I had wanted to bake cakes for as long as I can remember. I had always been in awe of people who could bake. Surprisingly, it was never those complex looking designer fondant cakes that caught my fancy. For me, cake always meant something baked with fresh locally available ingredients and lots of love. The way the whole house smells when the cake is in the oven can beat any perfume any day. Cake never meant celebration for me. It always meant love and I never believed there is a time to have a cake. The perfect time could be midnight when you are engrossed in your favorite book. Or the morning when you need something to eat with your strong bitter coffee.
I wanted to bake even more when he came into my life. The thought of waking him up with freshly baked chocolate cake and a kiss sent a thousand butterflies into my stomach. The beautiful colorful ones. Thousands of times I googled the recipe and thousand times I closed the pages after reading wondering if there is a thing called ‘baking instincts’. What if I didn’t have? What If I never developed? What if it’s lycra, either you have it or you don’t? Can I really make them in my microwave convection mode? If it was that simple, wouldn’t everyone be making them?
I let a thousand questions crop in my mind and not even once decided to take a leap of faith. And then he left.
I have had heartbreaks in the past but this one left me with feelings that were alien to me. For the first time in my life, I felt alone. I had been alone earlier. There were times when my flatmates went home leaving me alone with a key and house lizards. But this was different. I had my people around yet I felt I was on my own.
Gripped by a strange kind of fear, I started doing things that I loved. I was ready to do anything to fill the void that he left me with. I was surrounded by positive breakup stories. I had people telling me stories of pain and how they made the best of it. My mind was too filled with ideas and I decided to jump on them believing I had nothing to lose.
For the nth time, I googled ‘eggless cake recipes’ and this time I decided to give it a shot, worst if not my best.
The first cake I ever baked was a Banana cake made with whole wheat flour.
I quickly ran to the nearby grocery shop to get vanilla essence, baking powder, and Baking Soda. The shopkeeper gave me something called ‘Meetha soda ‘ saying baking soda and Meetha soda are one and same thing. Really? I googled to confirm and yes he was right.
It felt like half the battle already won. I had the ingredients and Google told me I could easily make cakes in my LG convection microwave. So it’s one-fourth the battle won if not half.
The recipe said 1 and a half cup flour. What does that mean? The only cups I had ever known were the ones I have my tea and coffee in. I knew there were measuring cups specially meant for bakers, but what if I didn’t have them. So, does that mean it’s one-eighth of the battle won?
My parents were away and my sister was hungry. That was the perfect time to not give up. I decided to go by those white mugs kept on my kitchen rack. I wasted no time in throwing one – and- a half cup of flour in my bowl. I set the convection mode, set the temperature at 180 degrees and let it preheat as the recipe wanted me to.
Next was mixing one cup of powdered sugar along with mashed bananas and 2/3 cup of oil. That was a lot of oil! But then I did as the recipe said. The challenge was not pouring that was of oil in a cup from a heavy can without spilling a drop or two.
A little less than a cup would be 2/3 cup, I assumed. Next step was adding one spoon of vanilla essence. I opened the little bottle and suddenly my whole kitchen smelled like Vanilla! Wow, that was so good. If I had to live with one smell whole my life, it would be this smell.
I carefully mixed the wet ingredients with dry ones. The batter looked thick but that’s what the recipe said. Slowly I was inching to that moment. I transferred the batter from bowl to the glass pan, put it inside the microwave and waited for the magic to unfold. The recipe said I should take a nap for forty minutes. But I prayed. And after forty minutes I checked the oven to see if my prayers were answered. I took out the hot pan and inserted a knife. The knife came clean and voila! My prayers were answered.
There it was, in the most beautiful shade of brown I had ever seen. I waited for 15 minutes to cool it and then scrapped the sides with a knife before inverting the pan. I tapped the pan slowly and then a bit aggressively but cake showed no sign of coming out. It was struck to the pan just like my grief was struck to me.
I left the pan for a while and then tapped again. The cake did come out but in pieces. But hey, that was my cake and I didn’t want to feel anything but proud about it. My cake was still warm but I couldn’t help but taste it. And man it tasted beautiful; who said broken can’t be beautiful?
My First ever cake, still in the pan
Alright, it didn’t taste anything like those yummy Britannia cakes but come on, my cake was made with whole-wheat flour!
I got thumbs up from everyone who tasted it and with that came the confidence to bake again and again.
My cake was, of course, healthier than any other cake I had ever tasted and then I decided to make it even healthier by dutifully reducing the oil by half. The batter was sticky as hell and without wasting a moment I added a cup of milk to ‘fix’ it. Yes, some eggless cakes recipe I read online did ask for milk but not this one. Nevertheless, I put the batter in the microwave hoping it would be better than the last time and it wasn’t.
Not only it was flat but also was burnt from sides. Like my previous cake, this one also came out in pieces expect some of them were uncooked. Man what a disaster, much like my life- okayish at one moment disaster the next.
I threw away the whole cake and decided it was the just not my day. You can’t be winning all the time after all. There will always be next time. Except the next time was a disaster too.
I didn’t know where I went wrong. How come it was okayish the first time I made it and now it is not? The question kept haunting me. Being haunted by questions is a feeling which is not alien to me. Why couldn’t I see the signs, Did he even love me, When would I get over this, What if I never got over it, why can’t my cake rise?
It was New Year’s Eve when I found the answer to my question. The weather outside was bitingly cold and tossing turning on my bed with my mobile in my hand, I was beating myself up for not being able to get him out of my head when I came across a recipe for vanilla sponge cake… yet another recipe for vanilla cake.
I immediately jumped out of bed and measured out one and a half wholewheat flour out of the Dabba. Next, without wasting a second I added baking powder and baking soda. The yogurt was poured in a separate bowl, sugar was blended in the mixture and my enemy, oil was filled in the cup. A half cup of oil! I poured some vanilla essence directly from that little bottle. And the liquid mixture with that heavenly smell was poured over the flour. I mixed it well, greased the glass tray with oil, threw some flour and poured the mixture. And then I did something I already knew. I put the trey inside the preheated microwave and let it bake for 36 minutes.
That year had given me worst kind of pains. The kind of pain that changed a part of me and let’s not even talks about anxiety. ‘ Why is he behaving like that’, ‘why is he not replying to my texts’. ‘Am I even good enough for him? Damn …
There were days when I would do nothing but wait for a text from him. Man, what were those 36 minutes in comparison to what I had gone through?