The Yes Woman: Cake was taken seriously in our house
I take a baking class in Dublin and suddenly I miss my mother
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine whose hobby and passion is food, and who always seems to know where to find the best food in every county, informed me that we were going for cake. The very word is cheering. Cake. That little word, with its hard consonants, promises so much soft sweetness; a relenting texture that capitulates gently to your inquiring teeth and slides merrily down into your stomach to hug you from within. Ah sure, you’ll have a piece.
One November evening, our breath clouded the view ahead as we wandered off Camden Street in the dark and headed down a little alley. While examining the contents of my own head to check whether I had given my friend motive to murder me in that seemingly vacant alley, we approached a gate and walked through it into a courtyard, which looked like someone’s very prettily tended back garden. The Cake Cafe is a wonderful combination of traditional homeliness, arty creativity and kitsch femininity; a contrast of wood panelling and geometric design.
Mother’s famous recipe
I used to enjoy baking a lot in my younger years. My mother is a fantastic baker, and her cakes are coveted by family and friends. When asked for her famous chocolate cake recipe once, she terrified a roomful of people by declaring cheerily, “Sure that’ll go with me to the grave!” People resumed drinking their tea, eyeing one another quietly.
Despite the fact that cake was taken seriously in our house, a rare treat to be appreciated soberly, each bite taken with slack jaw and closed eyes, I lost touch with the urge to bake when I left the homestead. Baking is such a wholesome activity. Creating something lovely is great, but creating something lovely and then eating it is even better. I thought I’d reconnect with the calm that only crumbling butter into flour with your fingers can bring.
Back to the cafe
I head back to Cake Cafe for a baking class. When I walk in, the cafe is just as I remember it. Snug, welcoming, hidden away. There are about five people scattered about, looking a bit awkward, giving off a “first day of school” vibe.
I’m welcomed warmly by Michelle Darmody, who set up the cafe several years ago, and has a very pleasing air of casual artiness about her. Even her voice is relaxing.
As the class begins, I become less concerned about what I’ve forgotten, and a bit less uncomfortable with the strangers around me. The first recipe is one that the cafe is known for, courgette cake with lemon curd and cream cheese.
Darmody acknowledges our politely unexpressed scepticism, and powers ahead, setting me to grating the vegetables while she demonstrates how to make the cake. We’ll be making the next recipes ourselves. For now, we watch, all thinking that her claims that this is like carrot cake but better are almost certainly untrue.
I meet Mia, whose partner bought her a voucher for the class, because her enthusiasm for home baking “doesn’t always mean that the results fit the description”. She politely forgives me for the pieces of grated courgette that keep flying in her direction, and I like her immediately.
While the cake is in the oven (we’ll get to eat it at the end of the class), we get into groups of three and start melting orange biscuits. On the other side of the room, a mother and son are combining flour and butter in a bowl, and manage to do so without any bickering, or anyone claiming that they’ll take anything with them to the grave, and I suddenly miss my own mother.
I’m reminded I should call her more, and appreciate her more; that this atmosphere of flour in your hair and giggling over butter launched incompetently into faces by mixers on too high a setting is familiar because of my mother.
That polite, well-spoken English lady who will openly declare “I’m shit hot” on tasting her own chocolate cake, causing my brother and I to chuckle into our dessert, is the person I’d most like to share this moment with. As I heft my considerable share of the baking home later on, I text her. “The courgette cake was actually delicious,” I write. “Was it better than my chocolate cake?” she responds.
The Yes Woman says yes to . . . eating your own creations, and no to . . . swearing over cake