pictures to try and prove that.