It is stifling in my top-floor studio apartment. The nights have been airless, and a fan provides little relief. I turn restlessly in bed, unable to sleep.
When the ticking of the clock grows unbearable, the wait for slumber interminable, I get up and throw open the windows, hoping for an errant breeze. I turn on the light and pad over to the kitchen, pulling out mixing bowls and baking supplies.
In weather like this, I'll prepare the dough for a sweet yeasted cake. From kugelhopf to old-fashioned crumb cake, sweet yeasted cakes are commonly found in the German tradition. Many exist in modernized form as quickbreads with chemical leavening, but for midnight baking, the old ways are the best ways.
Mixing and kneading distracts me from the heat, soothing my mind enough to give sleep another chance, and the dough can be left in the fridge for a slow overnight rise, ready for baking in the cool hours of the early morning.
With cake for breakfast, the heat seems almost bearable.
Raspberry Almond Gooey Butter Cake
The original recipe for this cake was sent to me by Virgin, who has a deep and abiding love for sweet, buttery desserts. I couldn't resist the addition of raspberries and almonds, and I used golden syrup rather than corn syrup, because I don't keep the latter on hand.
(Makes one 9 x 13 pan, which is a lot of cake. Not for one unless you have a serious, serious sweet tooth.)
In a large measuring cup, combine three tablespoons of milk with two tablespoons of hot water to produce a mixture that is lukewarm. Add one-and-three-quarters of a teaspoon of active dry yeast. Set aside in a warm place to let the yeast develop (the mixture will foam a little.)
In a large mixing bowl, cream together three-quarters of a stick of softened butter with three tablespoons of white sugar and one teaspoon of salt. Beat in one large egg.
Add a quarter-cup of flour, and pour in a little of the milk mixture. Give everything a stir. Add another quarter-cup of flour, and pour in a little more of the milk mixture. Give everything a stir. Add one last quarter-cup of flour, for a total of three-quarters of a cup, and pour in the last of the milk mixture. Stir until you have a sticky dough.
Turn the dough out on a clean countertop. Knead for eight to ten minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Press the dough into a 9 x 13 baking pan. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place until doubled in size, about two hours. (Or, if you're doing this in the middle of the night and have decided you're tired enough to give sleep a second try, leave it in the fridge for six hours or so.)
Once the dough has doubled in size and you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F.
To make the topping, cream together one-and-a-half sticks of softened butter with one-and-a-half-cups of white sugar and one teaspoon of salt. Beat in one large egg, one-and-a-half teaspoons of vanilla, and one teaspoon of amaretto.
Stir in three overflowing tablespoons of golden syrup, followed by two tablespoons of warm water. Finally, work in one cup plus three tablespoons of flour, a quarter-cup at a time. The end result will be a thick, sticky batter.
To assemble the cake, start by scattering one cup of raspberries (fresh or frozen) over the dough in the pan. Dollop the filling over, and smooth it out. Sprinkle with a half-cup of toasted flaked almonds.
Bake for thirty-five to forty minutes, or until browned at the edges, but still liquid in the middle. Let the cake cool in the pan.
If your sweet tooth is truly insatiable, you can dust the cake with confectioner's sugar before serving.
Note: I suspect this cake might benefit from a minute or two under the broiler, just to caramelize the topping a little further. If you test this theory out, let me know how it goes.
The title of this entry comes from the following poem by Denis Johnson, from the collection "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly: Poems Collected and New." This is the poem I think of when summer turns sticky and stifling.
Here in the electric dusk your naked lover
tips the glass high and the ice cubes fall against her teeth.
It's beautiful Susan, her hair sticky with gin,
Our Lady of the Wet Glass-Rings on the Album Cover,
streaming with hatred in the heat
as the record falls and the snake-band chords begin
to break like terrible news from the Rolling Stones,
and such a last light -- full of spheres and zones.
you're just an erotic hallucination,
just so much feverishly produced kazoo music,
are you serious? -- this large oven
this exhaustion mutilated to resemble passion,
the bogus moon of tenderness and magic,
you hold out to each prisoner like a cup of light?