A Reflection on Flavors
A LONG JOURNEY TO FIND THE PERFECT CUPCAKE
During the early years of being a teenager, my father worked
overseas which afforded my family and me the fantastic
opportunity to travel widely. My first big adventure at
thirteen would see me through Ireland, Switzerland, Saudi
Arabia, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. My
mother encouraged my sister and me to keep a journal of
our travels that was met with the typical enthusiasm one
would expect when asking a child to take on the task of
writing during a vacation. But, I endeavored to do my best
and made my daily entries.
Years later, after stumbling across the journal in a box, that
aged tablet was cracked open again and I couldn’t help
but be astounded. You wouldn’t exactly call it “literary,”
far from it, but it held a heart-warming revelation that
had long been forgotten. All I had written down over the
span of several weeks was the endless varieties of culinary
pleasures I’d polished off—smoked kippers, strawberry
cream cake, chicken shawarmas, hummus, hum bao,
seaweed noodles with peanut sauce, Violet Crumble,
lamingtons, Pavlova, and on and on and on. All of my
memories had been cataloged by the foods I’d eaten.
And, frankly, little has changed.
I never cease to be amazed and appreciative of the intensity
with which food outlines the moments of our lives. While
some are more deeply sentimental than others, perhaps
most, if not all of us will continuously carry these sensory
memories until our very end. We will acutely recall the
events, the places and most of all, the people in our lives
through the scents and flavors of so many times gone by.
To this day, if I make the rice and corn that my now
long gone Aunt Kay used to make, the mere smell will
immediately transport me back to when I was a small
child sitting in her San Francisco kitchen listening to her
wonderful laugh or as she would softly sing. A simple
chocolate snack cake tinged with a hint of cinnamon
reminds me of the one thing my sister was ever willing to
cook from scratch: my mom’s yellow curry spaghetti with
mushrooms. It still weakens me with its aroma. And, the
warm perfume of her sherry cake wafting about recalls
family holidays or the polished cocktail parties my parents
would host for my father’s colleagues.
My mom’s version was to simply substitute sherry for the
liquid called for on a box of yellow cake mix. And, frankly,
there is nothing wrong with that shortcut based on my
recollection! However, today I have adapted this sherry cake
recipe to suit my own needs by creating a “scratch” version.
As I am often known for my cupcakes, this interpretation
includes a topping of nutmeg-laced browned butter and
vanilla buttercream. But, a simple preparation of the cake
in a Bundt cake pan and dusted with powdered sugar will
give you an immediate sense of my childhood original.
Either way, I hope you enjoy this recipe and perhaps make
it a new part of your own family food memories.
TEXT AND ILLUSTRATION BY BRADFORD CROWDER