This past weekend I celebrated Purim, a Jewish holiday/carnival in memory of the time that we almost all died and then didn’t, again. We’re commanded to get drunk! Adults give children noisemakers on purpose! Sometimes the rabbi wears tights!
Here’s the story: King Ahasuerus of Persia kicks his wife to the curb because she doesn’t want to do a striptease in front of all his friends.
To find his next queen, he has a mandatory beauty contest for all the young women in his kingdom. After a lot of anointing and parading he chooses Esther, a young Jewish orphan in the care of her uncle Mordechai. She keeps her faith a secret and lives in all the bliss that comes with being forced out of her home to marry a royal manchild.
Ahasureus has an advisor named Haman, who really gets off on asserting his authority. Soon after the wedding, Haman decrees that everybody in Persia has to bow down to him. Jewish people aren’t really into genuflecting though. When Mordechai refuses to bow, Haman decides that the reasonable, proportionate response is murdering all the Jews. Ahasureus not only okays this plan but gives Haman ten thousand silver talents to get it done.
I entered the National Capital Area Cake Show’s Cupcake Social a few weeks ago, and I’ve been walking around in a haze of butter, caffeine, and leftover adrenaline ever since. I rolled in from Vegas at midnight the day before the contest, did all my grocery shopping that morning, and cranked out exactly one half of the cupcakes that I intended to make before realizing that I was going to miss registration, holy shit, we have to go NOW.
I’m happy to say that I made it there in one piece, with one complete set of cupcakes in tow. I didn’t miss registration! I got set up in time!
I also kind of won at cake? I placed in the top three for division and flavor. Which was a surprise and a pleasure, given the quality of the other bakers there.
Here’s what I learned before and during the contest:
If you get business cards printed for your blog, you are going to leave them at home.
Having a friend around during an all-day baking sprint is really useful. Two friends are even better. If possible, stagger their arrival so that one of them can bring you food when you start getting faint around hour 6.
If you stand next to the person who wins the whole entire thing, you are going to spend a lot of energy being gracious even though everybody likes her cupcakes better than mine and everything is terrible why does she have tiny adorable starbucks wrappers for her cupcakes did she really make 110 of those really she’s a lovely person but seriously what the fuck
Everything is going to take three times as long as you think it will. I had two recipes tested and ready to go; I came out with one kind cupcake. I just ran out of time. I could have saved myself a bunch of grief and also a shitton of butter money if I had been realistic about the timing from the start.
I had a lot of fun! And then something weird happened.
The National Capital Area Cake Show is holding a contest in my general vicinity. I might be a little excited.
I’ll be on site with TWO HUNDRED mini cupcakes to feed to the public. If you, too, live in the DC area, come meet me! Eat my cake! Certainly do not slip the judges a twenty on my behalf! I will be the one working very hard not to swear in front of children (frowned upon), and giving them tiny caffeine/sugar bombs instead (apparently okay?).
Where is the thing? Does it cost dollars?
The cupcake social is at Fairfax High School, 3501 Rebel Run, Fairfax, VA 22030. It starts at 6:00 PM on April 16. It does cost $15, but you can eat as much cake as you want! The website suggests buying tickets ahead of time if you plan on attending.
What cake are you making????
Two varieties! A mulled cider cupcake and a cappuccino cupcake.
What is your test baking process?
Make as large a mess as possible. Foist six kinds of cupcake on everyone I know. Write down the results. Repeat.
Will you be creating the components of your stupidly complicated cupcakes ahead of time so you can have a nice, leisurely baking process on Saturday?
I intended to bring it to board game night, my first time back after returning to the East Coast. This cake was meant to be a yellow cake from my favorite recipe, filled with chocolate mousse and wrapped in chocolate frosting. It was also the first cake in almost five months made with the blog in mind. I thought that as soon as I started baking again I’d start writing again, and once I started writing I could figure out some smart, funny way to explain my move back to DC.
Here’s how that went.
I didn’t start baking until 10 at night
I realized I forgot to buy cake flour
I stood at the kitchen counter for thirty minutes debating whether to go back to the store or just give up
I made this raspberry-rhubarb pie to stuff into my face while watching Independent Shakespeare Company’sMuch Ado About Nothing at the park. The filling is tart and bright like Beatrice and Benedick’s banter; the crust is rich and full of flakes like Leonato’s household. It’s a ridiculously satisfying pie for a ridiculously satisfying play.
Making pies isn’t all that different from telling a story, and this pie is an excellent mirror for Much Ado About Nothing. Every character responds differently to the pressures of the plot, and every element in a pie responds differently to the heat of the oven. The most interesting part of a story and a recipe is the ways in which characters and ingredients combine and play off of one another through the conflict/oven. Nobody wants to watch Don John be a dick to his brother with no preamble and nothing at stake. His dickery is much more interesting when he uses his brother’s sense of honor to pit him against sweet, maidenly Hero on her wedding day. But before the play reaches that dramatic wedding scene, the characters need to mix together, form relationships and alliances, and plan for a future that can be threatened by Don John’s plots. So too must the ingredients for the pie crust be stirred, cut, mixed, chilled, and rolled out before going in the oven.
There are two main romances in Much Ado About Nothing: Hero/Claudio and Beatrice/Benedick. Beatrice and Benedick steal the show, like the rhubarb-raspberry filling of the pie. But their romance wouldn’t be possible without the machinations of Hero, Claudio, Leonato, and the rest. Beatrice and Benedick’s love is given structure and poignancy by the romance and trials of Hero and Claudio, much like fruit fillings are supported by pie crusts.
(Note: All the screenshots in this post come from Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, which is a ridiculously joyful interpretation with an unparalleled butts-to-rhyme ratio. There is a sample under the Read More link.)
This cake is the unholy, beautiful love child of mojitos and egg transmutation. The chiffon cake layers, which get their airiness from whipped egg whites, are delicately sweet and intensely lime-flavored; the mint frosting is soft and light under a crisp outer layer. The whole construction is ridiculously airy. Mojitos are made to be drunk when it is impossibly hot outside and milk makes your whole body want to explode. In that spirit, this cake is dairy free and enjoyable even when it is stupidly fucking hot outside.
In an ideal world, I made a beautiful four-layer cake the night before my roommate’s barbeque and greeted the guests with absolutely no flour on my shirt. In this world, I crushed my hand with a flat pack from Ikea and then got distracted by Parks and Rec, so I had to do all my shopping and baking that morning. If you learn one thing from me, learn this: always drink your coffee before going to the grocery store at seven in the morning.
I MOVED ACROSS THE GODDAMN COUNTRY. I’m in LA now to pursue my dreams/whatever. I have a place to live, I have a day job, all’s well. And I’m scared as fuck.
Back at home in DC, I felt excited and energetic and vibrant. My whole sense of self was based on being loud and determined and larger than life. Yesterday, I came back to the house nervous because some dude was a dick in the gym and people keep beeping at me in traffic. I’m uncertain and lonely and fifteen kinds of homesick. And I thought, is this all it takes to make me feel small?
And then I thought, woman, you just drove 2,400 miles. Of course you feel small. Bake some goddamn bread and don’t give up after only three days.