No, I do not weep at the world. I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife. -Zora Neale Hurston (“How it Feels to Be Colored Me“)
Yesterday, in tiny Newark, Delaware, I stood amongst my fellow brothers and sisters and marched, not just for women, but for a whole range of issues: LGBTQ rights, the Affordable Care Act, the rights of the disabled, for women’s reproductive health, the importance of facts (not alternative facts, which, as Chuck Todd rightly pointed out, are falsehoods), and for peace and education and love. The event, though called a “Women’s March,” was as inclusive as they come. Though it was a cold, grey and drizzly day, over a thousand people–women, men, babies, children, teenagers, elderly people walking with canes and some even being pushed in wheelchairs–came out to be heard and to participate in a symbolic act of protest and resistance. I am not as stoic as the Zoras of the world because, seeing all these people, reading their signs, understanding their fear, made me, little old stoic me, want to weep, even as I was surrounded by messages and chants of hope. 

I realize that conservatives think that all liberals are unpatriotic and whiny babies (this insult, in fact, was recently hurled at my aunt on Facebook, but in much cruder terms), who just can’t come to terms with the results of the election that favored their candidate, but let’s be frank here: if Hillary Clinton had won, and it had come out that the Russians had supported her as “their” candidate, there would have been a conservative uprising that would have put the beginnings of the Tea Party to shame. We should, as Americans, all be concerned when the Russians meddle in the outcome of democracy, as well as when nominees chosen to run the Department of Education don’t know what the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is, when Republican leadership is not only voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), which some believe to have originated with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, but are also voting to make things like pregnancy again qualify as a preexisting condition. If they were being honest with themselves and with women, they would reframe the law to say that to be a woman is a preexisting condition. This is why women came out in droves yesterday (as Aziz Ansari said on Saturday Night Live, “Yesterday, Trump was inaugurated. Today, an entire gender protested against him. Wow.”) and why I, a person who usually fears political protests as I don’t like crowds and their unpredictability, also felt I needed to take a stand–even if it was purely symbolic and I have yet to understand how all of that anger, goodwill and hope can be harnessed into something tangible. 

And while I know that blog posts that veer into politics can be divisive and drive readers away, there are things that have to be said. I don’t believe that, in a country that supposedly values free speech, these conversations should be brushed under a rug. Nor do I believe that the average Trump voter is a racist or inherently sexist or stupid. I come from coal-mining country in southwestern Pennsylvania, an area that was as red as the electoral map can be. I know that there are real problems in these parts of the world, real concerns propelling voters to the polls–that people are hurting economically, that opioid abuse is on the rise, that towns that once had signs of life are now nothing more than ghost towns (Brownsville, Pennsylvania, I’m looking at you and the hopelessness–and the anger and hatred that this hopelessness wrought–of some of your residents. The Washington Post wrote about a Trump supporter in Brownsville back in October and, as it turned out, my mother had known her in high school). I can see why they might be attracted to a campaign slogan that invokes nostalgia and the promise of American greatness. 

But I also believe that this election was fraudulent, one of the biggest cons in American history, and that there are people in this country who are fooled into voting against their own interests. Welfare doesn’t have to be demonized, nor should the wealthy or middle class care if a person with less than them decides to buy a can of pop (or soda, depending on where you are from) with food stamps. Women’s healthcare and reproductive decisions shouldn’t be dictated by men, nor should organizations that provide cheap mammograms and pelvic exams to women be considered agents of evil. People who look, think and worship differently from you are not the enemy, nor should they be perceived as such. I don’t agree with the average Trump voter or with many of Trump’s planned policies, but if he were to practice a kind of Rockefeller Republicanism and improve some of America’s infrastructure, I would applaud him. Similarly, if he were to bring back jobs and give the Rust Belt an economic jolt, I would think this was a job well done. But none of this should be done at the expense of going backwards. It is not heartening to see, on Trump’s first day in the White House, that the administration had taken down the pages devoted to LGBT rights and climate change. 
 Marching was not my only act of resistance this week, though it was by far the most effective avenue I could think to pursue at this juncture. My more quiet act of resistance this week involved my going into the kitchen and baking a cake, which in and of itself is hardly a rare or noteworthy occasion. But it wasn’t any cake, it was a Watergate Cake with Impeachment Frosting, a throwback to the 1970s and the age of Nixon; the recipe, which comes from Julie Richardson’s inspired collection, Vintage Cakes,  is described as becoming popular “sometime after 1975, the year Kraft Foods developed pistachio pudding mix, and a time when cake mix cakes were at their peak of popularity.” Richardson recreated the recipe, making everything–the pudding and the cake–from scratch, which means that, as far as recipes go, this is a time-consuming enterprise. But, given the occasion of Trump’s inauguration, my love of all pistachio desserts and the fact that today is the official one year anniversary of the Greek’s and my civil union, it seemed worth it–and not just because it serves as a reminder that good things take time to build. To me, it also serves as a symbol that people are watching and waiting; we will give him a chance, but, if need be, he will, just as past presidents have been, be held accountable for his actions (keep in mind that I don’t want him to fail because, as Obama said, if he fails, then America fails but, just in case he does, we are ready to pounce). This election, if nothing else, has made watchdogs of us all, and we might as well eat cake–one as wildly nutty as our new president (whether consciously or unconsciously, I also personalized this cake with some orange zest in the batter and orange blossom water in the frosting)–while doing it. 

