Complicity / Lemon Bundt Cake

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This week’s recipe: Lemon Bundt Cake with Almond Glaze

A recent This American Life episode tells the story of a campus controversy in Nebraska. A sophomore named Katie Mullen had gotten involved with Turning Point USA, a rightwing organization that trains college students to become conservative activists on campus. Katie sets up a table to try to get fellow students involved in Turning Point and attracts the attention of a PhD student/English instructor named Courtney Lawton, who starts protesting Katie’s table and calling her a neo-fascist Becky, by which she means a white woman who weaponizes her white womanhood to oppress others. (Can we take a moment, by the way, to feel for girls who are named Becky? Between the social justice left and the incels, they are getting a lot of crap that they never asked for.) Katie was filming the whole thing, which enraged Courtney further. She started flipping Katie off and cursing at her, which caused Katie to cry. With an assist from Turning Point, the video went viral. There was tremendous backlash against the university, and Courtney was no longer allowed to teach.

What Courtney did was immature, impulsive, and strategically unwise, and I’m inclined to think that, like many college students getting involved in politics for the first time, Katie was more ignorant than malicious. But she publicly allied herself with a malicious organization whose ideology posed a genuine threat to the people around her, and then when she was called out on it, she cried. Now, you’ll never meet a bigger crier than me. Friends, boyfriends, teachers, bosses, kindly friends of my parents’ who have taken me out for coffee and an informational interview—I’ve cried in front of them all. But as someone intimately familiar with the act, I know that being made to cry doesn’t turn a person into an automatic victim. In this case, I think that Courtney’s definition of “Becky” is instructive. Whether or not Katie knew it, tears were her weapon. The politicians and activists and angry radio callers saw her crying and had to leap to her defense, because how could you not? What’s more innocent than a white teenage girl from the Midwest? And what’s a more wholesome, sympathetic face for a group funded by some of the most regressive political elements in America, a group that has been accused of racism, unethical practices, and campaign finance violations, than a young woman bullied to tears by a hateful SJW? I swear, this story taught me more about the destructive power of white female tears than a thousand lefty essays ever could.

Thinking about this reminded me of the reaction to the now-infamous Michelle Wolf routine at the White House Correspondents Dinner. For those of you who were blessed enough to be unaware of this controversy, it involved Wolf making jokes that compared Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Aunt Lydia from The Handmaid’s Tale and complimenting her on her perfect smoky eye, which was applied from the burnt ashes of the truth. Sanders is, of course, a charter member of the can-dish-it-out-but-can’t-take-it insult comedy club known as the Trump Administration, and anyone who was paying attention knows that the joke was about her lying, not her looks, but that didn’t stop certain political reporters from leaping to her defense. How dare anyone publicly censure her as a liar, just because she’s a public figure who gets up every day and lies to the American people? Don’t you know she’s a wife and mother? Yes, that was seriously Mika Brzezinski’s take. All wives and mothers are now above criticism so I guess we’ll never hear a bad word about Hillary Clinton ever again.

It was a pathetic spectacle. It didn’t matter to the journalists who defended Sanders that she disdains and disrespects them; that she insults their intelligence and that of the American people; that she willingly signed on to be the public face of the lying-est administration in history six months in, when everyone knew exactly who they were. She’s a wife and mother, and God forbid anyone make a joke that might offend her delicate white lady feelings, even though the comedian’s speech at the WHCD is and always has been a goddamned roast!

At what point do we expect people to take responsibility for being complicit, even at the expense of hurting their feelings? Of course, what I call “complicity,” Katie Mullen or Sarah Huckabee Sanders might call “standing up for what you believe in” or “making America great again.” But whether you’re stopping fellow students on campus and asking them their thoughts on capitalism or you’re trying to convince the press corps that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, you have willingly placed yourself in the ring and you can’t get upset when people hit back.

Which brings me to…me. This past Saturday at kids’ services at my synagogue, I used the Torah reading to talk to the children about when and how it’s appropriate to “rebuke” somebody. We discussed why it’s better to rebuke in private than in public; better to rebuke gently than harshly; better to rebuke in a constructive rather than an ad hominem way; and better not to rebuke at all if there’s nothing the person on the receiving end can do to change things. We also agreed that there are certain situations where it’s necessary to break all of those rules, i.e. when a person’s actions are putting himself and/or others in imminent danger. A good lesson all around, but one made distinctly weird by the presence of a certain guest at the service. He is a nationally known neoconservative pundit, anti-Trump but pro-every war imaginable; he was an extremely visible cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq in particular. He lives in the DC area but was at my synagogue for his granddaughter’s baby naming, after which he and the rest of the family took the kids down to my service.

