We're celebrating The Post's fourth birthday this week, and that means one thing: !! But not just yet. First we're going to take a look at newspapers.
Newspapers got started way back in the caveman days when somebody carved '||-||^^###!'1 on a rock wall. A free press is the foundation of a free society: demagogues and dictators fear it, and the people rely on it to tell them what's really going on. Not only does your daily newspaper ferret out the truth (or reasonable facsimile of same), it also carries ads for the local department stores, weather reports, comics, and the occasional heartwarming 'human interest'2 story, promoting the health and welfare of all concerned. The paper also has a number of practical uses around the house, such as:
- wrapping old fish
- lining the bird cage
- training the puppy
- caulking windows and keeping out drafts
- making hats (yes, I was a dorky kid)
The heyday of the great metropolitan newspaper has passed (think of Clark Kent's The Daily Planet), due to the advent of TV and the Internet. Back in the days before the discovery of electricity, the printed page was the only source of news (that and the rumour mill). Nowadays, news - or at least a stream of sound-bites - comes at us from all directions, so it's pretty difficult not to know something of what's going on.
That's enough about the news; back to cake. I swear the following is a true story. Many years ago, a fellow bought his friend a birthday cake. The recipient, a prankish sort and not much of a cake lover, saved the cake and presented it to the giver on the giver's birthday. Thus was born a tradition. The two have been exchanging The Cake, which is understandably looking the worse for wear, since their university days. It has followed them around through military service, trips overseas, marriage, divorce, remarriage, children, and who knows how many jobs. Presentation is everything; the important thing is to catch the recipient unawares. The Cake has been delivered by mail to the recipient's home, by courier to his office, by waiters at restaurants, by officers on cruise ships, ... ; you get the picture. Rumour has it that, aside from their cake mania, the two are reasonably sane and intelligent individuals, but friends are betting that the first of them to 'shuffle off this mortal coil' will go to his eternal reward interred with The Cake.
I swear this is also a true story. Fruitcake is the Christmas gift many love to hate; in fact, you can find plenty of jokes about it on the Web3. One family has raised the fruitcake joke to an art form. Many years ago, someone gave his brother a fruitcake as a gift. (Do you notice how these things always start with guys?) The recipient, a prankish sort, saved the cake until the next Christmas when he gave it to a third family member, and another tradition was born. Each year, some lucky soul receives The Family Fruitcake, which actually still looks OK since fruitcakes have a half-life of about 10,000 years (indeed, many insist that fruitcakes actually contain radioactive materials, which account for their colour and flavour). People who marry into the family know they've been accepted when they're presented with The Family Fruitcake. As with so many Christmas gifts, presentation is everything. The fruitcake is cleverly disguised and hidden inside other gifts and in boxes of all shapes and sizes, so the intended target has no advance warning of his impending doom.
Heartwarming, isn't it?
The Internet is full of recipes for birthday cake. American recipes usually feature a plain white or chocolate cake without any fruit or nuts in it. It is baked in either round pans or a large flat rectangular pan, then covered with icing, which may have elaborate plastic decorations on it. Taste-wise, it's not terribly adventurous unless you happen to eat the decorations. (Don't laugh. It's been done, although not intentionally.)
Elsewhere it's a different story. My Mum used to make fancy tortes for our birthdays, with many thin layers of cake filled with jam and buttercream icing, then covered with more icing and finished off with icing rosettes and whatnot. They were almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Birthday cakes can also contain fruit and nuts, such as this Favourite Birthday Cake from ElectricScotland.com. And speaking of fruitcakes, in honour of The Post's birthday - and it being close to Christmas and all - here is a link to my favorite cake: Caribbean Black Cake. Black Cake is a wonderfully rich and alcoholic cake that even some of my fruitcake-hating friends will eat. This particular recipe, which originally appeared in the November 1988 issue of Gourmet Magazine, calls for the cake to be covered with almond paste and icing, which may be overkill for those of us without a serious sweet tooth. The cake is delicious with or without embellishment. The recipe on the Web lists ingredients using American measurements; here are the conversions:
dried and glaceed fruit: 1lb = 450g or 2 cups
lemon and orange peel: 6oz = 170g
dark brown sugar: 2lb = 900g or 4 cups
cake flour: 4¼ cups = 925g
butter: 2 cups = 1lb = 450g
almond paste: 1½ cups = ¾lb = 340g
confectioners (powdered4) sugar: 2lb = 900g
oven temperature: 350 F = 180 C = Gas Mark 4
The trick to making Black Cake is to avoid sampling the fruit while it's marinating and soaking up all the booze, tempting as that may be. Leave a slice of the cake out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, and you'll be showered with gifts. Have some before you go to bed, and you'll be off to dreamland humming 'Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer'5 or even 'Happy Birthday' for our favourite on-line newspaper:
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday, dear !
Happy birthday to you!
(And many more....)