Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sweet Potato Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Is it bad that I am extremely excited about the fact that I have only ONE more day of classes left for this semester? I am literally counting the days until this semester is over. To any students reading this: you think you're excited about winter break? Hah! I'll bet you anything that your professors/teachers are even more excited.

This semester has been an eye-opening experience: challenging and interesting to say the least. Today, I had a student cry in my office. Now before you start thinking that I'm a ruthless professor, I should point out that this student has stopped submitting assignments after the 3rd week of classes. Every few weeks he would send me an email about how he was sick, or his mom was sick, or how work was very busy, and how I shouldn't worry, because he he will submit everything within the next two days, really he will, he promises this time. Never happened. So of course, when he came to my office today, I told him that since he had not submitted 90% of the assignments and had not shown up to class, he would fail both courses.

I knew he'd be upset, but I was not prepared for the next part.
He began to explain to me that his mother had a stroke and paralyzed the left side of her body, so he spent this semester taking her to the doctor and to physical therapy. Also, his step father was a cruel man who treated them very badly and he was now helping his mother look for a divorce lawyer.

Honestly, I didn't (and still don't) know what to say. I want to believe him, I really do, but I have spoken to other professors in my department about this student and they tell me that it's always the same story with him: 3 weeks or so into a class, he ceases to submit any assignments or show up to class. He is in his third year of college, so is it possible that he's had these problems at home this entire time? Or is he just pulling out the waterworks in my office so he can later go home, drink a forty, and congratulate himself on once again fooling another newbie professor?...I'm not sure. If it's the former, how can I be sure he's telling the truth, and more importantly, should I be doing something to help?

It was hard for me to see him cry and wipe his tears in my office, and I sat there not really knowing what to do or say. I tried my best to show support, but couldn't help but think that I wasn't not prepared for this kind of thing. Sure, I can plan lectures, present material, and create assignments. But grad school did not teach me how to be a therapist, and more and more, I'm starting to wish that it sort of did.

Earlier this semester, I had a student email me about why she couldn't submit an assignment on time: earlier week, for the first time, she had met the man who had sexually abused her as a child. Within the same week, her suicidal ex had contacted her and needed her help. Of course I gave her an extension, but I wasn't sure how to do more than that. I assured her that she could talk to me about her problems, but she never did. And that was that. I really don't know how to bring this topic up with her, or if she even wants me to.

Wow. This is becoming a very serious (and long) post. Let me get to the most crucial matter...this cake. ;) I made it a few weeks ago when my parents and grandmother came to visit and they loved it. Me? I thought it was good but slightly on the dry side. This is probably not a fault of the original recipe, but my modifications (I always try to healthify the desserts I make for my parents). I replaced some of the oil with applesauce and some of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour. Next time, I will up the oil to applesauce ratio and hope for a moister cake.

Sweet Potato Cake (adapted from

* 4 8-ounce red-skinned sweet potatoes(yams)
* 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
* 3/4 cup all purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
* 1 1/4 teaspoons ground allspice
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 2 cups sugar
* 1/2 cup applesauce
* 1/2 cup vegetable oil
* 4 large eggs
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Recipe here (without the dulce de leche)

For cake:
Pierce sweet potatoes with fork. Microwave on high until very tender, about 8 minutes per side. Cool, peel and mash sweet potatoes.

1. Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 325°F. Generously butter 2 9in cake pans.
2. Sift flours, cinnamon, allspice, baking powder, baking soda and salt into medium bowl.
3. Measure enough mashed sweet potatoes to equal 2 cups. Transfer to large bowl. Add sugar, applesauce, and oil to sweet potatoes; using electric mixer, beat until smooth. Add eggs 2 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended. Beat in vanilla. 4. Transfer batter to prepared pans. Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour 5 minutes.
5. Cool cakes in pans on rack 15 minutes. Using small knife, cut around sides of pans to loosen cake. Turn out onto rack; cool completely. Frost with cream cheese frosting.