5 sisters in 4 space

May 10, 2013

Returning from my most recent visit to New York, I decided it was time to eat a bit more conscientiously. So I started baking small cakes.

Ahem, some of you might not see the very clear cause and effect of this decision. Let me explain my logic.

Though I am not much of a dessert person, there is nothing quite so nice with a cup of tea in the afternoon as a small slice of something sweet. With the knowledge of this daily treat in mind, I am much less likely to gorge on a pound of croutons, peanuts, or whatever leftovers I was planning to eat over the next few days. Secondly, I have been stockpiling freshly milled French flours, which need to be eaten up. Finally (as some of you are well aware), I cannot find an ideal loaf of bread in this town. And, as everyone’s favorite Parisian princess once said, if the peasants have no bread…

First, I made a very nice Breton buckwheat cake–no leaveners and lots of delicious butter. Then I made a sadly unsatisfying chocolate-almond-buckwheat cake–too light! Thirdly, I made a pear cake into which I substituted apples causing it to get a bit burnt around the edges before the middle was set. And yesterday I made a poppy almond cake.

IMG_3418

Oh yes! Sure it may look a bit homely (and that IS my strawberry plant in the background) and maybe poppy seeds don’t float your boat. But to paraphrase Dr. Frankenfurter, “I didn’t make it for you!

As soon as I started this cake baking frenzy, I knew exactly who I would invite over once I perfected the menu. My favorite sisters: Mary Ellen, Margaret, Alicia, Lucy, and Ethel Boole.

Mary ellen margaret

alicia  lucy ethel

If the name Boole rings 0 or 1 bells, then you may be familiar with their father George. There mother, Mary Everest (niece of the man of the mountain), was a self-taught mathematician who helped her husband write The Laws of Thought and bore five children before the age of 32 when Mr. Boole passed away. After that, she supported herself and family as a librarian and private tutor.

The Boole girls were by all accounts extremely intelligent. All of them either engaged in mathematics research, married mathematicians, or had mathematical offspring. Kind of like a 19th century team of superheros who traversed the fourth dimension with their minds.

However, knowing their attention to precision, rigour, and the scientific ethos, I knew that this cake had to be truly top-notch. Mathematicians aren’t trying to be mean when they point out flaws, it’s just their job.

Voilà! This poppy cake hit all the right notes. Slightly crisp around the edges, buttery in the center, and with a delightful pop all the way through (that’s why they’re called poppies, right?).

Mary Ellen, Margaret, Alicia, Lucy and Ethel materialized into my space time and I boiled some water for tea. I am making my way through an African blend right now called Kitcbi. I offered milk, lemon, or sugar and we discussed all the possible variations one could have with those options. Some say that milk, lemon, and tea together solve the incompatible food triad problem. It was a truly delightful afternoon, though not a little unsettling when one or the other would disappear into the fourth dimension and reappear in another part of the room. Sometimes leaving just a smile behind, in reference to Alice in Wonderland, which we all agreed was a very good book. I told them about my research, and they gave constructive critiques.

When every last crumb had been eaten and the tea had run dry, we bade our farewells. Come back soon! I called into the emptiness they had left behind.

Then I began to plan tomorrow’s cake.

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