Happy Birthday Tammy, or Let Them Eat Cake

Lately, I’m going through a baking phase. I grew up baking, but I gave it up in my mid-20′s, citing it as frivolous and not good for you besides. I gave up caffeine around the same time. Basically, if something was fun, I gave it up in my mid-20′s. It was the result of stress, but what poor, stressed-out mid-20′s me really needed was a cup of coffee, a brownie, and a regular exercise routine. I have all those things in my mid-30′s, and most of the time, I feel better than I did back then.

It was Lucas and Max who inspired me to start baking in earnest again. I don’t want to be giving the kids a ton of sugar, but at the same time, I feel like what sugar they eat should be of the highest quality. Frankly, I also like it when the children start attempting to hoard whatever I’ve brought to picnics and potlucks. I know I’ve done something good in the world when a fight breaks out over the cookies or someone starts crying because their mother won’t let them eat a fourth cupcake.

I’m kidding. Kind of.

Cakes are what I’m primarily obsessed with lately. It’s not because I want to eat the cakes, particularly: I just want to see how they’ll turn out. It’s a combination of wondering if the recipe is as good as it sounds and also if I can pull it off. Lately, I’ve been mostly baking cakes out of a cookbook I got for Christmas, One Big Table by Molly O’Neill. If you don’t own this book, you should run out and get it right away. What O’Neill has done is traveled the country and collected recipes, most of them from amateur cooks. Each recipe includes a little tidbit about where the recipe came from, maybe a photo of the person who created it, and then the recipe itself. And so you have delightful passages like this, a quote from Tayari Jones, contributor of a red velvet cake recipe: “One of my friends complained about the amount [of red food coloring] in my mama’s recipe–it calls for one and a half ounces…. To make the cake taste right (let alone look right), you’re going to have to use the coloring. If you remove that much liquid from your cake, it’s going to be dry. And it’s going to look stupid.”

Yes, folks, a recipe that uses the word “stupid.” That’s what we’re talking about here. And let me tell you what, that red velvet cake will change your life. I am just waiting for an excuse to make another one.

I’ve also made Carsie Lodtner’s Chocolate Pound Cake out of this book, which was not red velvet good, but still very good (especially with my friend’s homemade vanilla ice cream–mmmmm). My next cake out of this book is going to be Mary Jennifer Russell’s Extraordinary Southern Caramel Cake, which I must make because I am currently reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett and have never had a caramel cake. (If you, like me, are one of the five people in the country who hasn’t already read this book, there is a character who makes a caramel cake every third page or so. It’s a good thing I’m listening to it in my kitchen, because all this book does is make me want to cook.)

Last night, I decided to try a different book, and so I made the cheesecake recipe out of Baked by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. This is a book I don’t own but am clearly going to have to buy because a.) this is about the third time I’ve checked it out of the library because that’s how much I enjoy reading the recipes, and b.) a crumb “fell off” the cheesecake and that crumb tasted amazing. I can’t actually eat a slice of the cheesecake yet, because it is destined for the dinner table tonight, as we are gathering to celebrate Tammy’s birthday. I believe Tammy is turning 33 again, but perhaps she’ll stop in and clarify. It’s hard to keep track. Anyway, the cheesecake smelled so good while it was baking that I spent some time trying to think of how I might be able to get a slice out of it and then reconstruct it in a way that no one would notice.

I should have studied harder when I took geometry.


  1. Posted February 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Yummy yum yum! I love hearing about your cakes :9. Send some over here!

  2. olivia
    Posted February 19, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    yay, Tammy! Happy Birthday! :)

    Um, may I have a small piece of whatever caramel cake you’d like to share with the world? I’m sure it has all sorts of yummy things in it that I am absolutely supposed to be eating….

  3. Patty
    Posted February 19, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    I love reading cookbooks and now I’m going to find the ones you mentioned. They sound wonderful. I have a pretty decent collection of community cookbooks, and the best among them are ones that include those little personal tidbits about the recipes.

    Two of my favorite cookbook authors are Lidia Bastianich, whose cookbooks make me feel like I’ve been to Italy, and Crescent Dragonwagon, who makes me think a vegetarian lifestyle is not beyond my grasp. Dragaonwagon’s “Dairy Hollow House Cookbook” is an older one that reads like a novel and has some of the best recipes ever.

  4. adrienne
    Posted February 19, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Jama, maybe I can start developing some better photography skills so I can at least take photos.

    Olivia, yes and yes. You can comfort yourself that the caramel cake doesn’t have as much dairy as the cheesecake, which involved 5 packages of cream cheese, heavy cream, and sour cream. It was also kind of stunningly delicious. Definitely the best cheesecake recipe I have yet made.

    Patty, Oh, two new authors to check out! I know a lot of people are all about the photos in cookbooks, but I am in it for good writing.

  5. Posted February 19, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Try my red velvet cake with a layer of dark, dark frosting in the middle. It really ups the ante!

  6. Lori
    Posted February 20, 2011 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    I am lucky to work with the best cake bakers. Brenda made the most delicious caramel cake for our christmas party and Miss Sarah brings the best Lemon cake anyone has ever tasted to many Phillis Wheatley gatherings.I don’t even try anymore. I do love red velvet cake *hint hint* but I suppose I’ll have to get that book and make it myself. I haven’t read The Help yet either. Every time I think about reading it, it’s either checked out or being checked out, which is a very good thing.

  7. adrienne
    Posted February 20, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Tayari, I will try that. Knowing how to make that cake is like having a superpower. Thank you for sharing it.

    Lori, I will remember this about you and red velvet cake. I am likewise surrounded by excellent cooks. Pies are the thing I’ve decided not to try, at least so far, because I feel like I know enough people who make good ones that I’m all set.

  8. Posted February 22, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I might have to send this post to my husband, who seems to collect good cookbooks.

    I’m one of the five who hasn’t read The Help. But add “caramel cakes” to the list of reasons I want to read it.

  9. adrienne
    Posted February 22, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I would have read The Help way sooner if someone had told me it was all about food.

  10. Posted February 25, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    I’m weak in the knees.

    Are you game for a Boston Cream Pie?

  11. adrienne
    Posted February 26, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I used to bake pies all the time when I was a teenager, but then I didn’t bake them for a decade and lost my touch with crusts. I keep saying I prefer someone else to bake the pies, but, really, I should practice and get the hang of that again.

  12. Posted February 26, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    I am 33 again and will be for at least 12 more years. I told you to slice the cake and put it all on plates and serve it on a tray that way you are just being prepared not eating without everyone.

  13. adrienne
    Posted February 26, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Oh, good–I was right about your age. It gets harder to remember the closer I get to 40 myself.

    You did offer the best solution for the cake. Next time, that is what I will do.

  14. Posted February 27, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    We’re the same age remember!

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  1. [...] a cookbook I wouldn’t want to be without. I’ve written about Lewis and Renato’s cheesecake recipe, which is a bit fussy but delicious. My go-to recipe out of the book is the Lemon Lemon Loaf, which [...]

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