I once saw a therapist who, after my bemoaning how "I can't write a book about cake with the World as it is," responded firmly, "Jessica. The World needs a book about cake." Let it be known that I have no plans to turn this space into my own political sounding board, but the entire point of CakeWalk is to examine the way this simple baked good fits into our lives, stories, and cultures. Cake has a place in celebrations and in sorrow. In our homes and in our public sphere. Just look at #cakegate

The current climate is unlike any I've experienced in my lifetime, one that leaves me with the lingering anxiety and anger which seems to be the norm now amongst so many. As is a feeling of powerlessness. Some march, some write, some call (some superheros do it all). Some aren't sure what to do or want to find a way to use their own skills to make difference, however small. In thinking about what I can do, I thought about cake (though I'm kind of always thinking about cake).

The hashtag #cakeitbetter popped into my head yesterday during a moment of extreme news-based anger, and I thought to myself, yes. Cake It Better. That said, you will occasionally see a #cakeitbetter post on here. There is no plan in place (the new chicken and egg is hashtag and idea), but today I did bring a chocolate sheet cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles into the office and sent out an email to my colleagues inviting them to come by my office for a square in exchange for a donation in any amount, all monies going to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

I put the cake out at 2:00. By 4:00, I'd collected $84 with a few squares of cake to spare. 




Whiskey Sour Cake (This is What My Memories Taste Like)

I wasn't aware of The Dorothy Parker Society of New York until I corralled a friend to attend their annual Parker birthday celebration with me. This was way back in 2003, maybe 2004, and the second to last they held on board an old, beautiful boat that went cruising around Manhattan for a few evening hours. 

We dressed for the occasion in the best 1920s-esque garb we could find in our closets and spent a dazzlingly unforgettable evening drinking drinking drinking and dancing dancing dancing, the booze free flowing and the band playing old standards perfect for dresses with plenty of swing to them. 

After that night, we became regular attendees of Parker Society events, mostly meet ups centered around alcohol and a mutual love of Parker's infamous wit. Eventually I was named Vice President of Bookish Matters, a position that meant nothing other than a name on the website, but as a proud Bookish woman it was an incomparable honor. 

Time passed, my stalwart companion and I drifted apart and, though we never discussed it, I slipped away from the Society in case she wanted it in the break up (does anyone else find friend break ups to be weirder and sometimes harder than romantic ones?). 

Though it has been years since I have been to an event, I keep up with them via Facebook and the books written by society founder, Kevin Fitzpatrick. One of my favorites is his 2014 cocktail guide/history book centered around the drinks of Parker's day, Under the Table.  

I honestly can not remember what exactly I drank at any of the meetings (including on the boat), but when I wanted to make a cake honoring these memories I turned to Kevin's book for inspiration. 

One of Dorothy's favorite drinks was a Whiskey Sour and, as the flavors of whiskey and lemon make prefect sense to me in baked form, I chose to go with that as my inspiration for this cake.

This one's for you, Dorothy. And no raisins ;).*

(Random, but I was once early to meet a friend for a drink at the Algonquin, home of the famous Round Table. While waiting I was chatted up by a well-dressed gentleman of a certain age. Took me a while to figure out he thought I was a call girl . . . whether it was my rose-colored Anthropologie sweater or naïve eyes, I can't say. But hey, flattered none-the-less. I think.)

Whiskey Sour Cake
Preheat oven to 350°
Prepare a 10" tube pan

For the cake:
3 c (300 g) cake flour, sifted
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t kosher salt
1 c (240 g) whole milk
1 t vanilla extract
2 sticks (227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 c (400 g) granulated sugar
zest of 1 large lemon
4 large eggs, at room temperatu In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and kosher salt. Set aside.
     In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the milk and vanilla.
     In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, rub the zest into the sugar for a few seconds, then add the butter to the bowl and beat on medium-high speed until lighter in color and very fluffy, about 4 minutes. 
     Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute between eggs. Scrape down the sides of the bowl often.
     With the mixer on low speed, blend in one third of the dry ingredients until the mixture is streaky. Add half the vanilla milk and mix a few seconds, then add another third of the dry, then the rest of the vanilla milk. Once mixed, remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the rest of the dry ingredients until no dry spots remain.
     Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top with an offset spatula, and put in the oven.
     Bake 37-43 minutes, or until you smell CAKE, the sides of the cake start pulling away from the pan and a toothpick in the center comes out clean. 
     Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a rack for ten minutes, then remove the cake to cool out of the pan. Set the rack over a rimmed baking sheet and prepare the Whiskey Sour.

