So the holidays are over, but I still haven't managed to shake off that feeling of lethargy that comes with the winter holiday season. I still want to curl up with a book in a warm place next to an excessively furry dog, wear ski pants instead of jeans, eat ridiculous amounts of chocolate and spend the daylight hours outside in the snow.
But slowly I'm crawling out of this holiday reverie, back into the real world where I have to buy my own groceries, pay to do my laundry (and lug said laundry up and down three flights of stairs), and do my taxes (oh joy). I guess taking all the Bing Crosby Christmas carols off my iTunes playlist is a good start. His crooning just doesn't fit anymore - not with the slushy city streets and that early new year feeling (you know, the resolution madness that seizes everyone and magically transports them to the nearest gym).
Only a week ago, bursting into songs from White Christmas (however bad the singing was) seemed entirely appropriate. I went back home for the holidays, to small-town northwestern Ontario, and going back, I felt as if I wasn't just shifting into another time zone but into a different pace of living.
Going back home always feels a bit like putting on a pair of old, hideous, and utterly comfortable pyjamas. It's familiar, comforting, and a little bit embarrassing.
But going back home for the holidays also means several very specific things to me: a frigid house, skiing (no matter how out of shape I am), and my mother's baking.
Each Christmas, my mother, like most mothers, goes a little insane. By which I mean, insane with baking.
As a child, she and I used to make sugar cookies together, using the same cookie cutters each year. We didn't use any fancy decorating techniques or any pastry bags to decorate them, just a simple buttercream, food colouring, and a butter knife. (Though Santa did always end up having an outfit that was more salmon than red...) I can't think of those cookies without tasting vanilla and butter on my tongue.
And there have always been truffles, of course, rich, dense orbs of chocolate flavoured with the sharpness of coffee liqueur. My mother rarely makes sugar cookies these days, but there are always truffles at Christmas. Whenever I arrive home for the holidays, I know there will be tins upon tins of truffles stored in the freezer, and each night, a little plate of them will appear after dinner. Really, this is how all winter nights should end: with a hot cup of tea and chocolate.
This year, however, I branched out a little from family Christmas tradition and begged my mother to make The Birthday Cake.
We call it The Birthday Cake out of old habit, despite the fact that my mother makes this cake for any occasion and does not simply restrict its use to birthdays. It's a cake she's made for as long as I can remember. The Birthday Cake has simply always been and always will be.
Yet, in spite of the fact that I have long been established as "the baker" in the household (an obsessive and compulsive one), I have never even once attempted to make this particular cake. There are some recipes that are too nostalgic, are attached to too many memories, that to try and make them oneself would be a kind of sacrilege.
And I know I could simply never make this cake the way my mother makes it. This is her recipe; she knows it, her hands remember it. She might check the recipe book once to reassure her memory, but her hands move with the certainty of muscle memory.
And there are just some things that only a mother's hands can make.
Chocolate Mocha Roll or, Our Birthday Cake
Adapted from Canadian Living Cookbook (1987)
6 Eggs, separated
1 cup Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
1/4 cup All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 tbsp Instant Coffee Granules
1 tbsp Boiling Water
2 cups Whipping Cream
1/3 cup Icing Sugar
2 tbsp Coffee Liqueur (optional)
Garnish with chocolate shavings, slivered almonds, ... or not.
Serves 8 - 12.
For the cake:
1. Preheat oven to 325°. Line bottom of 15 X 11 inch (2L) jelly roll pan with foil or parchment paper; grease foil and sides of pan.
2. In a bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form; then gradually beat in 1/2 cup of sugar, beating until stiff peaks form.
3. In another bowl, beat together egg yolks and remaining 1/2 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy; blend in vanilla. Stir in flour and cocoa and mix.
4. Fold egg whites into batter until well combined.
5. Pour cake batter into prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Gently loosen cake around the edges using a knife.
6. Cover cake with a tea towel, then invert baking sheet and carefully remove pan and then foil. Trim any crusty edges.
7. While hot, roll up cake in a clean tea towel, rolling from the short side. (The original instructions say to roll from the long side, but my mother always rolls it up from the short side so that we get bigger pieces of cake.)
For the icing:
1. In cup, dissolve coffee granules in boiling water, let cool.
2. In bowl, beat together cream and icing sugar just until stiff; blend in dissolved coffee and liqueur if using.
3. Unroll the cake and spread with 2/3 of the mocha cream.
4. Gently roll up the cake and place on a platter with the seam side down. Frost with remaining Mocha Cream and then garnish with desired toppings (if using).
5. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Enjoy!