Cake, Just Because


Cake is meant for special occasions, but sometimes you just have to bake one just because. 

I've made plenty of cakes, good ones, so-so ones, a few failures. My first génoise (that's a fancy French term for an Italian sponge cake) was absolutely perfect. As a young student in pastry class, this first attempt was mere beginner's luck. I must have followed the recipe exactly. It came out golden, fluffy, light and everything the ideal sponge cake should be. My instructor marveled at the dome of buttery golden perfection and exclaimed, "It's perfect! Now, do it again."

But the second sponge cake did not rise so beautifully, nor was it anything like the first. It did not resemble that perfect génoise. Instead, as I explained to my pastry instructor, it was closer to resembling matzoh

Cakes can be easy, sure. I made a few heavenly chocolate layer cakes (before my vegan baking escapades) using mayonnaise of all things, and honestly, it was a magical ingredient. As awful as mayonnaise sounds in chocolate cake, it worked wonders.

Every year I bake coconut cake for my sweetheart's birthday, because it's his favorite. Coconut milk is another miracle worker for cake, and coconut cream frosting is definitely a good thing. Besides, when it comes to decorating, coconut flakes are the messiest but look great all over the frosting, and a simple orchid on top of the coconut cake is really all you need after that.

A few of my total failures: cornmeal cake, olive oil cake, lemon cake. I loved the idea of these cakes more than the reality. They were dry, crumbly, flavorless. I don't know where I went wrong. 

My youngest daughter and I love reading a book called The Seven Silly Eaters. The premise of the story begins with a mom who sweetly attempts to feed all of her picky children a different "favorite" food: One child wants warm milk, not hot nor cold. Another child has to be fed "soft and squishy homemade bread" while another only eats applesauce. One child demands pink lemonade on the daily. One twin only wants poached eggs while the other twin wants only fried eggs. The mom has more babies and a knack for birthing picky eaters. The madness of feeding each picky eater their specific food drives their mom to utter exhaustion. Then her birthday comes and something special happens: the kids accidentally bake a cake. 

Back in pastry class, I'd whip up a raspberry Charlotte from scratch. I was also pretty good at making traditional French fruit tarts. But cakes were special. And I must say, sinking a fork into five layers of my own homemade tiramisu cake felt quite triumphant. I even went all out and made my own chocolate curls to top the cake from a large slab of chocolate. 

Of course, as I had children, I'd bake their birthday cakes or make cupcakes. During one pregnancy, I baked cupcakes whenever the craving struck, and I'd eat them warm and fresh, right out of the oven. I just wanted the cake without frosting. 

Craving some cake now? Try this vegan chocolate cake recipe: