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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bolos do riso

This is a Simnel Cake - somewhat of a tradition in some churches - served on Lent IV.

I know. I know. Tomorrow is Lent III, but I didn't want you to have any excuse not to make one for next week, which is "Refreshment Sunday"

It is also known as "Latare Sunday" but never confused with Gaudete Sunday - which is Advent III.

It is sometimes called "Rose" or "Mothering" Sunday - probably because in the 16th century, people went to the nearest Cathedral or their "home" church (which was most likely the Cathedral) for worship. This is why, in some churches, the vestments are rose or pink in color.

It was also a time when women employed as domestics were given time off and one of the few times during the year that the entire family could be reunited to share a meal together.

My Portuguese grandmother made Simnel Cakes faithfully. Every year.

Except she called them "Bolos do riso" or "Laughter Cakes". And, they didn't look anything like the fancy-schmancy one pictured above.

Apparently, in the original British version, on the top of the cake and around the edge one is supposed to put eleven marzipan balls to represent the true disciples of Jesus. Judas is omitted, of course. In some variations Christ is also represented by a ball placed at the center.

When I was a small child, mia VaVoa made them like large muffins with two Very Thick gobs of butter frosting, in the shape of a cross, on top.

They looked sort of like an English "Hot Cross bun". She probably couldn't afford the marzipan to make all those little representative disciple balls. That's okay. Her frosting was absolutely to die for.

As more and more grandchildren came and I got older, she would make a huge, single layer cake and put the frosting on squares of it and then cut them into individual servings.

My memory is that they were much larger than the ones pictured here, and the frosting cross was much more generous, but then again, I was a small child, so I suppose I should adjust for age and size.

I mean, I remember snow storms where the snow was up to my waist. Now, I suppose, the snow would come up to my knee. Well, at least, that's the way it was this winter in New England.

"Laughter Cakes" were most appropriate on "Refreshment Sunday" because, as a young, Pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic, Lent was taken as seriously as a heart attack.

We fasted every Wednesday AND Friday - I mean, no solid food, just lots of juice and water, and lots of milk and sugar in our tea - and didn't break the fast until AFTER we had gone to church and said the Stations of the Cross. At four o'clock. Promptly.

I think I still might be able to say that liturgy in the original Portuguese from memory.

We moved around the darkened church, Father with his prayer book, reading to us of the various stations in Portuguese. As we processed from station to station, we sang the various verses of Stabat Mater Dolorosa. In Latin. Of course.

I can still remember the first verse:
Stabat Mater dolorosa
Iuxta crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat Filius

At the cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last
I thought it an unbearably sad hymn. It always made me weep - well, once I stopped giggling at all the old Portuguese ladies - "The Widows" - dressed all in black from head to toe, including the black scarf which they wore snugly around their head, tied in a large knot under their more than ample chins.

"The Widows" were also known as "The Wailers" to us kids - which they would start doing as soon as the procession started. Wailing, that is.

As kids, we joked that they were paid to wail. We figured they were as excited for the annual arrival of Lent as we were for Summer Vacation. We surmised that they made extra money every Wednesday and Friday in Lent in addition to being paid to wail at every funeral the church held.

They weren't of course. Paid, that is. We were bad. I know. Actually, we were just being kids trying to make the best of a Very Adult situation.

As we stopped at each station, one of "Father's Boys" would be dressed up in black cassock and cotta - two to hold the candles, one to hold the processional cross, veiled in black, and one to hold a flash light onto the image of the particular Station of the Cross which hung all year long on the walls around the church.

I hated those boys. I was sooOOoo jealous that THEY got to do it and girls weren't allowed. It made me angry and hateful, but since we knew there was nothing to be done about it, we just giggled at the "Widow Wailers" instead.

Now that I know what it probably meant for most boys to be "Father's Boys", I weep for them when I think on it.

'Round about the fourth or fifth week of Lent, we kids stopped rebelling against having to be in church THREE WHOLE TIMES a week during Lent. We were, by then, resigned to our fate and took hope in the knowledge that Lent was Almost Over.

I remember that, 'round about the sixth or seventh station of the cross, the drama of the story of the crucifixion finally began to sink in and I was completely caught up as the story unfolded, literally step by step. By that time, the unbearable sadness of the Stabat Mater Dolorosa would begin to hit me.

The notes of the ancient chant found a way into my soul and opened my heart to the suffering everyone endured - especially his mother.