Whiskey Sour
Adapted from Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide by Kevin Fitzpatrick

1 1/2 oz American Whiskey
1/2 t powdered sugar
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Shake whiskey, sugar, and lemon juice. Strain into a glass and top with seltzer (I used about 1 oz).

Poke holes all over the still-warm cake with a toothpick and use a pastry brush to glaze the cake with the entire whiskey sour. Let cool completely.

Lemon Whiskey Icing and Garnish

2 c (200 g) powdered sugar, sifted
Juice of one small lemon
2 tsp whiskey (same as used in sour)

Before making the icing, throughly drain 8-10 nice, round maraschino cherries, setting them onto a paper towel and rolling them around very gently to get as much liquid off as possible. Set aside.

Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl. In a separate small glass or the like, stir together the lemon juice and the whiskey. Stir the liquid into the sugar a little at a time until you have a nice, thick icing; you're looking for that line between strictly spreadable and loose-pourable. You may not need to use all of the liquid. If you do, and find that the icing is still too stiff, add in a little more lemon juice or whiskey—your choice. 

Spread the icing thickly over the top of the cooled cake letting some slowly drip down the sides.

Let the icing set for a few minutes then top with the cherries, evenly spaced. 

*A famous line of Parker's, "This wasn't plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it."

(Kevin, if you read this, I miss the society and count those evenings as some of the best I've had . . . may be time to hit up an event! And to that friend, if you read this, I hope you are well and happy and I do miss you.)

Emily Dickinson's Coconut Cake

This past summer, E, B, and I visited the Emily Dickinson Museum during a brief day trip to Massachusetts. Yes, I love her poetry, and yes, that's the reason most visit. But I was there for the cakes. Emily was a prolific baker, and I wanted to see where she not only wrote her famous words and breathed and lived, but where she baked as well.

The Emily Dickinson House. Photo by me, and the only one kiddo wasn't running through.

The Emily Dickinson House. Photo by me, and the only one kiddo wasn't running through.

They sell a small booklet devoted the her kitchen craft in the gift shop and I've clutched it to my chest with reverent love ever since its purchase. 

But I've only recently baked from it, just a little over a week ago in honor of Emily's 186th birthday on December 10th. Though her Black Cake was an obvious choice as tis' the season for rich fruitcakes redolent with seasonal spices, I chose to bake her coconut cake.

Image: Harvard archives and  here

Image: Harvard archives and here

She often sent recipes as gifts with the cakes themselves, and sometimes lines of verse were written on the backs of her delicately printed missives. Scraps from this poem  linger on the flip side of the recipe above.

It's a lovely, simple cake and I'd say rather good for gifting. Go old-fashioned and wrap up a loaf in a flour sack towel, tied with kitchen twine. A nice break from fruit cake and pumpkin spice, and a beautiful gesture at that. 

Emily Dickinson's Coconut Cake
Adapted from the original recipe and a bit from Tori Avey

Preheat oven to 350°
Prepare a 9" x 5" loaf pan

2 c (250 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 t baking soda and 1 t cream of tartar, or 2 t baking powder
1 c (200 g) sugar
1/2 c (1 stick; 113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 c (120 g) milk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 c (50 g) coconut flakes, fresh or dried unsweetened. If the latter, soakfor an hour in warm water to rehydrate

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar or baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until lighter in color and very fluffy, about four minutes. Add each egg, one at a time, beating for one minute between and stopping often to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

On low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk in small amounts: dry/milk/dry/milk/dry. Stop the mixer before all of the dry ingredients are fully incorporated and finish mixing by hand. 

