My parents threw us an engagement party yesterday. My mother cooked for days beforehand, pulling ratatouille from the freezer for a deep dish pie, baking crab quiche and a breakfast strata and butternut squash for the soup.
My sister asked over a friend, and the three of us stood in the kitchen carving carrot sticks and deviled eggs and watching the creation of a magnificent strawberry yogurt parfait.
The fishmonger and my father arranged the bar, and at twelve noon, the guests arrived. They were a wonderful crowd—parents and classmates and those beloved since-birth friends. We could hardly believe so many had come to celebrate with us—bringing news and hugs and cupcakes and gifts.
I sat on the sofa with one of the little girls towards the end, exhausted from cooking and chatting and so many friends. She pointed over to a bunt cake on the coffee table before us, and then to the piece almost gone in her hand. "I've had four," she said encouragingly, holding up her tiny, sticky fingers with a thumb pressed carefully into her palm. "One when I got here, and now it's almost time to leave."
I understood her awe. I had been eying the cake too, for several days now, forbidden to touch it before the party began. My mother's friend Rebecca had offered it as a Christmas gift, but it was so beautiful, we'd decided to wait.
It was a bunt cake, mounded with ridges and peaks, and drizzled with a bright white glaze that clung tightly to its sides. It looked heavy, and sweet, perfect with a bitter cup of coffee and cream. Rebecca said she'd found the recipe on the bunt cake pan, a Kaiser Cast mold picked up in Bath the other day. It was called Brown Sugar Spice Cake, from the King Arthur flour company, a medley of apple juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.
She'd thought it would be a disaster; the oven thermometer was broken, and it took nearly two hours to cook through to the center. The batter had been moist—too moist—and so she'd used a little less apple juice than called for, and a bit more flour. She hadn't had any all-spice, so she'd subbed more ginger instead, and the glaze hadn't worked out either. She wanted a thick, visible glaze, not the type that soaks down invisible and thin, and so after the first had disappeared, she'd poured over a layer of sugar cookie icing laced with lemon juice.
She needn't have worried: the cake was splendid, dense, bright, and magnificent. With the first bite my feet stopped aching. I sank into the couch and held up one finger to the little girl beside me. "One," I said. "We've had one cake. But I think, once all this is over, I think I'll bake another." She nodded in agreement, and we sat happily together munching away, Brown Sugar Spice Cake in hand.
BROWN SUGAR SPICE CAKE
Adapted from the King Arthur recipe on Kaiser Cast's 9.5 inch bunt cake pan
Makes one 9.5 inch bunt cake
1 and 1/2 cups soft butter
3 cups light or dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon all-spice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
5 large eggs
3 and 1/4 cups flour
1 and 1/2 cups apple sauce or just under 1 and 1/4 cups apple cider
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 tablespoon butter
juice of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 350. Cream the butter with the sugar and mix in the spices. Add one egg and beat until smooth. Scrape bowl and add remaining eggs one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Do same with the flour, adding it a cup at a time, adding a third of the juice or applesauce with each addition until all of both are mixed. Pour into a well greased bunt cake pan and bake 60 to 65 minutes, or until a piece of straw inserted comes out clean. Let cool completely before adding the glaze.
I always start sugar cookie frosting by melting 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan. When it's warm, I pour in about a cup of powdered sugar and a dash of cream and mix them well. If the mixture is too thin, I add more powdered sugar. If it's too thick, I add more cream and continue adjusting as necessary. In this case you'd do the same, substituting lemon juice for cream. Then pour the glaze over the cake immediately, while the frosting is still warm.