Cake and Memories

I have a tradition I’ve stuck to for almost all the birthdays, holidays and special occasions that have been celebrated in my home: I make the cake. There’s nothing better than old-fashioned homemade cake from scratch, provided of course that you’re good at making cake. I like to think I inherited my great-aunt Alice’s talent for cake-making. She was actually more of a grandmother in my eyes than a great-aunt, as my grandmother (her sister) died when my mother was ten. So I never knew my mother’s mother, but her aunt Alice was a special matron of the family.

Tia Alice the last time I saw her in 2011. If there’s cake in heaven may she be enjoying a delicious slice.

Though Aunt Alice never had biologic children of her own, she and her husband adopted a baby girl. When my parents and I emigrated to the US, the process to obtain legal status (Visas) took a fair amount of time. My parents filed the paperwork but in the meantime my mom became pregnant with my brother. His immigration request had to wait until he was born, which delayed the timing in reference to ours. When our approvals came through, his was not yet ready. My great-aunt Alice generously took a six-month old baby into her care for close to a year and then traveled with him to the US when his Visa was approved. She always warmly welcomed her nieces and nephews along with their spouses and their children into her home every chance she got. Whenever I traveled to Portugal, I have fond memories of tea time at her house in the late afternoon when I’d visit with my cousins or come for an overnight stay. Those were times when she liked to share memories of her younger days and the wisdom of her years.

Aunt Alice was a wonderful baker and cake-maker. As a younger woman, back in Angola, she had a small business baking cakes for people. She made me a beautiful three-layer cake with a birdhouse as the top layer for my third birthday. I remember standing in front of it fascinated by how pretty it was. The featured image for this post captured that moment.

Well, enough of the family history. Suffice it to say I credit Aunt Alice for my own love of cake-making. I’m not much for fancy cake decorating like she was. I just want it to look good and taste great. I’ve had a couple of cake fails through the years, but I persevered through them and in the end the love that went into them came out in how they tasted – even if they didn’t look quite as nice as I’d hoped.

My all-time favorite cake frosting is her Doçe de Leite, also commonly used in Spanish cultures and known as Dulce de Leche. Her method, passed on to my mother who passed it on to me, was to place sealed cans of sweetened condensed milk in a pressure cooker, cover them with water and allow cooker to simmer for 45 minutes. When cans have cooled they can be opened to reveal thick, rich, spreadable caramel for filling and frosting cakes. I especially love it in a rolled cake.

Here are some cakes I’ve made through the years. They’re not store-bought fancy but their taste would rival any professional bakery’s and like I said before it’s really all about the love that went into them.


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