“Bring on the Cake. We really want to Live.” ~ Maira Kalman
When a cake shows up, it’s party time.
Cakes enjoy stealing the show at our most important celebrations: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, holidays, graduations. Fancy and festive, they know how to have fun.
But cakes don’t have to be luscious, layered, and laden with buttercream to make a lasting impression. As Maira Kalman and Barbara Scott-Goodman suggest in Cake (Penguin Press, 2018), it’s more about whom we share our cakes with and why.
The true deliciousness of cake? Baked-in love. For celebrations, yes, but even sweeter for life’s everyday travails.
With warmth, wisdom and her signature panache, Maira serves up a series of short, delectable illustrated vignettes, most culled from cherished family memories. These are interspersed with 17 of Barbara’s scrumptious recipes, each with a delightful headnote, some with Maira’s gouache paintings alongside.
Maira begins with “The First Cake” she remembers, a chocolate cake with a side of grapes, an after beach treat she enjoyed on the “cool stone tiles” of Aunt Shoshana’s terrace in Tel Aviv.
There’s her “Ninth Birthday” cake, part of a stellar celebration where “all the girls wore fancy dresses” and she was easily “the happiest one there,” and “The Broken Heart Cake,” which Shoshana baked to soothe Maira’s teenage soul.
With “The Cake of Being Kind, Not Angry,” “The Cakes That Tali Makes,” and “The Talking Cure Cake,” we see more instances of homemade cakes providing comfort and support, generous offerings of edible kindness with real staying power. It’s good to know that when you’re gathered around a table talking talking talking, unburdening and commiserating, “always there is a cake,” and that if you visit your elderly aunt in a crisp dress she will usually offer sage advice along with “cheesecake or honey cake or fruitcake” that she “made at dawn.” Usually, but not always (“She is human, after all.”).
In this little gem of a book, Maira once again displays her brilliance at expressing universal truths via quirky, whimsical specifics. She has a knack for tempering life’s hard lessons with a layer of humor and earnest reflection, reminding us of our common humanity. Never boring, she holds us in rapt attention, wondering what she will see, say, or do next.
Her inimitable gouaches are pure beauty and joy. She’s an artist who simply loves to paint cakes, and I love all her table settings with people gathered round, cakes on platters, stands, and plates, cups of coffee and tea. There’s a charming story in each picture. What are those women in head scarves talking about? Watch Tali spoon the cake batter into the bundt pan and the boy blowing out his birthday candles. Look at that stunning, very pink table with its dazzling Pavlova!
And just when you least expect it, Maira will ask an all important question:
Is there anyone who does not love cheesecake? Impossible.
See why we love her? 🙂
The carefully chosen recipes are clearly written, unintimidating, and eminently doable. They range from classic layer cakes with frosting (chocolate, yellow, white), to more everyday ones (gingerbread, honey, coffee, olive oil) to pretty shortcakes and pavlova. There are two pound cakes, beloved favorites such as carrot and coconut cake, and of course cheesecake. Barbara has also included some Cake Baking Tips.
Maira ends with “The Cakes of People I Do Not Know,” citing how people everywhere throughout time have savored cakes, together or alone.
What have I learned?
It is not a party without cake.
It is not a holiday without cake.
It is not an auspicious occasion without cake.
Things are much nicer with cake.
Bring on the Cake.
We really want to Live.
Whether you fancy a multi-layered iced masterpiece or a simple piece of gingerbread, the lyrical stories in Cake will evoke fond memories and the recipes will make you want to bake. Good times. 🙂
BRING ON THE LEMON POUND CAKE!
🍋 🍋 🍋
In an interview at Saveur, Maira was asked if there was any particular cake that first came to mind when she set out to make this book.
Well, probably my favorite cake is lemon pound cake, in general. Anything with lemon attached to it, but I’ve written before about that honey cake that everybody in my family makes, and so I don’t know if there’s a cake I’ve met that I don’t like, but probably the lemon pound cake was the glorious image . . .
There’s just something about a lemon pound cake, when I was younger, that seemed incredibly sophisticated. That anything made with a lemon was just very, very chic.
You can see why we had to make the Lemon Pound Cake.
Yes, anything made with lemon is chic, and usually a favorite here. Besides, I’ve yet to meet a cake I didn’t like. 🙂
Chefs Cornelius and Lapin Rotund were only too happy to oblige. They directed the mustached leprechaun to zest and juice the lemons, while they measured the dry ingredients (of course eggs, milk, and butter were all brought to room temperature before proceeding).
