Mohamad was starting to whip fresh cream in a donated stainless steal mixer when we arrived – a quart of heavy cream, nine spoons of sugar, and a pinch of vanilla whirring to form velvety white peaks. He had made the four layers of cake the day before – 1 1/2 lbs of flour, 1 lb of sugar, 30 eggs, baking powder, and absolutely no butter or oil. This is why Mohamad’s cakes were popular in Damascus, they were known for being light and spongy, without any oil or baking soda. I had tried his vanilla, cream, fresh fruit cake at a Syrian bazaar hosted by Mozaic in Washington DC a few months ago and knew it would be the perfect cake for my cousin’s birthday.
Mohamad worked in his small kitchen with precision, slicing strawberries, bananas, kiwi and pineapple; his wife Nadeen peeled, passed, and put away with efficiency. As Mohamad spread each layer of cream, I learned another layer of his story – he started working in a bakery in Damascus when he was 16; he’s the only baker in his family of mostly mechanics; he had his own bakery in Syria for over 10 years before it was likely destroyed in the war; his specialty was making Arabic ice cream and French pastries; his hope is to own a bakery again in the US. Mohamad and Nadeen fled Syria in 2012; there was no medicine for Nadeen who had had a kidney transplant, no school for their young son, and no work.
We enjoyed Mohamad’s cake last night after a community iftar my cousins and I hosted at our local mosque – the evening made sweeter by the thought that a baker from Damascus could perhaps taste the possibility of his dream.
Photo: George Kolotov
To support Mohamad and others like him, please donate to the nonprofit Mozaic who is helping refugees set up their businesses and connect them to clients: http://www.mozaicinc.org