It’s quiet outside. The cold seems to have settled and decided to chill everyone into what seems to be a predestined order. Everyone walks quickly, with precision, moving to a singular point of destination and with every step only takes up as much space and energy as needed making the brisk space outside more vast, more empty. A winter void of sorts that sits in perfect control of all things.
We don’t really have this sort of winter here in Sacramento. There’s chilly air that smells, even tastes, like Tahoe air; air that inexplicably will bring ice in the middle of the night. Days where you wake up icy-blue skies that leave no evidence that there were clouds except for the snow on the ground. The air is so crisp you could bite into into it like an apple and expect it to have the same juicy snap.
Oh yes, the snow. We don’t get snow in Sacramento. Until, suddenly, we do.
It snowed in Davis once, nine years ago, back when I was new to Northern California. I was living in the dorms and suddenly people were pounding on my door telling me to wake up at 5 a.m. After some obligatory swearing I looked outside to see nothing but white. Minutes later I was in my best winter clothes (a heavy sweater and jeans as I had no snow gear, why would I?) and was outside making snow angles and stocking up snow balls that I would use to rouse the people still in bed who refused to come out and play. Still, it was only an inch and by 8 a.m. it was well on the way to melted.
This recent snow has piled high. Frozen pipes. Knocked down power lines. Closed schools to the overwhelming joy of children only for them to learn what shoveling the walk really means. (Lucky for me I avoided this lesson growing up near the beach.) Five miles away people are trapped indoors. My neighborhood has a bit of frozen water on the sidewalk. The worst I’ve suffered is waiting ten minutes for the frozen water to thaw off my windshield and a sore ass after taking a dive on some black ice in the parking lot at work.
Still, this cold, this chill so uncharacteristic to Sacramento, a white phantom descending onto the town overnight, is taking a toll. I was raised in Southern California. I’m not used to 26 degrees Fahrenheit. (I can hear many readers scoffing at 26F.) I’m inside and bundled and baking for warmth, both inside and outside. One thing to say for my ancient oven, it heats the place but nicely. What comes out of it though is even better, for with heat comes the sweet smell of cake.
I decided to bake up a simple loaf cake using whatever I had sitting around which, admittedly, wasn't much. I found some leftover sweet potatoes that had been roasted and pureed the night before and decided to base the cake off this. Winter vegetables for a winter cake to battle the winter cold; a reasonable start to a reasonable cake. Staying within the season I decided to toss in a heap of maple syrup to add some richness and sweetness.
The resulting cake is sweet, sticky, and dense. A rich maple colored body with a self-lacquered crust. Cake that's delightful when smeared with butter and served with over-steeped black tea. While delicious when warm out of the oven, the flavors develop the longer it sits making it better the next day.
Maple Sweet Potato Cake
This cake is easy to throw together, especially if you have a can of sweet potato puree. Use Grade B maple syrup if you can as its flavor is much stronger. A dark Grade A will work in a pinch as well.
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of pureed sweet potatoes
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of maple syrup (Grade B, preferably)
1 tablespoon of water
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan by spraying it with baking spray or lightly buttering and flouring it.
2. Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and sugars. Set aside.
3. Whisk together the sweet potatoe puree, olive oil, eggs, maple syrup, and water. Mix in the flour mixture.
4. Pour into the prepared baking pan and bake for 60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out of the center clean. Turn out of pan and cool on a wire rack.