A froth of meringue like a debutante's gown, a drift of whipped cream like pristine snow, peaks drooping elegantly like weeping damsels. Snow angels, portrait in white on white.
Flour, white purity. Flour sifted onto a wooden board, a surface scarred and warped with time and use, brown rubbed to white. A shower of white. A round of dough cool and damp plops into a puddle of flour, a poof of white. Two white handprints on the back of my skirt.
I placed the bowl of pumpkin soup in front of him and it was as if a lightbulb went off in his head. He jumped up, yanked open the refrigerator and grabbed the packet of butter. He peeled back the foil, shiny gold and blue, encasing the sweet butter the pale yellow of baby chicks and sliced through the chilled block.
"When I used to stay at my grandmother's house over school vacations" he began as a thin slice of butter slid into the thick orange soup, cold melting into hot, "we used to do this. The butter was fresh and white, so absolutely white! And it smelled fresh… insanely fresh!" He contemplated the puddle of butter against the surface of the soup. "It wasn't like this. It was delivered straight to my grandmother's door from the farm right outside the village. Pure white creamery butter wrapped in white paper. A tiny little lady would come and deliver it. My grandmother always called her "my cousin - ma cousine."
Fresh white butter. And visions of the salty, yellow sticks of butter of my youth; the discovery of white, sweet butter at my aunt's. I never knew butter could be so white. New York butter. Farm fresh French butter. White.
And thoughts of my mother-in-law making cheese in the family shop. Fresh milk, as white as white, fresh cheese wrapped tightly in powdery white muslin dripping white.
Pasta in bianco. Riso in bianco.
Plain pasta, plain rice, the two pillars of my young son's diet. Pasta in bianco. Riso in bianco. White pasta, white rice. Unadorned, no red on white, no green against white, not thick, tangy tomato sauce, not salty pesto heady with fresh summer basil. White. Add to that a just-grilled slab of swordfish, his favorite, seared to cook no darker than white. Tiny little mozzarella balls, ciliegine, the size of large marbles, the color of snow, cream, polar bears, stars.
The World in Black and White
Black and White cookies were our special treat each visit up north, New York and family. We would stop at the first bakery we found and each get one, or Sunday morning bagel run meant slipping a Black and White for each child into a brown paper bag. White cookie with a faraway hint of lemon, white icing, black icing, half and half. I would always eat the side with the white icing first, icing tasting of nothing more than sugar. I would reserve the black side, the dark side, the chocolate icing for later, to be eaten, to be relished in private.
The bride wore white but not only. Virtuous white cut with blue symbolizing peace and unity, purple symbolizing magic and mystery. A marriage of color.
Two cakes, not one, graced the table, embodied the union. Devil's Food Cake, dark and dense, wickedly gooey, mischievous. Black as sin. Devil's Food Cake slathered with buttercream drunken with cognac, messy and slippery in the noonday sun.
Angel Food Cake, light and ethereal as angels' wings, a feather gently brushed across a cheek. White as innocence. Angel Food Cake upright and tall, the whites of eggs whipped and whipped to elegant glossy crests, handled ever-so delicately, ever-so tenderly, like a bride on her wedding night. Folded into powder-white flour and icing sugar, lightness, fragility.
A white cake for the day, its immaculate perfection, its milky whiteness only broken by the blue, by the purple, of the wild berry coulis. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries crushed and stewed until the color of her corset, of her shoes. Innocence and purity, peace and unity, magic and mystery.
My brother Michael was a fabulously talented cook and baker, even when we were mere teens. This cake was a special treat and I still have fond memories of slicing into it with a serrated bread knife and enjoying spongy, light mouthfuls. The only thing I have left is a recipe card on which he penned the recipe. I baked to serve this at my own wedding lunch.
JAMIE'S ANGEL FOOD CAKE
1 cup flour (cake flour, if you have)
3/4 cup confectioner's/powdered sugar
10 egg whites (should come to about 1 1/4 liquid cups) at room temperature
1 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (if you don't have, stabilize the whites with a few drops lemon juice)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract, optional
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C)
Sift together the flour and confectioner's/powdered sugar, sift again 3 or 4 times total.
Beat the whites, cream of tartar/lemon juice, the salt and the vanilla/almond extracts until foamy then continue beating as you gradually beat in the granulated sugar until stiff peaks hold. Fold in the flour/sugar mixture in four additions.
Mound into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake 30 - 40 minutes (depending upon your oven) until set and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool inverted.
Michael always drizzled chocolate glaze on top, allowing it to drip down the sides of the white cake.