Cherie Pyne’s Black Tide Molasses Spice Cake

Andreae Prozesky and musician Cherie Pyne bake a rock and roll cake.

It’s not every day that the Food Nerd Laboratory hosts guests. Most of my cooking and baking is done in a solitary, puttery kind of way, without much conversation. Sometimes my daughter joins me for a chat, but we spend so much time together it’s not really conversation so much as well-practiced verbal choreography.

So when singer-songwriter Cherie Pyne e-mailed me with a recipe for molasses spice cake and the suggestion of a baking-date-slash-new-cd-listening-party, I could hardly refuse. What? A chance to talk rock and roll, nutrition, and feminist politics with someone I admire, all while whipping up a cake? That’s my kind of afternoon.

Cherie’s new album, La Marée Noire, which you’ll find under her stage name, Slippery Rabbits, at Fred’s, is all about the darker side of things, about the words and feelings that get suppressed in response to nasty vibes from the larger world. The phrase “marée noire” means, literally, “black tide.” It usually refers to an oil spill, but for Cherie it’s about other kinds of spilling over. She calls it “a personal blurt.”

She encountered the phrase in a French-language newspaper. The headline, about a petroleum-leaking disaster, was accompanied by a photo of a small, oil-covered duck paddling about in the slick, black water. She says the image triggered something in her, and brought to mind all the suffocating pressures of society, all the things you’re not allowed to say.

“It’s not the duck’s fault,” she says. “And I related, in a weird way, to this little duck covered in oil.”

Cherie’s 2006 move from St. John’s to Montreal was, in part, motivated by responses in the St. John’s rock scene to her political outspokenness, especially on feminist issues. It was something she found stifling.

“If I wanted to say something outright feminist, I couldn’t, because so-and-so would think I’m a bitch,” she says.

Hence, also, the switch from her daily-life name to Slippery Rabbits as a performing and recording handle, something that she has found freeing.

But what’s all this got to do with baking a cake, you say?

In her e-mail to me, Cherie referred to “looking at molasses pouring out as I was making a delicious, healthy molasses cake.” It was a whole new kind of black tide! The recipe she was using at the time was given to her by a woman named Supriya, a friend from California who follows a serious yoga-based lifestyle, and dedicates her days to compassion and self-discipline.

Cherie calls the cake “very womany,” and, at risk of going all essentialist, I can see what she’s getting at. It’s dark and not too sweet, with an intriguing blend of spices (I wouldn’t have thought to include mustard, but it works). It’s egg- and dairy-free, for the hardcore vegan crew. It’s sweet enough for dessert, and virtuous enough for breakfast. When we made it I only had regular molasses on hand, but Cherie uses blackstrap, which has loads of iron. A lot of women are deficient in iron—especially those vegetarian types—so blackstrap molasses is a welcome addition to any recipe.

This cake recipe is also surprisingly uncomplicated (and here’s where the gender comparison ends). You can lazily stir it together while, say, listening to a great new CD, periodically checking on a four-year-old in the next room, and talking about a) the disappearance of feminist dialogue and criticism since the 1980s, b) the intensity and joy of natural childbirth, c) women’s health issues that go completely unstudied by the medical mainstream, d) the grammatical complications of gender identity, and e) having people think you’re a bitch, among other topics.

It’s a very warming cake, something that suits fall and winter in the rest of the country, but which is perfectly welcome on a cool, late-summer day here in St. John’s, where time and weather don’t always correspond to what’s going on everywhere else, as you already know.

When trying to prove the deliciousness of any health-promoting recipe, I turn to my daughter. If she can scarf down three pieces of a practically sugarless, whole grain cake, then surely the masses will like it. For what it’s worth, she’s digging Cherie’s new album, too, especially the triumphant “ba-ba-ba, ba-da-da” resolution on “The Baby, The Blender, And The Wedding Ring.” A child can do worse than being raised on a steady diet of wholesome food, feminist politics and rock and roll. In fact, these are three things from which every one of us can benefit.

The official St. John’s CD release happens Thursday, August 28 at The Ship, with special guests The Domestics. Show time is 10pm, which gives you plenty of time to go home and bake a cake first.
You can listen to tracks from La Marée Noire online at myspace.com/cheriepyne

Gâteau à la mélasse et aux épices « la marée noire »
(Black Tide Molasses Spice Cake)

2 cups whole grain flour (we used spelt)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup molasses (fancy is fine, blackstrap is less sweet but full of iron)
1 cup hot water
1 tablespoon vinegar

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch square cake pan well, or line it with parchment paper. Be warned: the molasses tends to make the cake a little stick-to-the-pan-ish.

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

In another bowl, stir wet ingredients together until homogenous.

Add wet ingredients to dry mixture and stir thoroughly. Batter will be fairly thin and a bit bubbly from the baking soda and vinegar reacting to one another. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes, checking frequently during the last ten minutes, as molasses can easily scorch.

Serve warm or at room temperature. It is delicious plain, but you can top it with whipped cream, ice cream or yogurt if you like.

Send your questions, comments, and good tidings to dreae@thescope.ca

One comment

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  1. Leisha · October 22, 2009

    Mmmm Dreae!! This was absolutely my favorite column of yours ever, and all your beautiful talk of discussion and symbolism and feminism and molasses made this the perfect cake to make on Labour Day. A very celebratory cake, it ended up celebrated Labour Day, the first day of September, my anniversary of arrival to St. John’s some years back, and some wonderful happenings in my friends’ lives. A very woman-y cake, it was served with love to some wonderful women in my life!! Thanks!!

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