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a small offset spatula, and bake for 50-53 minutes, or until the cake starts pulling away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Lovely on its own, the cake will keep, tightly wrapped in plastic, for a few days. If there's any leftover, it makes an amazing base for a Trifle.

EIGHT FLAVORS and Red Wine Chocolate Cake with Black Pepper Ganache

I met Sarah at this one-off event I hosted YEARS ago for my short lived (as in, that was the only event) historical/book/food/event company, TimeTable.

I even had a logo!

I even had a logo!

We instantly hit it off (not everyone is obsessed with the culinary gastronomy you may be surprised to learn), and have been friends ever since. 

When she asked me to contribute a recipe to the Black Pepper chapter of her forthcoming book, Eight Flavors, I was over-the-moon (to say the least), and came up with the recipe that follows below. 

Just a few weeks ago, I finished reading the galley copy of Eight Flavors that Sarah sent and I am, to put it mildly, so freaking in love with it. Not that expected to dislike it (though I always suffer from a faint anxiety that I won't like something a friend has written/painted/sung, etc. And WHAT THEN??!!), but damn, Lohman, kudos to you. The book comes out on December 6, and can be preordered here, here, here, here, and at your local bookshop, among other places. She's going to be conversing with Melissa Clark (!!!) at the LES Tenenment Museum on December 7 where I will be with bells on. Join me and we can fight our way to the front of the signing line together ;)! 

Slipper and toys and kids books, oh my! 

Slipper and toys and kids books, oh my! 

One tiny note: there is sadly as misprint of my recipe in the first edition. It's to be fixed for later editions, but in the meantime, what follows is the correct recipe.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake with Black Pepper Ganache
by me (!) from the book Eight Flavors by Sarah Lohman

The cake:
1 c (125 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 c (38 g) dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t kosher salt
3/4 c (170 g) red wine, something bold like a Cabernet or Malbec
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 stick (1/2 c; 113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 c (275 g) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat your oven to 350° and prepare a 9" round cake pan with butter/spray/cake pan primer and parchment. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Measure out the wine and add in the vanilla extract. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer and a large bowl), cream the room temperature butter with the sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy and lighter in color, about five minutes. Add each egg, one at a time, beating for one minute after each egg and stopping to scrape the side to the bowl often. 

On low speed, alternately mix in the dry ingredients and the wine/vanilla mixture in three parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Remove from the mixer when most of the dry has disappeared and finish mixing with a gentle hand. 

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an off-set spatula. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the sides start pulling away from the pan. Remove to a rack and let cool in the pan for five minutes before removing to the rack to cool completely. Note: the cake may sink some in the center. 

While the cake cools, make the ganache...

The ganache:
1/2 c (120 g) heavy cream
2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 c (85 g) bittersweet chocolate chips (pref. 60% cocoa +)

Pour the cream into a small saucepan and stir in the pepper. Set over medium-low heat and, stirring often, cook until bubbled start forming around the edge. Remove from the heat and let sit for 15-30 minutes depending on how strong a pepper flavor you want. 

To strain out the pepper grounds (keep em in if that's your thing), I put a layer of butter muslin in a strainer and pour the lot though that into a clean bowl, twisting and squishing on the muslin to get as much cream out as possible. 

I recently tried to do this the easier way by using a sachet (what a word!) of black pepper instead, but found it didn't impart nearly enough of the flavor into the cream. That said, not recommended.

Once the cake is cool and you are ready to ganache it...

Measure the chocolate chips into a medium-sized, heat proof bowl. 

Wash your saucepan and pour the strained cream back in. Set over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until bubbles form around the edge and the cream starts steaming. Pour the warm cream over the chocolate chips and let sit for a few minutes then stir stir stir in a smooth motion until you've got yourself a right lovely ganache. 

Spoon and smear and spread over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides or fully frosting the layer. 

Best the day it's made, or that night as it goes so very well with more wine, whiskey, or strong coffee. Also, not unpleasant cold from the fridge for breakfast the next day. A sort of kind of hair-of-the-dog, if you will.