Shortly after Jackson turned eight months old, I quit my job. I told my boss on a Monday during a clipped and uneventful conversation, and by 2pm I found myself standing alone in our house on a summer afternoon. My mom had Jack. Nate was at work. The dog panted in the corner.
Not knowing what else to do, I got into the shower. In my befuddled state I neglected to flick on the lights, and I welcomed the shade and the cold tile with gratitude. I stood under the cool water, willing myself away from the black hole of panic that threatened to consume me. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, it’s a sticky time for women to choose to stay at home. With the memory of Hillary’s loss still burning in my mind, I wondered what kind of example I would be for our son if I “just” stayed home. I turned my focus to the sensation of the cold water on my face and repeated our reasons back to myself, one by one, like mantras. Our life would be simpler. I would have more time to write and cook. I could go back to freelance projects. Maybe write that book I always talked about. They were all good reasons, but I only needed one: Jackson.
Feeling somewhat assuaged, I stepped out and dressed, then into the kitchen to look for something to do. There were apricots on the counter, fragrant and tinged with pink, and I thought about how lovely they would be in a cake. I set about creaming butter with sugar and slicing fruit. There was a bit of almond paste in the fridge and I threw that in too. By the time the cake came out of the oven I was in high spirits and took the dog for a walk while it cooled. When we returned, I sat down at the table by myself and ate two slices, dusted with confectioners sugar and washed down with cold iced tea. Slowly, the fear began to melt away and for the first time I allowed myself to feel excited. For a brief moment I was a kid again on the last day of school before summer vacation. The smell of the freshly baked apricot cake in the kitchen on that warm afternoon was blissful, and I decided if this scent was what my kids remembered me by, then that might be just fine.
APRICOT AND ALMOND CAKE/ makes one 9" round cake
If you can't find apricots, you could easily use another stone fruit or cherries, perhaps. Blackberries would also be nice. Personally, I think the combination of apricot and almond is a match made in pastry heaven and it's worth trying to make it as is.
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, plus extra for lining
1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup almond paste
1/3 cup granulated sugar
scant 2/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup whole milk, room temperature
5-6 apricots, sliced 3/8 inch thick and tossed with a few tablespoons of sugar
confectioners sugar, for serving
Preheat your oven to 350F. Butter a 9" round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the paper as well. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
Combine the butter and almond paste until nearly smooth. Add the sugars and cream until fluffy and light. Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Add the dries in two or three parts, alternating with the milk. Beat until fully combined but take care not to overmix.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and arrange the apricots on top in a pretty rosette pattern. Bake until golden brown and the top springs back slightly when touched, about 50 minutes.
Allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes or so and then, with great care, turn out to a wire rack to continue cooling. Dust with confectioners sugar just before serving.