I’ve noticed the last few months have brought little breakthroughs in my baking experiments, perhaps because I have not been practicing. I finally made a truly good gluten-free soda bread on my first attempt of the season. I wowed friends with this chocolate hazelnut cake. I made animal crackers that tasted better than any we’ve had before on the first try. Holiday pie crust and sourdough pizza, and likely more that I’m forgetting.
And without too much thought, after years of attempting and tossing out countless recipes and versions of gluten-free, dairy-free vanilla cake, I opted back to my very own chocolate recipe, transitioned it to vanilla and somehow topped it off with a truly amazing caramel-esque non-dairy “cream cheese” frosting to boot.
I’m not bragging by mentioning this so much as reflecting on this last year, my 30th, and reflecting on what it is I put my effort, intention, and attachment into. For sure it has not been baking, or recipe creation in general.
But I wonder sometimes what I have to show for that which I have put my focus towards? To hint, it’s been a lot of nutrition grad school, delving deeply into mindfulness and the often invisible soulwork, and running, always running. I wrote down three big goals for the year in early January and I’ve stuck them in a place where I see them regularly. Each time I’m reminded of the process, how it’s slowly unfolding, how I fail routinely and try again. My goals are process goals, not dependent on the outcome I’d like. But I’m coming to value the day in and day out of quietly working in the trenches, unknowing whether there’ll be a big payout.
In meditation lately, I’ve been envisioning myself sitting, floating on nothing, nothing above or below, nothing to grasp on to. This experience of complete lack, control over nothing, is absolutely uncomfortable even in a visualization exercise. And as I seamlessly transitioned into 31 the other day without much fanfare and devoid of celebrations minus a lovely cake in the flavors I craved that finally and unexpectedly worked out, I think I’ve come to understand a little more: the intentions I set, the high intentions, stories in my head and visions of “glory,” the culmination of work and work and work, on whatever it is I’m working on, very rarely pan out the way I envisioned. And that’s okay.
Because the real magic, I think, is in learning to become more comfortable in the floating, in the space between, in the process, in the unknowing.
Welcome to another rebirth-year. For sure, there’s at least really good cake.
Cardamom and Vanilla Birthday Cake, makes a 6-inch two-layer cake
Cardamom is a strong spice, one I love as an adult but was turned off by when younger. Add the amount you desire, starting with less, tasting, and adding more as needed. The frosting amount is intended to just slightly enhance the cake. Double or triple the amount for a fully frosted version.
120 grams / 3/4 cup brown rice flour
30 grams / 1/4 cup almond meal
14 grams / 2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 – 1 teaspoon. ground cardamom
130 grams / 2/3 cup sugar (I used the slightly less processed organic cane sugar)
56 grams / 1/4 cup coconut oil, soft, but not melted
2 tablespoons ground flax with 6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
110 ml / 1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
- Preheat the oven to 350° F and line the bottoms of each cake pan with parchment paper. Then rub a little coconut oil up the sides of the pans and set aside.
- In a small bowl, stir together the ground flax and warm water to form a slurry.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and spices and then set aside. In another large bowl, combine the sugar and coconut oil and whisk until it’s light and fluffy. Add the flax slurry and then the vanilla and milk; mix again until it is combined. Next, a bit at a time, stir in the dry ingredients and combine.
- Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes. Check after out 20 minutes so as not to over bake.
- Transfer the layers to a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 20 minutes; then remove layers and rest them until completely cool.
Cream Cheese Frosting
115 g / 4 oz. / 1/2 cup of non-dairy cream cheese (I used a 1/2 batch of this recipe)
3 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
3 Tbs. brown rice syrup
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- While the cake is baking, make the frosting. If you want to make your own cashew cream cheese, you’ll want to start ahead to allow time to “culture.”
- Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until creamy smooth.
- Transfer to a bowl and place in the fridge for at least an hour to allow it to set up before frosting the cake.