So, by the time it was mid-week of Lent III, rolling right into the fourth Sunday in Lent - having not had ANY meat, not even so much as a hot dog  or even my mother's infamous "Hot Dog Stew" (but we were allowed chicken on Sunday). . . AND having given up candy for Lent. . . AND having done Stations of the Cross twice a week in addition to church every Sunday - I was ready for a little Bolos do riso. Any kind of 'riso'. You know what I mean?

We made the cakes on the Saturday before Lent IV. My grandmother and I would put the raisins to soak in the brandy - homemade by my grandfather - before going to bed Friday night. I was the oldest granddaughter, and we lived right upstairs, so I was allowed and nobody else was. Ha!

We would gather in her kitchen sometime on Saturday afternoon, after all the other Saturday chores had been done, including polishing our shoes and laundering our white gloves.

We would line up all the ingredients on the kitchen table - the older kids measuring the liquid ingredients, the younger ones allowed to measure the dry ingredients. One of us was assigned to greasing the pans, another to chopping the walnuts (which we first had to crack - usually with a hammer - and get the meaty walnut out before chopping).

And I, only I, was allowed to sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into the batter. Ha!

And my grandmother, only my grandmother, was allowed to pour in the hot applesauce. We all stood back when she did that, in a respectful silence which was tinged with a bit of awe saved only for sorcerers and magicians.

And, indeed, she did cook up laughter there in her kitchen. In the midst of the doldrums of Lent, she was making Bolos do riso - "Laughter Cakes".

Oh, but here's the special ingredient - the secret of "Laughter Cakes".

After every ingredient had been added and stirred, and before she poured the batter into the muffin tins or cake pans, she would gather us round the Very Large Mixing Bowl. And then, she would tell us not to worry. That Lent was a very sad time, but that soon, it would be Easter. Jesus would play a wonderful trick on Satan, and death would not kill him.

And, because death could no longer kill Jesus, death could no longer kill us. Because of Jesus, we would know eternal life in heaven where we would all someday be, once again.

She would tell us this and then say, "So, laugh, children. Laugh into the bowl. Laugh into the cake. Laugh at the Devil. He can't win. He can't ever win! Only Jesus can win. Only Jesus! Laugh! Laugh! Laugh!"

And, we would. Laugh. Loud. Right into the bowl. I swear people ten blocks away could hear us laugh.

It was the best part of making - and eating - that cake.

And yes, she would put the brandy my grandfather made in the cake AND the frosting.

Hmm . . . maybe that's also why she called them "Bolos do riso".

Nah, laughter was the special ingredient that "made" that cake - special for Refreshment Sunday.

Well, so, here's the recipe. Now you have no excuse to bring one to church for Coffee Hour next Sunday. Just remember to laugh into the batter. And, enjoy!
Bolos do riso (Simnel Cake)

1 ½ c. raisins
4 tbsp. (or so) Brandy
1 c. shortening
2 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 c. very fine flour (all purpose will do if you sift it)
2 tsp. Baking soda
2 ½ tsp. Cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ground Cloves
2 tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. Salt
1 ½ c. chopped walnuts
zest of one lemon (optional)
2 c. hot applesauce

Soak raisins in brandy overnight.

Mix together in a large bowl - shortening, sugar and eggs. Into that sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Add chopped walnuts and raisins with the brandy. Add 2 cups of applesauce while it is VERY HOT. Blend thoroughly. Add optional lemon zest. Pour batter into 8 ½ x 12" pan (greased and floured.) Bake at 350̊ For about 30 minutes (or until done).

When done, cool cake in pan 5 minutes - then remove to finish cooling on a cake rack. Frost generously with Butter frosting.

Butter Frosting
1/4 lb. (one stick) Butter
1 lb Confectioners Sugar (10-X)
about 3 tbsp heavy cream (or milk)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Blend together the butter and sugar. Add in the cream (or milk) and vanilla until smooth. Makes enough frosting for the cake above.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Your Simnel Cake looks yummy. I remember the Simnel Cake I had at St Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue at their catered coffee hour. I stood alone for a full 15 timed minutes, and no one spoke to me. Finally, I broke the ice and started a conversation with one of the parishioners.

Your VaVoa sounds like a wonder, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

How interesting that the same cake should bring such very different memories. My grandmother was a complicated woman with a simple faith.

DianeNM said...

Inspired to make this cake to share with my St. Thomas (of Canterbury) next Sunday. And, Mimi, visit will be greeted in 1.5 seconds and before you leave wish for 15 minutes of silence. Elizabeth, thanks so much for sharing this wonderful story from your life.

