Spring had no personality when I was younger. It drew shallow breaths and sounded like a boot stuck in mud. I didn't appreciate the beauty of the countryside, the grey light and sounds of trees waking up. They stretched tired boughs and I just blinked and kept my head tilted to my feet. Never looking up, self-conscious of my walk, my voice, my interests.
I grew up at the foot of a mountain, a dam broke once and 2,000 drowned. There's a museum dedicated to it. It happened in late Spring, when the water rushes fast and your heart can stop at any moment. The rain leaked into my room, in a small, thin fracture where a bird cracked its skull on the glass. Our basement floods every year, or so my dad tells the tax collector. All this happened in the months that remind me of my mother.
Now I live on fertile ground, staying at arm's length from rainfall and commitments. It's officially Spring here, deep in the heart of Texas. Thin crickets sing the temperature in vibrato, fat cats lounge in the morning light that dances from gossamer white to distortions of grey. The dew on my car window is streaked from the wipers, and I don't need as much coffee or as many tender moments to survive the day.
Spring holds no commitment, just promises cycles. Of thaw and bloom and the shy forgetfulness of the harsh winters and the humid summers to come. We are in the threshold of a blossom, Persephone has not looked back from the underworld. And I am thrilled for the chance to see it all blossom around me.
A Floral, Herbal, and Citrus Cake
This cake couldn't be described very easily. My usual descriptions of saying what's in it and calling it a day couldn't suffice. It's an olive oil and almond cake, with blood orange curd in the middle, iced in American buttercream, and topped with candied roses. Whew!
1. For the rose petals:
- Petals from three roses, organic, rinsed, dried, and with white tip removed
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 egg white, mixed with one TB water
- Prepare roses as described above
- On parchment paper, lay out petals so none are overlapping
- Dip finger or watercolor brush into egg wash and lightly wet petals with mixture
- Once all petals are wetted on either side, generously sprinkle with sugar. Do not forget to do both sides of petals
- Allow to dry overnight
2. For the blood orange curd (Adapted from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook's Lemon Curd)
- 3 eggs
- 3 egg yolks (preferably large, farm ones)
- 1/2 cup fresh blood orange juice
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- Prepare a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl to strain curd mixture
- In a double-boiler or a large bowl over simmering water, mix all ingredients over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly
- When mixture is the consistency of honey, remove from heat and strain into bowl
- Place plastic wrap on curd and allow to cool to room temperature
3. For the cake (Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis' Almond Citrus Oil Cake): Makes 2 8-inch cakes
- 3 cups flour
- 4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cup sugar
- 6 eggs
- 3 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 heaping tablespoon blood orange zest
- 1/2 cup buttermilk (or whole milk, if you prefer)
- 1 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare two 8-inch cake pans with butter and parchment paper
- Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl
- In a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer in a large bowl), beat eggs, sugar, extracts, and zest until light, pale, and fluffy.
- Add mix and beat until combined
- With mixer on, gradually add oil until well combined
- In sixths, add dry ingredients to mixer. Mix each batch well before adding the next until all is incorporated
- Evenly distribute between two cake pans
- Bake for 35 minutes and allow to cool completely before assemblage.
4. For the American Buttercream icing (This is the recipe my mother used for my brother's wedding cake)
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 4 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
- 2 tablespoons milk
- In an the bowl of an electric mixer, beat shortening and butter until light and fluffy
- Add extracts and beat until incorporated
- With mixer running, gradually add confectioner's sugar in batches until incorporated. The consistency will appear dry
- Add milk and continue to beat for another 15 seconds until icing has come together
Once all ingredients have been prepared, place one cake on a plate. Spoon and spread curd onto top of cake layer (don't be shy with it!). Place next cake layer on top and make sure it is firmly in place. With a rubber spatula, ice cake in spoonfuls of buttercream, making sure to get tops and all sides. Run a wet butterknife along sides and top to smooth out irregularities and to avoid clumping on spatula. When finished with icing, top with preserved rose petals.