Creative Corner: Baking in a new country

Overcoming cultural differences to learn how to bake

different stages of a cake with strawberries in it being baked (bowl of batter, in the oven, baked and decorated, etc.)
ILLUSTRATION: Sandra Cao / The Peak

By: Prerita Garg, SFU Student 

When I was eight years old, I moved to Canada from India. Everything felt new and foreign, but the one constant in my life these first few years after moving was my affinity for cakes. As a child, cakes were only available to me on special occasions, like birthdays. These cakes came in multiple flavours and always had flowery designs. Back in my country, I didn’t have an oven, so the process of baking was always unknown to me. Because of my interest in cakes, my mom watched a recipe on TV and tried to make me a cake in a pressure cooker. Her cake could not adhere to classic recipes because they required eggs. My family and I are Hindu, so due to our cultural preferences, we do not consume eggs or any meat products. Because of this, the cake turned out more like jelly instead of a typical fluffy cake. I decided that, no matter what, I would continue baking and succeed in making something that could be compared to a cake. 

Despite now having an oven available, I faced some initial struggles, as I had no prior knowledge on how to operate it. I relied on Google and YouTube tutorials to gradually learn the oven’s functions. While this facilitated the baking process, sourcing the correct ingredients posed a challenge due to unfamiliar names and having limited access to others. 

Finding vegetarian alternatives was hard for me, and the initial outcomes of my baking were distressing; some cakes did not rise, some were bitter, and some fell apart. I felt very wasteful since I often had to throw away some of my attempts, as they turned out burnt. Because of this, on most birthdays or celebrations, my family opted to buy cakes. However, I still was not demotivated. Over the years, I have continued to bake whenever an opportunity arises.  

Such an opportunity came on the occasion of my parents’ 23rd anniversary, almost eleven years after I had moved. So, I once again jumped into the process of baking. This time around, I wanted to do better — something that wasn’t just edible, but looked good too. I was recommended a video for an eggless cake by Bake with Shivesh, and out of the two options in the video, I chose to make a vanilla cake.

To make this cake, I followed the recipe, as it was already vegetarian and didn’t require any substitutes. Before I put my cake in the oven to bake, I realized I had some strawberries left in the fridge that would rot if they went unused. To save them and enhance the flavour of the cake, I washed, cut, and added them to the batter. Because of this, my previously-vanilla cake ended up having a touch of strawberry flavour, which would add to its sweetness later on. 

I baked the cake for 30 minutes, and I inserted a toothpick into the middle of the cake to check whether it was done. Thankfully, the toothpick came out clean. This cake was perfectly baked — there was no jelly to be seen here! Once the cake had finished cooling down, I sprinkled some sugar on it and added some cut up strawberries to enhance its look. It was not as artistic as any ready-made cake, but still looked good. Cutting into it revealed its dense and moist texture. Overall, it had turned out to be a success, except for the fact that it had stuck to the tin a little bit (my tip for the future would be to coat the tin better). 

I am extremely proud that I accomplished my cake-baking goal. After childhood memories of eagerly waiting for a special occasion to taste some cake, I was finally able to bake it myself. Over time, the process grew easier as more vegetarian options became available. Accomplishing this goal brought me a sense of fulfillment and boosted my self-confidence. The best part was that my parents were extremely pleased after eating it. I’m glad I didn’t let my first failure, all those years ago, stop me from trying out baking. 

Through all the trials and challenges, I have realized that my journey was not just about following a recipe, but much more than that. It was a journey of adaptation and creativity, and ultimately savouring the sweet taste of success. Nonetheless, I will continue to work on myself and hopefully, one day, I will gain proficient expertise in baking and icing a cake.

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