Book List and Baked Good

Pannukakkua Cake and Literary Works on Home/Family

Recipe: Pannukakkua Cake

Joyous news, I actually made something really, really good this week. I followed the very simple pound cake ratio (which is 1:1:1:1 with eggs, butter, flour, and sugar) and the results were pretty stellar. (I also threw in some half-and-half, because the batter was a little thick and I didn’t have any milk or cream in my fridge.) I got information on how to invent a cake recipe from this site. I don’t have a kitchen scale yet, so I had to google the rough weight of eggs, flour, butter, and sugar to get an idea of proper ratios. It wasn’t perfect. The eggs, for example, were probably around 6 ounces, while the sugar weighed around 5.2 ounces, but it must have been close enough because I made a god damn cake from scratch with no recipe. I rule! Small victories!

Also, my oven apparently sucks. A lot of my baked goods have been burning, so I finally got an oven thermometer (the best $6 I ever spent). Came home and set the oven for 375 degrees Fahrenheit and peaked in to find it was well over 500 degrees in there. No wonder I’ve been burning everything! This is what 375 degrees looks like on my oven:

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The cake is inspired by a Finnish dish popular in my home town called pannukakkua. It’s basically just eggs and butter with a small amount of sugar and cinnamon, usually topped with jam (personally, I think raspberry jam tastes best with it). It’s a very Midwest dish, but I wasn’t sure how to explain what precisely I mean by “Midwest dish” until visiting my brother in Michigan last weekend. His roommate Dan took us to this place in Ypsilanti called Cultivate that sells fancy-ass toast with peanut butter and honey. While I was eating my slice, Dan said, “Doesn’t it take like the Midwest? A little bland, really bad for you, but somehow delicious?” That pretty much sums up the cuisine of my home region, so I decided to make a cake to honor my cultural heritage.

Ingredients:

1 and 1/2 sticks unsalted butter

3/4 cup sugar

3 Large Eggs (Note: It’s important they’re actually large eggs, as smaller eggs don’t have the right weight for the ratio to work)

2 tablespoons honey (the vomit of bees is the tastiest of treats!)

1/4 Cup Half-and-Half (or milk/cream)

1 and 1/4 cups flour

2 Tablespoons Cinnamon (Cinnamon is one of the few things in life that makes me question my atheism. Other things include, but are not limited to, Alice Munro, cats, pink eye shadow, and the Carpenters Christmas album. Only a higher power could create such wonders.)

1 teaspoon baking powder

Steps:

1. Mix your dry ingredients (the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt) because flour is gross to handle so you might as well get it over with first. Mix them in a small bowl and set them aside for later. Don’t worry – you don’t have to touch that vile substance again. It’s all behind you now.

2. Make sure you let your butter come to room temperature, because otherwise it’s a huge pain in the ass to cream. I recommend slicing your sticks into small chunks and setting them aside for about an hour. Then, cream your butter and sugar using a wooden spoon.

3. Add the eggs and honey and beat them with an electric mixer on high until the texture is smooth.

4. Add the dry ingredients alternatively with the half-and-half (or milk/cream) using the mixer on high speed.

5. Transfer the batter to a greased 8-by-8 inch cake pan.

As for baking time, I baked mine for about 35 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. I noticed the edges were burning a little after about 30 minutes, but the center wasn’t cooked through. It was pretty easy to scrape off the burnt parts after I removed the cake from the oven (I let it cool for about 10 minutes before taking it out of the tray). However, I would recommend cooking it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit and checking every 10 minutes or so.

Also, I think this would be delicious as a layered cake. You could try doubling the ingredients and using two 8-by-8 inch cake pans. It’s a got a nice cinnamon/holiday flavor, so this could be good for a Christmas or Thanksgiving celebration. It also just feels like the kind of cake people used to bring to coffee hour in my church, so if you go to an Episcopalian church in a small town in the Midwest that recently caused a huge controversy because they hired a gay priest, then this is the cake for you! (Or, you know, just any church coffee hour. Doesn’t have to be exactly like my childhood experience)

As for the frosting, I never use recipes for frosting. I just kind of throw in a little butter, a little powdered sugar, and a little of whatever I’m flavoring the frosting with (in this case, raspberry jam) and mix it all together. I used a stick of butter, probably a cup of jam, and about half a cup of powdered sugar. If you’re making this at home, I would say cut back on the powdered sugar and butter. My frosting was a little too sweet/chunky.

Verdict:

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GREAT SUCCESS! This is probably the greatest achievement in the history of mankind. Greater than Citizen Kane. Greater than Mozart. Greater than White Chicks. I brought this cake to a Halloween party this weekend (where Carrie and I went as Peter Dinklage and Gwen Stefani from SNL’s Space Pants (pictured below)) and it got rave review after rave review. This is my favorite creation so far.

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Space shorts! Space shorts, space pants!

