Baking a Cake on Maundy Thursday

Unconvinced as I am about the present paranoia, as a social fact it has to be taken seriously. So my mother, obediently, has been staying in and I venture out only as recommended. I mostly work from home and my mother is of the generation who are able to find joy in small things and contentment in the everyday. Holy Week and Easter, under the present circumstances, is challenging for many Christians but on Palm Sunday, when I suggested we made DIY paper palm crosses, Mum was game.

Today most Western Christians celebrate Maundy Thursday (for Orthodox Christians not in communion with Rome, it’s next week). The feast commemorates the Last Supper and the horrific events which followed that night (I’ve detailed these in that previous post). Older Catholics tend to call it “The Washing of the Feet”, as that ritual act of humility is a high point of the celebration.

That’s out this year, clearly, but I’m conscious of all the carers, mostly women, paid and unpaid, who do just that, day in, day out. Maybe we can’t wash their feet for them but we could probably help them get their feet up once in a while if we pulled our weight more, fellow men!

Mum isn’t one for just sitting about so when I suggested we make an Easter cake today she got her apron on immediately. (Okay that’s a lie. First she suggested a Simnel cake, which is traditional in her native England at Easter, then we looked up Practical Cookery for All to get the ingredients, then I veganised it and went for spelt not wheat flour, then I got on my bike and stood outside Sainsbury’s for 30 minutes, two meters away from my fellow shoppers, after inadvertently jumping the queue, twice, then I saw they had no spelt so grabbed buckwheat, then I pedalled back, then Mum put her apron on and lined the cake tin with foil and we were all set. Then the phone rang.)

weighed ingredients
Cake ingredients separated and weighed

By the time the cheery neighbour had got off the phone, I had the fruit washed and everything out for weighing. P. C. for A. was first published (probably) in 1948 by Odhams  (Long Acre, London) and, by golly, Blanche Anding (Diplômée Cordon-Bleu, Paris) and co. stood absolutely no nonsense! Here’s a gem on p.580 under Hints for the Hostess:

“If work is not methodically arranged, energy is wasted; fatigue and worry supervene, and the pleasure of entertaining quickly disappears, to be replaced by an atmosphere of strain.”

I love this lady!

If you want this specific recipe it’s on p.452, after Shrewsbury cakes (I wouldn’t dare plagiarise Blanche) but you can always find one online. Mum started creaming the vegan margarine and brown sugar (we used about ¼ of what Blanche recommended of that) while I prepared the almond icing. Now I’ll tell you this for free, when Blanche (on p.464) says “dredge a board with icing sugar”, don’t argue!

I argued – and had to scrape my first attempt at a lovely kneaded circle off and start again. Almond icing is sticky! I used juice from half a lime not a lemon cos it’s all I had and I’d got mixed up in the shop (with all the social dancing about each other) and bought almond not vanilla essence. “Bung it in”, said Mum. So I did. And the ground almonds.

The veganised eggs. A blend (literally) of two small bananas and aquafaba. No, don’t make that face, it’s not that posh really. I mean, who doesn’t buy beans? It just means that instead of chucking the juice down the sink you can use it. Cos it has similar properties to eggs. Don’t ask me what. I never taught Home Ec. Officially.

Anyway, I decided that was roughly the equivalent of 4-6 eggs “fresh or reconstituted”, as Blanche says. Vintage! Imagine those days, eh? Rationing, empty supermarket shelves, queuing outside for ages and not coming out with what you went in for. Wonder what that was like.

Pressing on. I cheated and whisked the cake mixture before the flour went in. I then, cleverly  – instead of sorting out the almond icing properly – took the sieve out of the oven where I’d cleverly placed it for a minute or two to get bone dry. And burnt my fingers. Not so clever. I plunged them into a pint glass of water and Mum sieved in the flour, baking powder (we used ½ cream of tartar, ½ bicarb) and salt. While I interfered. There was almost a mutiny at this stage. But then she bunged in the currants, sultanas and mixed peel. We left out the mixed spice (cos she hates it) and angelica (cos I forgot to buy it) but I did remember to add the glacé cherries before the last stir.

Half went in the tin, the round of almond icing (I really dredged the board this time) on top then the other half and in it went, after converting from Fahrenheit, for three hours. Actually two hours fifty minutes. Cos someone turned the cooker off with the microwave. Oops! There were words at that stage.

We tuned into Maundy Thursday mass from the local Carmelite convent. Simplicity. It’s not a show, it’s a service. And they know all about staying in one place because they take the Vow of Stability. So there’s no hysteria there. We had our supper during the service. This wasn’t planned but – how liturgical!

The cake came out the oven at the end of the Hour’s Watch (this commemorates the disciples falling asleep while Jesus suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane). It looked alright. I’m not known for my cakes but Mum has years of experience. I added the top ring of icing and popped it back for 15 minutes. And then, gingerly, pulled it out of the tin with the foil. It seemed to have risen.

Let’s see on Sunday!

cooked cake on rack

Photos (c) Alan McManus