Walnut Cake by Mail

Okay, so to start I’m going to confess I’m a long-time criminal.  Yup, it’s true.  The last time I committed the crime was December 20th.  It happened at the counter of our local branch of the United States Postal Service.  I know, that makes it a federal crime.  Scary stuff: prepare yourself.

I drag my eight assorted boxes and packages onto the counter and say, “I’d like to mail these out to arrive by Christmas.”

The Postmaster asks, “Do your packages contain any hazardous or perishable items?”

Deliberately looking her in the eye and keeping my voice steady, I reply: “No.”

It’s a tense moment.  But so far, so good.  I’ve been doing this for going on fifteen years now and my packages have arrived safe and sound every time.  I’ve kept out of jail too.

It comes down to this: I like to mail baked goods as gifts.  Christmas cookies and birthday cakes.  It started for three reasons.  One, there isn’t a thing I can afford to get my folks that they need, so that leaves gifts of books, art, and food.  From time to time I share a great read or do a painting or send potatoes or beans from our garden, but mainly, I bake.

Two, I’m a firm believer that in most cases gifts should carry a small footprint.  I’m aware that until we start our humanure project, cookies do contain an inherent and hefty footprint, but with our current ease of flush and forget, I can still pretend consumables count.

Three, I’ve read enough about sugar constraints in Little House on the Prairie and novels on WWI and WWII to grasp that baked goods are treats worthy of the status of gift.  Sugar abounds in our society so we’ve forgotten how special it is.  It feels like a tiny revolutionary act every time I send a sugary treat rather than the plastic crap we’ve been habituated as good little consumers to think of as gifts.

perishableYes, it was the anarchist in me who transferred the capitalist hegemony to the Postmaster.  Surely in asking that question about perishables, the USPS was in on the gig — their shipping counter a last societal line of defense against those who would seek to escape the consumerist culture.

So I did what I usually do: I checked my action, in this case, the desire to send baked goods to family and friends, against my does-it-cause-harm meter.  Finding that my action in no way intended harm, I decided that my personal authority trumped that of the USPS and I took the steps necessary to insure my aim was achieved: to wit, I took the path of least resistance and lied.

That is until today.  Today, mailing my father his birthday cake, I summoned up all of my thirty-nine years of courage, backed by the knowledge that I could always go UPS or FedEx, and answered the question, “Yes.”  On went a “Perishable” sticker, and that was that.

It turns out the perishable question is asked not to be restrictive, but to be practical.  Perishable matter can be sent at the mailer’s own risk.  It’s required to be labeled so that it can be treated accordingly, i.e. given more care.  The USPS is trying to make sure your shipment of cream puffs doesn’t become the next great noxious odor disaster in their warehouse.  All of this is detailed in Publication 52: Hazardous, Restricted and Perishable Mail.

But practicality aside, here’s the most important part: the Postmaster can’t ask you what’s in your package.  Freaking right.  The USPS is still pretty darn cool.

walnut-cake-recipeWhich brings me to what exactly was in my package: a Walnut Cake.  I came upon this recipe in a little hand-written recipe book I inherited from my father’s mother, my Nana.  Scrawled at the top of the recipe next to a big star are the words: “My boy’s favorite birthday cake.”  Here’s how it goes:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Separate 9 eggs.  Put the egg whites into a large mixing bowl or bowl for a standing mixer.  Put the egg yolks into a medium size mixing bowl.

3. Beat the egg whites with a mixer or enormous amounts of arm strength and a wire whisk until soft mounds form.  Add 3/4 cup granulated white sugar.  Continue beating until stiff.  Do not underbeat.

4. Add 3/4 cup granulated white sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon almond extract to the egg yolks.  Whisk until thick and lemon colored.

5. Stir 3/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon salt and two dashes of cinnamon into the yolk mixture.

6. Fold the yolk mixture into the egg whites using a spatula.  Do this gently but thoroughly.  The stiffness of the egg white mixture provides the height to the baked cake, so you don’t want to outright mix — simply fold the two batters together.

walnut-cake-cooling7. Finely chop 2 cups of walnuts.

8. Fold the walnuts into the batter using a spatula.

9. Butter and flour your pan, then fill with batter.  Recipe makes 2-9″ rounds, a 10″ tube cake pan, a 13″x 9″ rectangular pan or 24 regular size cupcakes.

10. Bake at 350° until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cooking times vary by the depth and size of the pan, with cupcakes taking about 20 minutes, rounds or a 13″x 9″ about 25-35 minutes, and a tube cake about 50-60 minutes.

11. Let cake cool in the pan for ten minutes before removing and finishing cooling on a rack.

12. Frost as desired with vanilla or chocolate frosting, or serve plain, or add a side of whipped cream or ice cream.

This recipe is offered in total rebellion as part of Recipe Rites.

© Jennifer S. and harvestliberty.net, 2013.

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