5 Literary Works about Home/Family 

I usually try to rank works in some way, but these are presented in no particular order because how are you supposed to compare a book of essays, a novel, a play, a short story, and a young adult novel? It’s like saying to me, “Erin, what do you like better – donuts or popcorn?”  The answer is, “When I want a donut, I like donuts. When I want popcorn, I like popcorn.” They do different things for me. (Also, if you’re wondering why I’m not using the classic “apples and oranges” analogy, it’s because oranges are the clear winner there so that analogy sucks. If you feel otherwise, you’re nothing to me. I don’t want to know you or what you do. I don’t want to see you at the hotels. YOU BROKE MY HEART, FREDO!!! (speaking of works on families…))

1. The Miles Between Me by Toni Nealie

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One of the first things I ever read by Toni Nealie was “Unraveling,” which is the type of essay that pretty much encapsulates all the things I like about essays: a non-linear narrative structure, unexpected connections between an array of subjects, and a topic of deep personal importance to the narrator. If the essay was a person, it would be that person at the party who’s talking about a subject that you might not care about but whose passion manages to make it wildly interesting. That being said, I actually am interested in most of the topics covered in Toni Nealie’s premiere essay collection The Miles Between Me. It’s about the immigrant experience, motherhood, anxiety, home, ethnicity in America, and the terrifyingly precarious nature of safety and comfort. It also covers the story of two gerbils named Oreo and Pudding, which brings me back to the essay’s remarkable ability to make a reader care. For me, anything smaller than 50 pounds with fur that isn’t a dog or a cat is essentially just a rat and must be eliminated. Yet, I wept over the fate of Pudding and Oreo. That takes a hell of an essayist.

2. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech 

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“The saddest book you’ve ever read, it always makes you cry…” God damn this book. So good, but so upsetting. I have loved it since fifth grade, when it demanded a certain maturity from me that previous young adult literature had not. (Also, I had never seen the name Phoebe spelled out before, and kept calling that character Fo-ee-obe in my mind.) Teaching children empathy is one of the most important things to teach them, and the central thesis of this book rests upon the importance of seeing the stories behind our metaphorical walls. As Sal notes, her story was behind Phoebe’s story (poor Fe-ee-obe!) and her father’s story was behind that. The book zeroes in on empathy towards one’s parents, seeing them as humans with a unique story and flaws. While it seems obvious as an adult that, yes, your parents are people too, that’s a big revelation for a 12 year-old.

Also (big spoiler alert) how the hell did I not get the mom pulls a Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense and turns out to be dead the whole time? Rereading it as an adult, it is glaringly obvious, but I remember I felt a tingling pain in my entire body when I first read the line, “On a little hill overlooking the river and valley, was my mother’s grave.”

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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I basically read this whole book (which is 588 pages) in four days because it’s that damn good. About the immigrant experience, the book centers around Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who leaves Nigeria, and her first love, for America. The love story between Ifemelu and Obinze is the grounding force in a narrative that explores race and class in America. In Nigeria, Ifemelu would not have thought of herself as black, but is now thrown into a culture where she must navigate the distinctions between African American and American-African. Her blog showcases some of the absurdity behind American racism and how much it obscures our ability to see and understand one another. Adichie examines the things that divide us in America, exemplified best through Ifemelu’s tragically fraught relationship with a wealthy white man, while also keeping things centered around the timeless story of a romantic relationship that never truly ended. It begins and ends with Ifemelu and Obinze.

Also, I have to say, I have a soft spot for stories with questionably likable main characters. Ifemelu is shamelessly, authentically flawed, and that’s what makes her so gripping.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee (RIP, Edward Albee!)

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Virginia Woolf was famous for her stream of consciousness narrative style (12th grade literary analysis FTW!). Her characters pretty much cut themselves open and spilled themselves onto the page, for better or for worse, for the world to see. “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” translates to, “Who’s afraid of where they end up? Who’s afraid of their life, exactly how it unfolded?” I would say “Well… everyone, to a degree?” but especially George and Martha, who invite a young couple to their home and proceed to tell them the story of their son. It’s a mutually agreed upon fiction, as the couple is infertile, but a story they’re never allowed to tell to others. Family and home life does not always play out exactly as we wanted, and almost everyone eventually grows into some huge disappointment, reaching a point where they realize a dream that won’t come to fruition. The play is about the stories we tell ourselves to excuse the reality of our lives but, on a deeper level, about the fictitious nature of the American ideals of family and marriage. This play is about the aftermath of disappointment, written at a time when there was far more stigma surrounding child-less marriages.

Also, I blame this play for the “never mix, never worry” myth regarding alcohol. Fun fact: If you drink too much of anything, even without mixing, you’re gonna have a bad time

“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin 

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Oh, lovely. Another work that makes me cry! I cried. In class. In graduate school. Because we read part of this story out loud. I’m a winner. Speaking of stories buried under stories, at is core, “Sonny’s Blues” is about suffering, both the narrator’s and his brother Sonny’s. It is about art’s ability to not transcend suffering – there is some suffering from which there is no escape – but to make something from it. It takes on a classic narrative, the story of a homecoming, and reveals a beautiful truth about the power of art. Sonny is released from prison, where he was incarcerated for heroin possession, and his brother has suffered a terrible tragedy in his absence. Sonny’s only plan for the future is to become a jazz musician, an aspiration his brother is skeptical of until hearing Sonny play. “Sonny’s Blues” illustrates the “personal, private, vanishing evocations” people feel when confronted by a powerful work of art. “For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new,” the narrator observes, “it must always be heard . . . . it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.” Guys, like, no big deal or anything, but the last five paragraphs of this story are probably some of the greatest words ever written in the English language. Just saying…

Please comment below for a suggestion for another list of books or baked goods for next week! Also, remember to vote this Tuesday. Election night is the Christmas Eve that comes every four years! But instead of waking up to presents, you wake up to terrible disappointment and great, great fear. #ImWithHer #YouKnowIGuess

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