LONDON — All year, I write and cook recipes that, beyond tasting delicious, have a reason and a season. The recipes are pegged to fixed moments in time, ideas rooted in the vegetables coming out of the ground.
By the time December comes around, truth be told, I look at my cooking a little differently. Maybe it’s the cumulative effect of the preceding months — an end-of-the-year “I’m done!” — but the things we should be making and eating can start, I find, to feel a little too prescriptive.
This month, I know I’m having my cake and eating it — quite literally — by publishing a recipe for a rich, dark cake (for a rich, dark December), and wondering why it’s any more or less suitable for this time of the year than, say, a light, airy one. The opposite nature of devil’s food and angel food cakes is in their very names: One is set up as “sinful,” the other “virtuous.” It’s this dichotomy that I just don’t buy when it comes to food and how it should make us feel.
Take the devils on horseback and the angels also on horseback served as canapés to many a cocktail-sipping guest this month. Why is it, really, that the devil is made manifest as a prune (or date) stuffed with cheese (or chutney or a nut) wrapped in bacon, whilst the angel is cast as an oyster enrobed in the same bacon wrapping? Who said that oysters have not done more of the devil’s work?
Or how about the “angel’s share,” the whiskey that “disappears” during the aging process when the spirit is in the barrel? If angels are so good, why are they stealing all the whiskey? Surely, it should be called the devil’s share. While angels retain their light reputation in things like angel hair pasta and angel delight (the super-sweet powdered dessert), the devil’s name is attached to fiery spiced kidneys.
I’m not saying all this just to play devil’s advocate. Nor am I saying that now is the time to recreate the wheel: Traditions are there for reasons both poetic and practical. What I am saying, though, is that anyone feeling festive and celebratory this month should have whatever cake they want, eating a great big slice of it, too. Bake a nice cake (whatever shape, size or color), enjoy a slice (without any devilish guilt) and be kind to yourself and others. This is the cake I’ll be making. There are a few elements, for sure, but you can make them ahead of time and then put it all together when you’re ready.