A cake for our mothers

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Keerthi could not visit her mum on mother’s day. Just to think of her from afar our Campus Columnist shares the recipe of what her mother considers to be her best baking.

I was an unbearably fussy child. My mother once asked me to give her a list of all the vegetables I would eat without protest, and after 30 minutes of careful deliberation, I put forward two entries: carrots and cucumbers. She promptly ignored my “preferences,” proceeded to cook whatever she wanted, and slowly but steadily, eradicated all of my food dislikes over the years, by sheer force of will and talent.

I can’t make food the way my mother can. I’ve tried, and at first glance anyone witnessing me in a kitchen could mistake me for her. I don’t measure anything, I taste every other minute, and I very, very rarely go in with a plan. For me, that leaves me with about a 75% chance of success. Worst case scenario, I undercook some potatoes, I go too heavy on the pepper, I add too much milk. My mother, my whole life, has never messed up a recipe. By that I don’t mean that she’s never under- or over-salted something, or that she’s never made something spicy enough to burn my tongue off. But it’s in the handling--the stepping back, hands on hips, tea towel over one shoulder, and saying, “Okay. How do we fix this?” A spoonful of white sugar in over-salted broth. A dollop of yogurt over too-spicy biryani. Little fixes, here and there, and no matter what, she would end with a perfectly balanced dish, every time. You don’t need to go in with a plan if you are the plan. One night, when I was seven, she unveiled a chicken dish that was speckled with bright blue dots; while the drumsticks were marinating, she’d spotted the food coloring in the cupboard and that had been that.

It tasted phenomenal. Better for the blue in it. But that’s not what I’m teaching you to make today, because it would--just like all of my recreations of my mother’s recipes--be a poor imitation of the real thing. Today, we’re going to make lemon pound cake.

Lemon pound cake is a shy centerpiece, not very showy and not the prettiest, but positively packed with flavor. It’s one of the first things I ever learned to bake, and to this day, it’s what my mother asks for every time I come back home. Honestly, if she set her mind to it, she could probably make a far better version, but it’s one of the only ways I can begin to pay her back for all she’s done for me. So this week, when I can’t be near her, I’ll make this from afar and think of her. I hope you do the same.

The three secrets to a perfect lemon pound cake: let all your ingredients sit out at room temperature for around an hour, microwave your lemons for 15 seconds to get them ready for juicing, and do. not. overmix.

Cream together 225g of butter and 200g of granulated sugar. Let it get light and fluffy, then add 3 eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Add the zest of 2 lemons and the juice of one, then slowly fold in 225g of flour, 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder, and a pinch of salt. The mixture will be stiff and hard to mix, so loosen it up with anywhere from 80 to 100ml of milk. As soon as it comes together in a smooth batter, stop mixing and scrape it into a parchment paper-lined loaf pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes at 180C, then remove from the oven and let cool in the loaf pan for at least 20 minutes. Invert onto a plate, and then back onto another plate, so you can slice up your cake and take one to your mother. Or, you know, eat it all by yourself while you call her to gloat about your baking prowess. Either one.

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