Sunday, 18 April 2010

Of Detectives and Comfort Cake

Have you ever noticed that food features a lot in children's books? Literary theory has it that these scrumptious picnics, midnight feasts and other culinary excesses are like scenes (of, ahem, a different nature) that make adults go 'yum' when they read their novels.

This somewhat-baked theory came to mind when I was recently reminded of Erich Kaestner's novels for children, which had ten-year-old me galloping along with boys and girls around my grandparents' Berlin while I was really tucking into a piece of Sunday cake (an appropriate action of gobbling, as you will soon see).

Picture the scene: it is some time in the 1920s, and provincial but feisty boy Emil boards a train to Berlin. His father is dead and his mother a self-employed hairdresser, so that Emil has the important task to deliver some money to his grandmother in Berlin - money he guards with much care, checking every so often that it is still pinned to his jacket's pocket. But when he wakes up from a brief nap, his money is gone, and he has a suspicion whodunnit.

The remainder of the book parades a very distinctive post-WWI Berlin, introduces the merits of having a telephone for detective work, and creates a mob of children detectives who eventually force the guilty thief into the hands of the police in a rather satisfying manner: imagine rounding up all your friends to drive those who harm you into a corner! Honking a horn!

Finally, Emil meets the book's author, Kaestner, who appears in the character of a journalist interested in Emil's story. And before they go off writing it out, they go celebrating with cake and whipped cream.  Cake, detectives, and a classic tale: who could ask for anything more?

Oh, yes, cake: here's the recipe for a classic. It is also the first cake I made on my own, age ca. 6. If you do not have a child at hand to do the baking or to lick the bowl, you will enjoy this all the same (licking allowed).

German Marble Cake

This cake is a lighter version of pound cake. It keeps well, can be frozen, and can be customised with a dash of rum, raisins, almonds or other ingredients added to the basic dough. But why mess with something perfect?


200g butter (yes, butter - margarine is vile!)
100g sugar
4 eggs
some vanilla (from a pod if available)
some cinnamon
250g flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
some milk
ca. 3 tbsp cocoa (the raw stuff, best if not Dutch processed)
a little milk

Cream together butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time and scrape in the vanilla and cinnamon to taste. Add the flour (mixed with the baking powder) gradually, perhaps adding a splash of milk as you go along, until you have a thick, creamy dough.

Put 2/3 of this into a cake tin.

Add the cocoa and a little more milk to the remainder of the dough, whisking madly until fully combined, then distribute evenly on top of the light dough.

Now take a fork and dip it horizontally into the cake, and move it along the form in a wide spiral, thus swirling the dark and the light dough around each other once. Lick the bowl.

Bake the cake in an oven at medium heat (ca. 180C/gas mark 4 - but you know your oven better than I do) for ca. 1 hour.

Let cool a little, place onto cake stand, cut, marvel, take a piece and a cup of freshly brewed coffee, take a book, go to your room, close the door, and dive into a different world!

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