Now, I’m sure this person is a nice guy in his personal life and a loving grandpa and all that, but I think that he is indirectly responsible for the death of many, many people in the Middle East, and that given his druthers, we’d be involved in even more wars than we already are. It felt strange and wrong to be teaching that you shouldn’t let harmful actions go by without a word when he was sitting ten feet away from me. I wasn’t going to point to him and say, “That guy has the blood of Iraqis on his hands, everyone shun him!” But should I have at least gone up to him afterwards and told him privately that he should be ashamed of what he’s done? It would be overstating the case to say that I was in a position of moral authority over him, but at that moment, I was giving everyone in the room–including him and his grandchildren–moral instruction, filling a role analogous to a rabbi. If I had confronted him, I’m sure it would have been nothing he hadn’t heard before; his views have been attacked in the national press hundreds of times before, no way this guy gives a shit about what I think. And of course there is a time and place for things; one could easily argue that accosting a guest in your community when he’s there celebrating his granddaughter’s baby naming is, uh, inappropriate. But if the last two years have taught me anything, it’s that there need to be actual repercussions for people who hurt others, or who champion policies that hurt others. I don’t mean that they need to be thrown in jail (and they won’t be), but shouldn’t cheerleading for endless war earn you even the slight social penalty of being made to feel momentarily uncomfortable at synagogue? And by not speaking out for fear of…feeling momentarily uncomfortable, do I in turn become complicit?

So anyway, here’s a cake. I made an amazing, decadent chocolate caramel cake for Mother’s Day brunch, since my mom is a chocolate lover, but we have several chocolate haters in the family as well (I know! So shameful!) so I had to provide an option for them too. I flipped through my cookbooks and, lo and behold, here was this yummy-looking bundt cake in Baked Occasions. And what was the occasion at which they suggested it be served? Mother’s Day! Clearly, it was fate. Mother’s Day was gloomy and rainy but this delicious and beautiful cake was a ray of sunshine.

Lemon Bundt Cake with Almond Glaze

From Baked Occasions 

INGREDIENTS

For the Lemon Bundt Cake

  • 1½ cups (170 g) cake flour
  • 1½ cups (170 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2¾ cups (550 g) granulated sugar
  • Zest of 10 lemons (approximately 10 tablespoons/60 g)
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks/225 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • ½ cup (120 ml) canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons pure lemon extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large yolks
  • ¾ cup (180 ml) heavy cream

For the Lemon Syrup

  • 1⁄3 cup (65 g) granulated sugar
  • 1⁄3 cup (75 ml) fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum, or more to taste

For the Almond Glaze

  • 2 to 4 tablespoons (30 to 60 ml) fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons pure almond extract
  • 2½ to 3 cups (250 to 300 g) sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ cup (25 g) slivered almonds, toasted (see page 19)

INSTRUCTIONS
Make the Lemon Bundt Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
  2. Generously spray the inside of a 10-cup (2.4-L) Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray, dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.
  3. Alternatively, you can butter and flour the pan.
  4. Either way, make sure the pan’s nooks and crannies are all thoroughly coated.
  5. Sift both flours, the baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl.
  6. Set aside.
  7. Place the sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  8. Sprinkle the lemon zest over the sugar and use the tips of your fingers to rub the zest in until the mixture is uniformly pale yellow.
  9. Pour the melted butter and canola oil into the bowl of lemon sugar and beat on medium speed until well combined.
  10. Add the rum, lemon extract, eggs, and egg yolks and beat again on medium speed until just combined.
  11. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
  12. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.
  13. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.
  14. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  15. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 30 minutes.
  16. Place the wire rack over a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
Make the Lemon Syrup
  1. In a small saucepan over very low heat, whisk together the sugar, lemon juice, and rum until the sugar starts to melt.
  2. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
  3. Then reduce the heat to a simmer for a minute or two, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat.
  4. Gently loosen the sides of the somewhat cooled cake from the pan and turn it out onto the rack.
  5. Poke the cake with several holes (on the crown and sides) in preparation for the syrup.
  6. Use a pastry brush to gently brush the top and sides of the cake with the syrup.
  7. Allow the syrup to soak into the cake.
  8. Brush at least two more times. (You might have some syrup left over.)
  9. Continue to let the cake cool completely.
Make the Almond Glaze
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and the almond extract.
  2. Add 2½ cups (250 g) of the confectioners’ sugar and continue whisking until the mixture is pourable.
  3. A fairly sturdy, thick glaze will give you the best visual result.
  4. If the mixture is too thick, add more lemon juice, a tablespoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.
  5. If the mixture is too thin, keep adding confectioners’ sugar, ¼ cup (25 g) at a time, until the desired consistency is reached; this will make the glaze sweeter, of course.
  6. Pour the glaze in large thick ribbons over the crown of the Bundt, allowing the glaze to spread
  7. and drip down the sides of the cake.
  8. Sprinkle the almonds over the glaze and allow the glaze to set (for about 20 minutes) before serving.
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