What do you do when you’re a young mother who leaves everything to move across the country and start again in a new city? Well, you make cake, of course.
Gloria Titus moved from Washington, D.C., to Seattle because her then-husband got a job with Boeing. She had a baby at home and didn’t have family in the area or know many people nearby. It was winter and dreary as all get out when she spotted a recipe for a sunshine-colored fruitcake in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “This Christmas, Give Them Gold,” read the headline. Titus made the cake with dried fruits, nuts and a whisper of brandy. She dubbed it “Gold Cake.” It was a hit. She made it again the next year and the next year and the next year, every Christmas through five children, two more moves and a second marriage.
“I’ve been making this cake for more than 50 years,” said Titus, 82, who now lives in the Fisher’s Landing area of Vancouver.
When she moved to Seattle, Titus, a college graduate with a degree in psychology, had only been married a few years. She recalled that although people in the Pacific Northwest were supportive and helpful, it took a while to make friends because she was so occupied with child-rearing and never worked outside of her home. Instead, she took her creative energy into the kitchen and conquered the fine art of making delicious things to eat.
“I got into a lot of cooking. I took a Chinese cooking class and it just expanded from there,” Titus said.
So when she saw the fruitcake recipe in the paper, she confidently gave it a whirl.
“I have made that cake every year since I found it and fed it to my family and gave it away as gifts,” she said.
You might astutely point out that it’s hardly Christmastime and a fruitcake might seem wildly out of season. I say there is no time when fruitcake is inappropriate. In fact, the great advantage to making this cake in May is that you can practice making (and eating) the cake before the holidays. For example, this cake would be excellent with a pot of tea at your Mother’s Day brunch. The recipe makes three loaves, so it’s perfect for sharing and gift-giving. In fact, Titus herself recently baked a batch.
“Our community had a bake sale and I made it for the bake sale,” Titus said. “I sometimes make it in smaller loaves than the recipe calls for. I can use loaf pans that are 2½-by-5 inches, and I make either four or five of those, and then another one that’s 4-by-8 (inches). The small loaves, they take about an hour and 15 minutes max to bake.”
Titus’ legendary loaves shared a table with Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle’s famous apple pie, sold to lucky buyers as part of the Vista del Rio neighborhood’s fundraising event for two local families that it will help this coming Christmas. Titus sold her small loaves for $8 and the larger ones for $12. The golden cakes sold, well, like hotcakes — and helped the bake sale achieve its grand total of $1,400.
“The texture of the cake is almost like a pound cake,” Titus said. “You beat the egg whites and fold those in, so it’s not really a yellowy cake. It’s pale, creamy looking. That’s an important step, to beat the egg whites.”
There’s no other leavening agent in the cake besides those fluffy egg whites. They should be beaten until stiff peaks form — that is, until they’re smooth and a little shiny. When you remove the egg beater from the bowl, the eggs should form peaks that stand straight up. You should be able to turn the bowl over your head and the eggs won’t budge (or else you’ll get a conditioning egg treatment for your hair).
The cake takes a bit of work and the many dried fruits and nuts can be expensive. I used six different bowls in the process of making the cake — for the butter and sugar, flour and salt, dried fruit and nuts, milk and brandy, egg yolks and egg whites. Chopping the dried fruit takes time, as does mixing the batter, adding ingredients a little at a time. Finally, you must have patience with the egg whites. My arms ached just a little when it was all done and I wanted a cool drink of water. I imagined Titus vigorously stirring this dough in her kitchen every year for as long as I’ve been alive. I respect her fortitude because she did it all with five children.
It’s a recipe that’s tied the family together for decades. Titus said she wouldn’t even consider missing a year.
“My kids all make it now and give it to their families,” Titus said, whose grown children have migrated around the globe to England and south to Phoenix, where Titus lived for 45 years. (“Or at least four of them. I don’t know if my son makes it,” she quipped drily.)
Even though the cake is baked at a very low 275 degrees, she said that one of the reasons she only made it at Christmas is that it was too hot in Phoenix during the summer and the last thing she wanted was to make the house hotter by turning on the oven. However, spring and summer temperatures in Clark County make warm-weather baking more feasible.
Titus has never made any changes to the recipe, although she once substituted dried cherries for the candied orange peel to accommodate a friend’s allergies.
“I just like it the way it is,” Titus said. “Of course, it makes me think of Seattle where I first found it. We just enjoyed it so much. I don’t know how those things start. You just feel like you should do it and you do it. It’s tradition.”