Pictured with my grandmother's hand-crocheted lace.
Teta, can you make a cake for me?
Yes, habibti, yes, my dear. Let's make cake. And into our kitchen we would go, where my grandmother would pull out eggs, oranges, flour, sugar, yogurt. With a little twinkle in her eye, she would tell me that brandy would make the cake delicious.
My mother learned how to make American-style cakes, chocolate cakes and yellow layer cakes, cakes that looked like bunnies and cakes that were frosted and sprinkled with coconut. My mother read English cookbooks, studied them, jotting down her notes in the margins in Arabic.
But my dear grandmother, my teta, who as far as I know never read a cookbook in her life, only knew how to make one cake: orange cake. Why can't you make another flavor, I would ask her. This is the cake I know how to make, she would tell me. She would pull out a bowl, a spoon, and a mug. A mug! No measuring spoons? No measuring cup?! She used a clear glass mug to measure out her flour, her oil, her sugar. And so she beat the egg whites, and stirred the yolks into the sugar and the yogurt. I watched in awe, wondering how she knew what to add, and how much to add, and would this cake really turn out? I kept watching, and waiting, and was gifted with witnessing the miracle: the cake baked, the heady fragrance of orange slowly blossomed in the kitchen until the cake swelled and browned, slightly crispy at the edges.
When I was fourteen years old, and in a full-fledged cooking and recipe-copying phase (hmmm), I asked my grandmother to make the cake again, only this time I wrote down everything that she did. In my still-childish handwriting, I carefully transcribed the recipe for my grandmother's "special orange cake." I told my sister, one day she will not be here. She will not be here to pour the juice and stir in a mug of flour. She will not be here, and we will want to eat this cake and remember.
Teta's Orange Chiffon Cake
2 1/4 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt
3 eggs, separated
1 1/ 2 c. sugar (or other natural sweetener)
3/4 c. oil (melted coconut oil is delicious here)
3 tbsp. yogurt
1 1/2 tsp. brandy (or more, to taste)
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
1. Preheat oven to 350 F, and grease and flour a cake pan, either a 9x13 pan or a Bundt pan.
2. In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt and set aside.
3. In another bowl, mix the wet ingredient: egg yolks, (place egg whites in a separate bowl), oil and sugar. Then add yogurt, orange zest, orange juice (strained), and brandy.
4. Make a well in the center of your dry ingredients, and add your wet ingredients. Beat until smooth.
5. In another bowl, beat egg whites until they form peaks. Fold into the cake batter.
6. Pour batter into your prepared cake pan and bake for 40-45 minutes (9x13 pan) or 45-50 min (Bundt pan). When golden brown and fragrant, and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, or with crumbs clinging, your cake is done.
7. Wait five minutes, and then, with a spatula or a knife, loosen edges of the cake gently and invert.
8. Serve as is, or dust with powdered sugar.
In memory of my dear teta, Hind Abuata.