I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Independence Day celebrations in Latvia for the past two years. For my first, my husband’s family had decided to take us all to Rīga for the parades. I saw the military parade and got to go to the Occupation Museum. It was also my first time puttering through Vecrīga (Old Rīga) which I absolutely adored.
My second time was more spontaneous in a way. My husband and I were in Rīga the day before (the 17th) on our last planned Rīga trip. We’d just gone to a restaurant (that took forever) and were walking back to our hotel** over one of the bridges when suddenly fireworks began going off on the other side! It was a dress rehearsal for the next day’s celebrations and we were in the right place at the right time to see it. As others noticed, traffic simply stopped. A bus pulled over, passengers spilling out onto the sidewalk to see; a Mercedes simply stopped in the middle of a turn, the driver popping out to lean on his roof and watch. Pedestrians gathered and stared. It was a really great show. When it was over, everyone applauded and life resumed. But for a minute there, it was magical. The next day, we went to the concert and fireworks show next door to Kurzeme in Liepāja before visiting my brother-in-law’s family.
This year is the first year I haven’t been in Latvia during November and my husband’s first as well. But, we won’t be in school forever and soon we’ll be starting our careers and saving money away for going back. Besides our desire to see family, I’ve made my husband promise me that we’ll go back to see one of the Song Festivals that occur every four years and that we’ll be there for the 100th anniversary of Latvia’s independence. In return, he’s declared that our next trip will be in spring or summer as I’ve only seen Latvia in the fall and winter.
I thought about what I wanted to do for the holiday and eventually came up with this cake. In the South, red velvet cake is a tradition. I’ve never made it, much less had it, but I knew it’d give me the deep maroon of Latvia’s flag. The white was a little trickier. Enter the fact that I decided to be fancy about it restricted me to a vintage copper-aluminum cake mold holding a whopping 4 cups and most cake recipes (especially Red Velvet recipes which are often three 9″ layers) were simply too big.
I found a recipe for a Silver-White Cake in my Good Housekeeping cookbook. It used no egg yolks so that the cake would come out white as snow and after some fiddling, I had adjusted the recipe so I would get some white and some red velvet out of it. It came out beautifully, the colors perfect. I screwed up in my calculations, failing to take into account volume as well as area, so my proportions are off. (A Latvian flag’s maroon stripes are exactly twice the width of its white stripe, and its length is exactly twice the width.)
Despite that, I think my little Latvian Independence Cake still came out well. My husband liked the flavor too — tangy and not-too-sweet.
* I’d highly recommend the Occupation Museum to World War history buffs like myself, English audio narration is available but some knowledge of Latvian is helpful for reading signs. Other good museums I particularly enjoyed are the Museum of War (Latvijas kara muzejs) in the old “Powder Tower” in Vecrīga as well as the Open Air Ethnographic Museum (Brīvdabas muzejs) on the outskirts of Rīga. Both the Museum of War and the Occupation Museum are free to explore but renting narration in your language will run you a few lats.
** Hotel Enkurs (www.hotelenkurs.lv) — This is where I stay in Rīga and I highly recommend for those on a budget and willing to take a bus or walk to Vecrīga and other sights. It’s clean and safe, with comfortable rooms. The staff speaks reasonable English and breakfast is good enough to get you started for the day.