A Recipe for Almond Cake. Why is This Recipe so Special?
A delicious recipe from the film Sugar Times. Recipes from the big screen – Spanish and Latin American Cuisine (Part 2).
A tempting recipe for an Almond Cake is beautifully described at the beginning of the film Tiempos de azúcar, Sugar Times, a 2001 Spanish film directed by Juan Luís Iborra. Following a Spanish recipe is another opportunity to use the Spanish language in your everyday life; and why not learn Spanish whilst cooking?
The film begins with Miguel, a 7 year-old boy, writing in a book, nestled in the cosy setting of the family patisserie the “Horno de l’ Alteana“; his pregnant mother Isabel is tenderly dictating to him an old family recipe for an Almond Cake.
The scene captures the extraordinary poetry and tension of the moment. I asked myself: Is she worrying about the possible outcome of the pregnancy? Is this why she is choosing to impart the secret recipe to her son at that very moment, in the event she will not have the opportunity in the future?
She warns him to keep the recipe safe. “It is an old and very special recipe. My mother passed it to me before she died”. Further to this, she asks him for help in that way that mothers do when a choice is offered which is no choice. She states that when the baby comes, she will need his help in the patisserie, as they are on their own.
The curious little boy asks his mum in a quiet voice, “Why is this recipe so special?”
“Once upon a time”, she answers, “a Moorish bondmaid won the love of her Sultan, even though everybody thought her love was an impossible one. She created the recipe for this “Almond Cake” for the Sultan so lovingly; and the cake was so delicious, that in the end the Sultan made her his favorite wife .
This recipe is to be kept secret, Isabel warns again. Then, she starts to dictate to him the recipe:
“Se baten doce claras a punto de nieve. Cuando ya están bien duritas, se le echan las yemas. Luego se añade medio kilo de azúcar, (azúcar con la z, Miguel) poco a poco, sin dejar de batir, hasta que se deshaga. Luego se mezclan cien gramos de harina de almidón con cuatrocientos gramos de almendra molida. Se bate todo bien y se le echa la ralladura de un limón, y luego una hora de horno fuerte.
“Beat twelve egg whites until stiff. When they are firm, add in the yolks and slowly pour in half a kilo of sugar (azúcar with z, Miguel), stirring constantly, until it dissolves. Then mix in one hundred grams of corn flour with four hundred grams of ground almonds. Beat all the ingredients well, with the zest of one lemon, and then put in a hot oven for an hour. ”
The two letter particle “se” could be of some concern to students learning Spanish, particularly when studying on their own. The particle “se” appears often in the Spanish language, and it has several meanings (himself, herself or itself) as well as different uses.
In this case, the use of “se” is known as “impersonal” and plays no syntactic function. The verb is in the third person and refers to a participant with ‘human’ and ‘undefine’ traits. 
Here there is a link to the first few minutes of the film (The recipe is given at 0.37 minutes, in Spanish): click here.
The complete film can be found on YouTube, only available in Spanish. An English subtitled version is available to buy on the internet. Set in Alicante, Spain, Tiempos de azúcar unpretentiously explores those simple things that make life worth living and raises the question: ¿Does life gives us a second opportunity? Juan Luis Borra has the great sensibility to capture significant vignettes throughout the film.
The magical opening of Tiempos de azúcar introduces us to the story of Miguel from childhood to youth and his two passions: his profession as a baker and the platonic love he feels for his lifetime good friend Angela, to whom he is unable to confess his love … until, that is, he decides to bake for her that legendary Almond Cake.
Now, I am not going to do as my naughty father used to do, when the family were watching a film that he had seen before, and he gave away the ending … What happens to Miguel and Angela? I am not going to tell you.
But … does life gives them a second chance? Footnotes:
 Free translation.
 Free translation.
 Se: It is a personal pronoun of the 3rd person, singular or plural, masculine and feminine (herself, himself and itself). It is used to construct impersonal sentences, eg.: se pelan las zanahorias, “peel the carrots”; amongst other uses.
This article is part of the series: Recipes from the big screen. See Spanish and Latin American Cuisine (Part1)