Saturday, April 17, 2010

Baking Cakes in St. Louis

Apparently this year marks the worst allergy season in St. Louis. And don't I know it. It has been a miserable couple of weeks, and the reason for my unplanned absence from the blog. Experience tells me that I should grin and bear it, because luckily seasonal allergies are, well, seasonal, and they will go away in a few weeks.

I'm here to post a last-minute entry to one of my favorite food blog events, Novel Food, co-hosted by Lisa of Champaign Taste.

The book I chose is Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Perkin.

I've often spoken about my taste for simple and uplifting novels, and a reader named Arati recommended this book to me in this post- thank you, Arati, I enjoyed reading it.

This novel is set in a middle class home in modern Rwanda. Angel is a loving, nurturing woman who is raising five small grandchildren (after the unfortunate demise of both of her children) while also going through a hot-flash riddled menopause. She is a cake decorator by profession, and her specialty is elaborate custom-made cakes decorated in flourishes of colorful icing. As friends and neighbors drop in to order cakes from her, we hear about the stories of their lives- their hopes and dreams and secrets- as they fill out the cake order form while drinking a few cups of tea with Angel.

What makes the novel different from other books set in cozy domestic situations is that it is set in Rwanda, a country that has gone through terrible suffering in the recent past. Now, I am certainly concerned about issues like HIV/AIDS (euphemistically referred to as "the disease"), genocide and female genital mutilation ("cutting") and do my fair share of tsk-tsking about them. But these are distant problems for me and I can only think of them in abstract terms. In this novel, these issues get a human face as the characters grapple with them on a daily basis. The book gives a vivid description of modern life in Rwanda where ordinary folks are trying to rebuild lives after the genocide, and it provides a glimpse of the culture and mores of a country that I know little about, outside of the horrific images in the news.

The descriptions of the luscious and vibrant cakes that Angel makes for her clients are irresistible- at one point, I had the sudden urge to put the book down and do a web search for cake blogs just so I could feast my eyes on some beautifully decorated cakes. All in all, I highly recommend this book as a simple but meaningful read.

The cake I baked today is the exact opposite of the elaborate masterpieces that Angel makes. It is the simplest kind, a loaf cake to use up overripe bananas that were neglected in the past week. You don't have to be a professional baker to make this. It is a recipe that can be made by any home cook, even one who is living in a fog of anti-allergy medications.

A bag of spelt flour has been sitting in my freezer for several months, and I found a great way to use it in this vegan banana bread recipe from Lauren Ulm's cookbook. I adapted it slightly by reducing the amount of sugar and adding walnuts.

Banana Walnut Spelt Bread

(Adapted from the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook by Lauren Ulm)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Grease a loaf pan and line it with parchment paper is desired.

3. Mix the dry ingredients:
  • 2 cups spelt flour
  • 12 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. apple pie spice (or ground nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice)
  • 12 cup walnuts, chopped
4. Mix the wet ingredients:
  • 3 overripe bananas, peeled and mashed with a fork
  • 12 cup sugar
  • 12 cup oil
  • 2 tsp. molasses
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
5. Mix the dry and wet ingredients together gently.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean.

We tasted a small slice of the cake and it is delicious- fragrant, dense, nutty and filling. The rest of it will be sliced and packed so V can share it tomorrow with his cricket buddies.

I am so glad I borrowed the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook from the library; it has a dozen recipes that I can't wait to try, including several ways to dress up tofu in glossy marinades and a few different ways to make vegan "cheese" sauces.

Have a good weekend, and depending on how I am faring with my allergies, I'll come back in a few days with a couple of entries for Blog Bites: The Copycat Edition. I've been getting some fantastic entries and you still have a week to send in a post if you would like to.


  1. The cake looks great!
    The post also inspires me to read the book. :)

  2. sounds like an interesting read.. the banana spelt bread looks very delicious too. hope you get some relief from your allergies soon.

  3. Allergies already? My sympathies... I'm not looking forward to allergy season in Shrewsbury. :(

  4. feel like readin this book,cake looks delicious,.

  5. Hi Nupur,

    So sorry to hear abt the allergies. I hope u get well soon and come back to your blogging world in full force :)) Well the cake looks yummier and the description of it makes me want to try it asap. By the way, can u please explain what is "spelt flour"? and any alternative to it that i can use in India. Also any alternative to molasses??