It had been ages since I used a bundt pan. It made me remember my mother’s Lemon Poppy Seed Cake — possibly the only cake I remember her ever making. I was, however, blessed with aunts who made many deeeeee-licious cakes: Aunty Susan (1-2-3-4 Butter Cake), Aunty Ella (Midnight Chocolate Cake, New York Style Cheesecake, Fruitcake, Carrot Cake), Aunty Janet (Mayonnaise Cake), Aunty Ellen (Jello Cheese Cake).
Is it wrong to love your aunts for their cakes? They did offer lots of sage advice too (usually, but not always). 🙂
But back to the Lemon Pound Cake. It lived up to its promise. A simple, un-fussy, versatile recipe — rich, buttery, moist, a cake to count on. Everyone should have a good pound cake recipe in their baking repertoire. You can dress pound cake up or down. Eat it plain with a cup of coffee or tea, or have it for dessert with fruit and whipped cream. Substantial enough to eat out of hand, it’s equally happy to rest on a pretty plate. On the off chance there are leftover slices after several days, lightly toast them for breakfast.
Because pound cake is dense with a close crumb, it’s also easy to cut into shapes just for fun (we made heart shaped pieces when Maira’s friend Max the Poet dropped by).
My only tip for this recipe is to check for doneness after about 55 minutes (suggested baking time is one hour + 5-10 minutes). Much depends on the weight of your cake pan and the hotness of your oven. I probably could have baked my cake 5 minutes less.
As with any homemade cake, whether the recipe is easy or complicated, allow yourself sufficient time to get organized, be fully present, and enjoy the experience (Maira suggests listening to Bach or Handel while baking).
Making this one brought to mind the pound cakes of my childhood — they were usually store bought, came in a loaf shape, and we smothered each slice with freshly whipped cream. Always a treat.
BTW, the illustration that goes with this recipe is based on this photograph of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas:
They are the only famous people I recognize in Maira’s pictures aside from Anna Pavlova. Isn’t it wonderful imagining Gertrude and Alice discussing art and life over coffee and cake? I’m grateful for the quiet rituals that structure our days.
Reading Maira’s stories also made me think of a few other memorable cakes: the sponge cake I made in middle school with my cousins (so many eggs the finished product practically bounced off the counter, not to mention the flying cockroach that chased us around the patio), our English wedding cake (rock solid royal icing made it impossible to cut), the chocolate dobash sheet cake the kids in my college dorm surprised me with for my 19th birthday (it came with a 4-foot Raggedy Ann that I still have), and the butter cake with raspberry filling I ordered from the Cake Lady in Clifton for my first teddy bear tea party (still the most delicious cake I’ve ever eaten). Sigh.
So yes, by all means, bring on the cake — we really want to live, and re-live — each moment, each bite, each conversation, each occasion, each celebration.
Lemon Pound Cake with Lemon Glaze
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup whole milk
- Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan and tap out the excess flour.
- To make the cake: Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
- In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until soft. Add the sugar and beat until incorporated. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl as needed with a spatula.
- With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture alternately in three additions with the milk in two additions, beating only until incorporated. Stir in the lemon zest. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and gently level the top with a spatula.
- Bake for 1 hour and 5 to 10 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a sharp thin knife around the inside of the pan and the tube, then cover with a wire rack and invert. Lift the pan from the cake, leaving it upside down. Place the rack over a large piece of foil or wax paper and prepare the glaze.
- To make the glaze: Mix the sugar and lemon juice together. Poke the top of the cake all over with a long wooden skewer. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake and let cool completely. It is best to wait a few hours (or even a day) before cutting the cake.
~ from CAKE by Maira Kalman and Barbara Scott-Goodman (Penguin Press, 2018), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
What cake(s) do you love? Do you have a favorite cake memory?
by Maira Kalman and Barbara Scott-Goodman
illustrated by Maira Kalman
published by Penguin Press, April 2018
Visual Memoir/Cookbook, 96 pp.
♥️ Enjoy this adorable, totally Maira book trailer:
🎂 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 🍰
Just because I love everything Maira does, and because I’m celebrating Alphabet Soup’s 11th birthday this year, I’m giving away a signed copy of CAKE for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this blog no later than midnight (EST), October 16, 2018. You may also enter by sending an email with CAKE in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!
“Together or alone, celebrating or sitting quietly and thinking, someone is savoring a moment of cake.” ~ Maira Kalman
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**Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.