Watergate Cake with Impeachment Frosting (Pistachio Cake with Pistachio Frosting)

Adapted from Julie Richardson’s Vintage Cakes
Serves 8-12

Richardson’s recipe calls for four essential steps: the first, making the pudding; the second, making three eight-inch cakes; the third, making the frosting; and, the fourth, caramelizing pistachios. I will confess that I ran out of steam after the third step and decided to abandon the caramelized pistachios in favor of plain old roughly chopped pistachios.
      I made some other changes, substituting turbinado (raw cane sugar) for half of the granulated sugar the pudding recipe called for, as well lightening it by using whole milk instead of half and half.
      I also decided, as I mentioned above, to add the zest of one navel orange to the cake batter and a teaspoon of orange blossom water (a nod to the flavors of the Middle East). To continue with this theme, I almost sprinkled pomegranate arils on top of the cake, but decided not to add another flavor that would compete with the pistachio and orange.

For the pistachio pudding: 

1 cup (5 ounces) shelled unsalted pistachios
1/3 cup turbinado sugar
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, grind the pistachios with the turbinado sugar until finely ground. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and ground pistachio mixture until hot, but not boiling.

While the milk mixture is heating, whisk together the remaining sugar, egg yolks and salt in a small bowl. Whisk in the cornstarch, then slowly add about one third of the hot pistachio cream, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and gently cook, whisking often, over medium-low heat until the mixture comes to a boil and begins to thicken. Strain the mixture through a medium-mesh sieve into a shallow bowl (N.B. If you have only a fine-mesh sieve, as I do, you can use this instead and scoop the nuts back into the pudding.). Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding and refrigerate until cool (for at least a few hours).

This recipe makes about 2 cups of pudding–just enough for the cake.

For the cakes: 

2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (4 ounces/1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
zest of one navel orange
1/3 cup canola or other flavorless oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk

Grease three eight-inch cake pans and line their bottoms with parchment paper. Center the oven rack and preheat to 350.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Measure out one scant cup of pistachio pudding and set aside until ready to use.

Measure out the sugar and add the orange zest, rubbing it in with your fingers to release the oils. Let sit for a few minutes. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and orange-scented sugar on low speed until well blended. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the oil and the vanilla; let the mixer run until combined, then turn the mixer speed up to medium-high and beat until fluffy, or for about 5 minutes, stopping the mixer a few times to scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Again with the mixer on low speed, add the eggs one at a time, waiting until each egg has been fully incorporated before adding the next one. Add the flour mixture in three parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and alternating with the milk, which should be added in two parts. After each addition of dry and wet ingredients, mix until barely blended and make sure to scrape down the sides. When adding the last of the dry ingredients, stop the mixer before the flour has been fully incorporated. Add the cup of pistachio pudding and fold both it and the visible flour into the batter.

Divide the batter evenly into the prepared pans (N.B. Richardson’s recipe said there should be approximately 1 pound per pan, but I got only .93-.94 pounds per cake pan; maybe this difference stemmed from the use of whole milk instead of half and half in the pudding?) and smooth the tops. Place on the centered oven rack and bake for 20-24 minutes or until the cakes are golden and spring back when touched (you can also use a toothpick to test if the cake is done).

Cool the cakes in their pans on a rack for 30 minutes, then invert the cakes on the rack and turn them so they are top side up. Continue to cool until they reach room temperature (if waiting until the next day to assemble the cakes, wrap the cakes in plastic wrap and set aside).

For the Impeachment Frosting, aka Pistachio Cream

1 cup (8 ounces) heavy cream
1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange blossom water

Place the bowl of a stand mixer (or a regular mixing bowl) in the freezer or refrigerator for 5-10 minutes to chill.

Measure out 1 cup of the pistachio pudding and add it to a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.

Place the cream, mascarpone, sugar, vanilla extract and orange blossom water into the chilled bowl and mix on low speed until it has come together. Then, turn the mixer up to high and whip until firm peaks have just begun to form (N.B. Richardson notes that this should be done carefully, as mascarpone will become grainy if it is overwhipped.). Gently fold about one third of the mascarpone cream into the pistachio pudding; continue to fold the cream into the pudding mixture in thirds until fully combined and no longer streaky.

To assemble the cake:

1/3 cup pistachios, roughly chopped

Remove the parchment from the cake layers and lay one of the cakes on a serving plate or cake stand, top side up. Place a few strips of parchment paper under the cake to prevent the serving plate or stand from getting messy.

Spoon a cup of pistachio cream over the cake, using an offset spatula to spread it in an even layer. Set the next cake layer on top, again top side up, and repeat the process, using an offset spatula to spread the icing across the cake. Finish with the top third layer of cake (top side up) and spread another cup of frosting over the top of the cake. As I (inexplicably) had extra frosting, I decided to cover the whole cake, spreading frosting around the cake’s border, making soft pleats over the cake with the offset spatula.

Sprinkle the cake with the chopped pistachios and, if not serving immediately, refrigerate the cake (because of the pistachio cream). Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least an hour before serving it.

2 thoughts on “The (Baker’s) Resistance and Watergate Cake

  1. A M E N! I want to print this whole post out and hang it on a flag outside my house. So well considered and well written. And obviously, this is the cake for me. Pistachios forever! And I chuckled heartily at your orange additions:) Happy anniversary to you!!! With great love from Seattle:)

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