Tom Ryan said...

"Now that I know what it probably meant for most boys to be "Father's Boys", I weep for them when I think on it."

Come on, Reverend. Most boys? No, only a very small minority (although that does not detract from the horrific evil they've suffered, and continue to suffer).

It may be a small point to make, but it is only fair to do so given the vast majority of clergy have been unfairly impugned by the conduct of some of their depraved brothers.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

DianeNM - YAY. Hospitality is sorely lacking in so many churches. Let me know how your laughing cake turns out.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Tom - I meant that in the experience of my church context. Many of the boys in MY church were "Father's Boys" and most of those boys, I discovered YEARS later, were molested or raped. One man. Lots of boys. You do read the papers, don't you? You do know that HUNDREDS of boys were molested or raped by a small handful of clerics, right? And yes, I suppose in a church as large as the RC church, the percentage of boys who were raped and the men who raped them is small - but hardly insignificant.

I don't know if you're RC, Tom, but this essay wasn't about that. It was a stroll down memory lane, prompted by a date on the calendar and a recipe for cake.

Unfortunately, that's one of the memories that will forever pop up when I think of my early days in the church.

I'm sorry if the RC church is your church, and you feel a bit defensive. I understand and I'm sorry. I do not mean to tarnish its name. The RCC has done that all by itself. And now, my memories are also tarnished.

Frances said...

New Mexico is obviously "into" Simnel Cake -- visited at the Cathedral of St John today and they were promising it for next Sunday. And, yes, Diane -- I can attest that St Thomas is welcoming.

wv=try a mert

I'll try almost anything but what is a mert?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Frances - I'm so glad St. Thomas, NM is giving this tradition a whirl. After the second year, as is the tradition of The Episcopal Church, it will become a tradition that no one dares break. By the third year, everyone will say, "Oh, we've ALWAYS done it here." And, a whole legend will begin to arise.

A mert? I don't know. Let's make up a story and begin a tradition ;~)

gerry said...

Elizabeth... In Church, Only three times a week during Lent? I attended a primarily Irish American Parish in NE Pennsylvania in the "50s and early "60s.

I was also a student for 12 years in the schools associated with the parish.

During Lent every student attended the 8:00 AM Mass, M-F. If you were one of the acolytes assigned to serve at the 6:00 or 7:00 AM Mass, you still had to be in the pews with your classmates at 8:00 AM.

Everyone attended Stations of the Cross followed by Benediction after the last classes on Friday starting at 4:00 PM. I can remember being in Church either serving or in the pews for as many as 14 or 15 services during a week in Lent, Advent, October and May every year between 1952 and 1965.

I remember the Rose Sunday cakes, but never heard them called simnel cakes until 1986 when we attended an Episcopal Service in Huntington, PA.

Frances said...

I don't know who Frances is -- I signed in as always but I am susankay not Frances (my paternal grandmother -- is something going on here?)

susankay said...


susankay said...

now I seem to be myself, not my grandmother

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Gerry - You can always tell a true former RC - still competitive about church. LOL.

Sally said...

I'm RC and I think an argument can be made that, objectively speaking, the RC Church is disproportionately focused on when looking at the sex abuse scandal. There was a university study (Johns Hopkins, I think) which found that, proportionally, a child was more likely to be abused by ministers of various churches before they would be abused by a Catholic priest. I think the Southern Baptists were the worst offenders - it certainly wasn't a church you would have thought of. The study also pointed out a far more heartbreaking statistic - a child is more likely to be abused by a man within their own family, before they are likely to be abused by a Catholic priest. Yet if we take the hundreds of newspapers as an accurate barometer, child sexual abuse is a largely RC problem. We certainly don't have the level of exposure of sex abuse within families or, sadly, the same vocal calls for punishment, transparency, justice, action, etc. Why the hell not? Is it just easier to pretend sex abuse is the domain of a few pervert priests, but not of so called wholesome American dads? I despair about this mismatched response.

Really interesting blog by the way. Much enjoyed and appreciated.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susankay - How odd.

Lindy said...

Wow, that was a great story. And I learned a few things too. I had no idea about the cake!

Captcha: oven sags... because there are so many cakes in it?

Lapinbizarre said...

The tradition of mid-Lent Simnel cakes has survived in my home town from the middle ages, though by the 20th century, the 10,000 attendees (none of them "disorderly") recorded in the linked 1848 news-cutting, were a thing of the past.