Do you remember ‘the Twinkie Defence’? This was the story of some mad bastard who ran into the mayor of San Francisco’s office many years ago and shot several people to death, including Hizzonor. The Californian police, failing for once to shoot the ‘alleged perpetrator of this heinous and unprovoked attack', carted him off to clink where, no doubt, he was treated to ‘advanced interrogation techniques’. All correctly administrated and in the nicest possible way.
Well, the pesky defence lawyers got hold of him and discovered that he had ingested a couple of cup cakes before bursting through the doors of City Hall. Their defence was based on this simple meal – the sugar in the cup cakes (or ‘Twinkies’ as the Americans call them) had gone to his head.
Imagine what he might have done if he had eaten an entire box of them.
Here in Spain, cakes are to be seen and admired, but never, ever eaten. They vary from the ones made out of (some white stuff that looks like) confectioner’s cream, with sugar added, some extra squirty stuff from a can, some more sugar, and some sugar. The better ones have a glass of sticky rum splashed over them to make them scrumptious (I’m beginning to sound like the Sol Times). No, I’m kidding. They’re horrible.
We had to buy one the other day for a child’s birthday. ‘Hapy Birhtday to Jonhathon’ was lovingly picked out in vermillion paste across the top of this monster. Luckily Jonhathon isn’t much of a reader and failed to notice the errata. He nevertheless picked up a valuable lesson after finishing his second piece of the confection.
Always sit near the door.
At home, we disagree about cakes. I like a fruit cake prepared several months before, stuffed with cherries and whatever else it is they put in those things and covered with marzipan and icing; while my wife prefers something dry and chocolaty with a wisp of sickly ‘frosting’ dabbed on top. She’s American of course.
But the Andalucians. OMG. The best place to start with local cakes is at the Bédar fiesta where you can admire a range of er, sweet things usually covered in enthusiastic if incautious wasps. These marvels of the cakemakers' art are usually designed more for show than for tell. They will be old, hard and stuffed with ‘angel hair’, also known as sugared pumpkin mush. The icing will remind the gourmet of the stuff the Turre barber uses after finishing your haircut – sets like cement, crackly at first but later turning into powder. The entire cake, built to both look good and to last, should never be eaten on an empty stomach.
There is a local version of a Christmas cake; it’s made with bread-flower and small chewy bits which turn out to be chicharrón – pig’s crackling. These are mixed in with some other bits of angelica and other dried fruit. Which leads to a question for the ‘Ask the Reader’ page. What does fresh angelica look like? The Christmas cakes also follow the dangerous British custom with the sixpence by putting a small metal virgin somewhere in the mix. A fashion no doubt invented by dentists.
Andalucía, under the control of the Moors for many centuries, enjoys something a bit heavier than a sponge cake covered with silver crunchy things. The usual fillings (which in Morocco or the Middle East can be quite delicious) include dates, nuts, dried fruit and lashings of honey. One of those babies and the Twinkie Murderer would have settled for a good sleep.
But the most likely place to find a cake is with one’s breakfast. We have ‘Napolitanos’ which are buns filled (or rather ‘spray-painted’) with ‘cream’ or ‘chocolate’. They vary from warm and good to dry, old and rancid. You can dip them in your coffee – sometimes, indeed, you are obliged to. The most popular bun is the ‘Madalena’ which is a simple and rather tasteless sponge scone. Well, spongy anyway. It comes in a plastic sack. The ‘Cruasán’ is the Spanish croissant, made with pork fat rather than butter. Not very good as a rule, especially when it’s been on the cake-shelf for a couple of days. There are a few brand-name cakes in plastic packets, chocolate Swiss-roll types of things, including an frightening looking pink one called a ‘Pantera Rosa’ which I both imagine and hope is banned in the Greater San Francisco area. Lastly, the ever-popular and industrial doughnut, the ‘Donut’, which comes in assorted flavours and a truly alarming collection of chemicals, food additives, colourings, flavourings, preservatives and conservatives. Personally, I love ‘em.
As our area has enthusiastically grasped the nettle of the Twenty-first Century, where you can no longer find a simple salad on the menu, or pig n’ chips without an endless complication of sauce and adornment (I had slices of strawberry surrounding my lamb chops the other evening in a Mojácar hostelry), so, too, our coffee shops have improved in the cake department. We have Italian, French and British cakes, scones, pies and doughnuts which are a far cry from the Bédar fiestas. Places where these are served are usually heavily patrolled by diabetic sparrows, anxious to die at an early age in a blissful sugar-rush.
Many alcoholics, when they give up the demon drink, are said to turn to sweets. Cakes, ice cream (delicious in Spain), chocolates and sticky things in plastic cups. I wonder if they have an effect. Did George Bush turn from booze to Twinkies – and was the War on Terror the unhappy result?