  6. Cake looks good Nupur, love the little cracks in them :)

    I get pollen allergy too, and having a veggie garden makes it worse - cant go out and cant stay in and watch them go..

    try inhaling some thyme in hot water or apply it as a warm compress..heavy head, nose blocks and pressure in the face will go off..thats what I do..

  7. Nupur, great looking cake. Take good care of yourself. As you said, it is seasonal, so will go away in few weeks.

  8. Even I was wondering what happened to you .. hope you fine now ..

    this seems an interesting read !
    Will try to get hand on it ,,.

  9. Nice to read the book review...will get it from the library now.

    Also thanks for a new info on spelt flour.

    Cake looks very yummy and delicious.

  10. sorry abt ur allergies. it is difficult even if it is "seasonal". It got it too this year for the first time. :(

  11. i got rid of most of my allergies when i moved out of kerala. although that'll always be my home, I don't think I can ever settle down there..

  12. Nupur, your banana bread looks so tasty. And the novel sounds really lovely; I must try to read it sometime. Thanks so much for contributing to our event, even in your weakened condition (feel better soon!). Till next time... :)

  13. I eagerly look forward to your book recommendations. Most have been great reads. Love this simple cake, elaborate cakes make me scared.

  14. I like the way you describe the novel: very thoughtful. It's very hard to imagine the whole thing: life before, during and then after the genocide. And then AIDS. Yet, people get married. I love banana walnut bread any time of the day. Thank you for participating in our event.

  15. i admire your recipes, but this post's special for it carries such a beautifully-written book review!

  16. I made 2 banana nut loaves yesterday... and the entire house smelt so divine!

    I will google spelt flour now :)

  17. Try the Neti pot for your allergies. It works. The book looks great and will try to get it from the library

  18. Sangeetha- It is a nice read so I hope you read it :)

    PJ- I hope I get some relief soon too, am tired of feeling tired!

    Shyam- Oh yes, my allergies kick in as soon as Spring starts, which is mid-March here usually.

    notyet100- Thanks.

    Raakhee- Thanks, I will feel better as soon as the pollen counts drop!
    Where I first mentioned spelt flour, in the paragraph just above the recipe, there is a link to a nice description of spelt flour, so click there. Maida can be used in place of it. Molasses can be skipped. If I were you, I would simply look for another recipe that uses ingredients available where you live; there are tons of great recipes tried and tested that don't use spelt flour or molasses.

    ruchikacooks- Oh dear, that's awful that the allergies are keeping you from enjoying your veggie patch! I must get my hands on some thyme, thanks for the suggestion.

    Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal- Thanks!

    Kanchan- Yes, I hope you get to read it.

    chaklere- Thanks!

    Nikita- Oh really, did you move to a new place? My allergies went through the roof once I moved to St. Louis.

    Nags- Oh yes, allergies are very place-specific, I never suffered like this before I moved to St. Louis.

  19. Lisa- Thank you for hosting the event, it is one of my favorite food blog events!

    indosungod- I'm the same way, give me simple loaf cakes any day. Layer cakes I have to plan for days!

    Simone- Thanks for hosting this event! Yes, even in the midst of great tragedy, people are resilient and the normal celebrations of life go on, it is amazing.

    Gauri Gharpure- Thank you for saying that!

    Raaga- You can certainly google spelt flour, but for your convenience I also have a handy link to a nice post about it, in the paragraph above the recipe.

    Anonymous- I do use the neti pot, twice a day in fact, and it does help me but only temporarily.

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  21. hope you are feeling better, Nupur..

    That novel sounds like a lovely read. Will check it out..
    I need to get a hold of the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook- my local library doesn't carry it.

  22. Lavanya- I think you will enjoy this book very much! Sorry your library does not carry the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook, maybe you could get it via interlibrary loan if they offer that service? It would also be worth buying if you like buying cookbooks.

  23. Dear Nupur, As usual the recipes are great. Sice I live in India I don't think we get Spelt flour but I bake my banana bread with maida and atta mixed and it comes out fine.
    Sorry to hear abt your allergies. Have you tried doing Jal Neti-- it is very good for clearing sinuses.

    In Delhi at the chaat wala we get Chilla. That is like your tomato omelette! Very nice. They fill it with paneer and other things if anyone so wants.
    I have asked you this question before-- besan is made out of chana dal. Chick peas is what we call kabuli chana . Kabuli chana flour is different. Please clarify! Thanks!!


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