4 min read

Two Cakes

I made two cakes last weekend.

I apologize for the lack of… well. Everything, over the past thirteen days. I was on a journey, travelling up the coast to Portland, where I was needed to make those cakes. I’ve never been so honored to bake in my life. 7 hours of driving that first day, then a sojourn in the Bay Area to see family and do a book event (many of you came, more than I expected, and my heart nearly burst from it). Then 11 more hours up through the trees, and the next day 3 hours to the lip of the ocean.

I drove along the seam in the map of America that has defined my life so far. I stopped in literally every city I’ve ever inhabited. I had half of my home kitchen with me in the back of the car, packed into plastic bins. I also brought nearly all the fabric I own; emergency sewing supplies in case of last-minute alterations; a handmade fabric bouquet bound up with lace and pearls; about two hundred hand-sewn fabric flowers; a hollowed-out book full of pasted-in promises. I had a very nice dress with me, and some uncomfortable shoes, and a stack of recipe cards, and a very carefully drawn-up plan.

That night — six days and eleven hundred miles from home — I was due to bake.

The problem was that I had precisely enough time to make one cake. But I needed to make two cakes, and both cakes were incredibly important, because the people I was baking them for love each other with the kind of bright, open vehemence that you don’t see more than a couple of times in your life. That kind of love calls for over a thousand miles of asphalt each way, calls for hand-sewing, calls for a stack of recipe cards an inch thick.

It calls for two cakes. There had to be two cakes.

So I made them both at once.

Coffee & butter & cocoa powder for Cake 1 heated up together on the stove, as did tea & honey & lemon zest for Cake 2. While that was happening, I measured out dry ingredients for both cakes into separate bowls: flour, salt, spices, baking soda and baking powder.

There is something beautiful about the ratio of baking powder to baking soda in each recipe. Both are brilliant leaveners, both can carry the weight of a batter to turn it into something new and different and lovely. But in these cake recipes, both are necessary. They have to work together. In tandem like this, they create a springy, tender cake that you want to eat and eat and eat until you wake up one day and realize you’ve both grown old, laugh lines around your eyes, joy plumping your bodies, and even though your hands look different than they did when you got married, they still fit together perfectly, and you smile at each other because there has always been enough cake and there always will be.

I turned off the stove to let the hot things cool down. Then I cracked six eggs into two different bowls, beat each of them to froth, kissed them with vanilla, added oil and yogurt to enrich and bind the batters. A two-cake occasion calls for plenty of fat to turn an otherwise light batter into velvet.

One of the bowls of eggs got a slow infusion of sugar, and one of the bowls of dry ingredients got a sudden infusion of sugar, and between all that sugar and the boiled honey cooling on the stove, the air smelled as sweet as a question answered with “I will.”

I combined and combined and combined, wet ingredients with dry, slow folding and hard beating. Really, combining was the only thing I was there that weekend to do. I asked the scattered ingredients if they were ready to come together and form something new. Something better than the things they were when they were in separate bowls. I asked them if they would promise to support each other, to enhance each other, to transform each other, to become the thing they were always intended to be.

They said yes.

I didn’t butter the bundt pans myself — someone else did that for me, because the cakes were being made for people who love each other wholly and unconditionally, and in that kind of environment someone will come to you and ask if you need help, and you will finally, finally feel like it’s okay to say ‘yes’.

The cakes were meant to bake at slightly different temperatures, but I split the difference. It felt more like consensus than compromise, a middle ground where both could thrive.

They came out perfectly, and then they rested overnight, and when a dozen of us sat down at a long table with our hearts full and our makeup ruined, those cakes came to the table, and they glowed, and I knew that I had been allowed to participate in a beautiful thing.

Here are the recipe cards I used that night, for anyone who wants them. If they are bewildering to look at, check out this guide to reading and writing recipe cards.

Serve these cakes together, with a trio of curds. I made raspberry, lemon, and tangerine, but I think grapefruit would also be a good idea.