A list of ingredients including cauliflower, apple and desiccated coconut doesn’t immediately suggest cake. I was also more than dubious about the cauliflower. But I was feeling stressed, the writing Muse was not cooperating whichever unfinished story I stared at, and I needed a way to relax. So even though I had spent the morning reading about poisons, poisoners and the development of toxicology in Val McDermid’s very entertaining book Forensics, I decided to hit to the kitchen for a spot of baking.
And here’s my first attempt at Cauliflower and Apple Cake…
It turned out much tastier than I had expected. I’m not sure why the cauliflower was needed in the mix, but between the grated apple, mashed vegetable and desiccated coconut, I ended up with a lovely moist cake that had a pleasing bite and substance. I did leave out the raisins. I also thought the white chocolate buttercream that glued the layers of cake together and covered the top was unnecessary overkill. It made the finished product into something grander than plain cake, but the cake by itself was lovely enough to have with a cuppa and another chapter of McDermid’s book.
That’s because the best feature of this recipe, which is from award-winning patissier Will Torrent, is the cinnamon. I was quite lavish with my favourite spice and as a result the kitchen smelled lovely while the cake was baking. It got the thumbs up in the taste stakes from my other half, too – a reaction very different than that exhibited by the husband of Marie-Fortunee Lafarge.
He was promptly taken ill after eating the Christmas cake his wife sent him, though that fact might not necessarily reflect on the lady’s poor skills as a baker and more on her clumsiness as a poisoner. She even let a housemaid catch her stir arsenic into her sick husband’s eggnogg. Or maybe not.
It can’t be disputed that the husband died, but whether there was arsenic in his drink or not that could be and was disputed at length. According to McDermid, at the time when forensic toxicology was in its infancy, three different scientists performing the same test could all arrive at different results. So to secure a conviction that wouldn’t turn into a miscarriage of justice, you didn’t just need any toxicologist at your trial… you needed the right man to be on your team.
Mrs. Lafarge was sentenced to life in prison. Until she died, she denied having murdered her husband with arsenic. I think we’ll never know whether she did, indeed, kill him or not. All we can do is accept that we’re not perfect and keep learning and experimenting – whether it’s as scientists, crooks or bakers. And when something doesn’t come out the way we want it to, all we can do is try again.
This time around, I was lucky with the cake. I wasn’t so lucky with my story. One thing I learned from my day of cakes and poisons and very little writing is that just as there’s no perfect cake and no perfect crime there will also be flawed investigations. And stories that need to be re-written until they’re just right.