I think when you are good at something, or at least experienced at something, it can be easy to forget the path you took to get there. I am a good baker (not great – good) but there was a time when I had never baked a cake. I was 22 and the very first cake I baked, my first time so to speak, was this one. I found it intimidating. I was overwhelmed by the recipe, by the number of bowls, by the swirling technique of the two batters. Plus there was a glaze to worry about. But I made it and it turned out. The people I baked it for oohed and aahed and it gave me confidence to take on another baking project. After a few successes, I truly fell in love with baking.
Bear with me as I tie this back to yoga. I have been practicing yoga for twelve years, with a couple of breaks due to pregnancy, children, life, etc. From 2001 to 2003, I taught a vigorous flow class. Just as I was always challenging myself in my own practice, I challenged my students. As my body slowly opened up and became stronger, I encouraged my students that theirs would too. Along the way, I now realize, I lost the feeling of being a beginner. I think I was always a sensitive teacher, offering modifications, encouraging people to listen to their body. “Do only what feels right for you today, don’t think about yesterday, and don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing”, is something I said regularly. But I think my passion for the practice always moved me forward rather remembering what it was like in the beginning.
This past July, I came back to my yoga practice after a three year hiatus. I felt as though I had never been on a mat before. Things that used to be fluid became clunky. My body was different after two pregnancies and two c-sections had zapped any core strength I once had. Over time, I had lost most of my flexibility and strength that I had worked so hard for. The simplest poses felt awkward. My mind knew what to do, but my body would not obey. I was thrust into the role of a beginner and it made me so appreciate all the lovely people who came to my class and watched me demonstrate poses that they probably thought they would never master. I felt the practice as I probably never had. I had to re-learn.
Fortunately, what they say is true. The body does have a memory. After committing to going to yoga three times a week every week, the fluidity slowly came back. The strength came back. Some of the flexibility came back. (I was always more strong than flexible.) A sun salutation feels like a dance again rather than a chore. I flow without thinking – finding my body doing things without my mind coming along for the ride. Yoga is for me, at the best of times, truly a moving meditation. It is a wonderful place to be and it makes me want to keep going.
Feeling this way also makes me want to teach again. Because now I think I have a much better appreciation for those who are just starting out. I want to teach the joy of yoga again. I always found joy in my teaching but, especially toward the end, I may have focused a little too much on mastering – and teaching – tricky arm balancing postures and other more advanced poses. I want to teach people to love yoga as I do.
Back to baking. I made this cake on Saturday for the first time in 17 years. Between that first cake and this latest one, I have made hundreds of cakes, pies, tarts, mousses, cookies, bars, and other treats. Actually – 17 years? Probably thousands. I have learned a lot about baking and about myself as a baker. I have learned shortcuts and ways to cut down on dishes, and I have learned that it is important to always have everything out and at the ready. And, for me at least, to always follow the recipe.
Coming back to this cake made me smile. It was so easy. In my 39-year old mind, it’s just a simple batter, some of which gets mixed in to some melted chocolate to make another batter, then the two are layered in a cake pan, swirled and baked. The glaze is about as simple as it gets. I now know that, if you are careful, you can melt chocolate in a microwave rather than in a double boiler, and if you melt it in a big enough bowl, you can mix the batter right into the bowl, rather than dirtying another bowl. When I made this cake the first time, I actually went and bought an angel food cake pan because that is what the recipe said to do. I now know that a bundt pan will work fine and makes a much more attractive cake.
Usually when I bake, I am not aware of how far I have come. But because I could compare Saturday’s experience directly with my newbie experience, I did realize how much I have learned. It has been a long slow and joyful process. It makes me appreciate people who are new to baking, just as – when I do teach again someday – I will appreciate students new to yoga. So, if you have never baked a cake, why not follow my lead and try this one? Don’t be intimidated, don’t be scared. Go for it.
One Year Ago: Southwestern Sweet Potato Gratin
Cinnamon-Chocolate Ribbon Cake
Adapted from Bon Appétit
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3 cups cake flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/3 cup whipping cream
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325ºF. Grease a 12 cup bundt pan and set aside. Place chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat in 30-second intervals, stirring in between each one, until the chocolate is almost melted. Allow the residual heat to melt the rest of the chocolate and set aside. (Alternatively, you can set the bowl over simmer water. Do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water.)
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat eggs in large bowl until foamy. Add sugar and beat until thick and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Gradually beat in oil. Beat in milk and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and beat until just blended.
Transfer 1½ cups batter to bowl with the melted chocolate. Stir to combine. Mix cinnamon into remaining (non-chocolate) batter. Spread half of cinnamon batter in prepared pan. Spoon chocolate batter over. Top with the remaining cinnamon batter. Using small knife, swirl batters together to marbleize slightly.
Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack 10 minutes. Using a thin knife, carefully loosen the cake from the pan. Turn cake out onto rack and allow to cool completely.
Combine cream, butter, and corn syrup in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until mixture simmers. Remove from heat; add chocolate. Stir until chocolate melts and glaze is smooth. Let cool until glaze thickens slightly but is still spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.
Place cake on platter. Slide waxed paper strips under edges of cake (this will catch drips). Spread glaze over cake. Remove paper. Chill until glaze sets. Serve at room temperature. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled. DT: In my experience, you do not need to chill this cake – it keeps well at room temperature, but be sure to cover it. Also, cakes like this freeze beautifully – without the glaze. Just wrap it well in foil and it will keep for about a month. Give it plenty of time to thaw at room temperature and then glaze it.)