Every once in a while Mira and I would engage in the Great Holiday Debate. The debate was set in stone; no matter how many times in the past we’ve done it, it would always follow the same format: the same beginning, exchange and the never-changing grand finale.
“Christmas is the greatest Christian holiday,” I would say.
“No, it’s Easter.”
“But mama, Christmas is when Jesus was born.”
“And on Easter he was resurrected.”
“We decorate the tree on Christmas.”
“We color the eggs on Easter.”
“We bake the cookies.”
“We roast the lamb.”
“So how come that we bake a cake on Christmas and not on Easter?” I knew I had her there. But Mira never gave up, she was the Capricorn, so she would say, “Pshhh, you know nothing, on Easter we have flowers.”
This will be the first Easter without her. The pain has not settled yet. The pain has not even begun. I still talk to her every day, engage in our little discussions, play out our little rituals, debate the Great Debate to keep it from slipping away, because memory can be a trickster sometimes. On the other hand, perhaps it is ok to let it slip, because that's what life is all about, let it fade away and shape into another beautiful memory. Perhaps it is even ok to change the finale and let Mira have it once. And perhaps there is a way to find the middle ground. Say we start with the Christmas cake, and we then cross off all the things holiday from the ingredient list -- cinnamon, spices and the dried fruits of the winter, and we cross off the brandy, for who needs brandy on Easter. And say we bring in the dried fruits of the spring -- strawberries, blueberries and gentle white peaches, and maybe a hint of Elderflower and the winds filled with spring roses. And say we do not make the icing, but we decorate with flowers instead? Say we give Easter its own very special cake it deserves so much, to celebrate Easter, to celebrate spring, to celebrate love. Wouldn’t it be nice?
Easter Celebration Cake
* 16 oz blanched almonds, finely chopped
* 14 oz dried blueberries
* 14 oz dried strawberries
* 12 oz dried sweet cherries
* 16 oz dried white peaches
* 16 oz candied ginger
* 12 oz butter
* 10 oz semolina
* 10 oz granulated sugar
* 16 egg yolks
* 9 egg whites
* zest of one lime, finely shredded
* juice of two or three meyer lemons
* juice of one lime
* 1 tbsp vanilla extract
* 1 tbsp rose water
* 1 cup St. Germain liqueur
1. Chop all dried fruits into small pieces.
2. Add the lemon juice, lime juice, St. Germain, one cup of hot water, rosewater and vanilla extract. Mix well, cover and leave for one day. (The role of hot water is to add a little bit of moisture to the fruits and plump them overnight. If the fruits are very dry, you may want to increase the amount of hot water. I've used a cup, and I've used three cups, it will all depend on the fruits.)
3. Beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg yolks. Add the lime zest and continue to beat until combined. Add the semolina and mix until well combined.
4. Transfer the batter to a large bowl, add the fruit mixture and stir well until fruits are dispersed evenly throughout the batter.
5. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold the whites into the cake batter.
6. Preheat the oven to 230°F. Line two 13x9 inch cake pans with parchment paper. Turn the batter into the pans and bake for about three hours, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (The baking time might vary depending on the pan, oven, etc. and it might take longer. Start watching at about three hours.)
7. Let the cake cool and then remove from the pan.
8. Wrap the cake tightly in aluminum foil or wax paper and store for at least three to five days before serving. (Some say three weeks is the "aging ideal", some say twelve. The cake can be kept for a long time in an airtight container and just like its Christmas cousin it only gets better.)
Makes two 9x13 inch rectangular baking pans
or one 9x13 inch rectangular and one 10-inch round pan
A note on rosewater: Be careful with the amounts of rosewater because the flavor and strength will vary vastly depending on the brand. Ditto on vanilla. I usually use Nielsen Massey and 1tbsp of both in the cake. If you are not sure, start with a couple of drops and then adjust from there.
A note on lemon/lime juice: I add quite a bit of lemon and lime juices plus the zest, because I like a lot of lemony flavors to counterbalance the sweetness of the fruit. If you are unsure, start with half and adjust later. You can always add more the following day.