cake a month



Last summer when two of my closest friends got engaged here on the farm, I immediately started dreaming about making their wedding cake. Not because I had the wherewithal to do such a thing—more like, I love cake, and our little group of friends had all grown accustomed to mini cakes for special occasions, and I love cake. When I was actually invited to make a mini cake for what would be their gorgeous, down home farm wedding, I knew I needed to get practicing. Vermonters are a discerning bunch, especially when it comes to food. Thus, I started my Cake-A-Month project. I pored over cake recipes for the first few weeks of 2017. Then, in classic fashion, I got busy and thoughts of cakes left my mind entirely. In the end, despite my lackadaisical approach, the cake was baked and the bride and groom loved it.

The wedding itself was one of the most beautiful affairs I've ever been present for. Pete and Abi are remarkably un-extravagant and very special. Nothing was contrived and everything was authentic. Yes, they were married on an idyllic Vermont hay field called The Hogback, but Pete was the one who baled all of the hay. Abi was a vision in an ivory linen dress and a wildflower crown, but it was the same dress she wore to her high school graduation and the flower crown was whipped together an hour before the wedding. I was honored to bake a simple cake for two of my best friends. Cheers to baking mini cakes for everyone you love! Hooray! 

This was my second wedding cake. I baked a last minute funfetti mini cake for my sister's wedding. (By "last minute," I mean I flew home two nights before the wedding with a cake stand and sprinkles in my carry-on, put it all together the morning of the wedding, and scribbled a decorative rainbow pennant flag with crayons right beforehand. I told myself I was a good little sister for ensuring they would eat cake, but never again.) For Pete and Abi's wedding, I went with a lemon yellow cake that was super delicious and everything I love in a cake: dense, moist, not overwhelming. I topped each layer with Maine blueberry preserves, and decided to use American buttercream because it's simple, sturdy, and more stable than its lighter (and superior, in my opinion) cousins, Swiss and Italian. My main consideration with frosting was keeping it stable and un-melting, as it was going to sit outside on a hot summer day. A few things went awry as they are oft to do. Overall, I loved the process so much that I am almost willing to offer my unprofessional (dare I call it down home?) cake baking services for your next low key affair. Emphasis on low key. 



swedish scones

For the last week I've desired simple food — broths and lemony rice and jammy-buttered scones. This morning I enjoyed a rare moment of pause in the milk parlor to squeeze goat milk into my cup of coffee. Sustenance of any kind is welcome, but especially the simple sort. This diversion from my love of spice and onions on everything is not from nowhere; I know exactly where it comes from. Last week my grandma died. Her impossibly warm embrace is no longer ours for the taking, as she's left for a new life.

I've been recalling my Uncle Jay, a beloved family member of superhuman proportions who passed away several years ago. He would famously say, "Love to stay, but got to go."  And in those words I find my grandma, too. Because, truly, she would have loved to stay. She would have enjoyed nothing more than to hug her family and pray her daily rosary and have her morning oatmeal. In the last years of her life that's precisely what she did, and she cherished it. I know this. I grew up five minutes from her and spent every day of my youth at her house. I was blessed to live with her for a year before Mark and I were married, and in the last year of her life we became pen pals. And now, I miss her terribly. But then there's the second half of Jay's saying, "but got to go." . . . She did. To experience a natural death after a long, deliberate, marvelous life — who would I be to want for a different outcome?  I talk to my mama every day (my gram's youngest child of seven!), and we reiterate over and over that there is no despair in her death, only sadness.
Mourning, yes. Grief, yes. Despair, no. Imagining where she is now, I am filled with joy.

So, back to food. One of the ways I am coping with mourning is through eating—and even imagining—foods that remind me of her. Let's just say there was no coconut oil, almond milk, or chia seeds in her pantry. She drank whole milk her entire life and did not bat at eye at buttering a muffin. A muffin. My queen. This morning I made a very basic, shaggy Swedish scone (svenska) recipe that is less of a scone and more of a biscuit that came out shaped like a cake. Thus, in honor of my grandma's simple kitchen, it will sit in as June's Cake-of-the-Month. Food is, without question, the way I honor the ones I love. And I loved Mariellen Zaleski a lot. There is much honoring to do. Cheers to many simple buttered recipes in all of our futures. Anyway, love to stay, but got to go. 




On the sofa, feet up, coffee in hand, we ruminated over What Feels Good and What Needs Fixin' in life. Subject matter ranging from our marriage to our year off social media, from gratitude to whether or not we're drinking enough water (decidedly no). We figured out that we are equal but opposite when it comes to rising and resting. He needs coaxing out of bed with head scratches and hot coffee in order to wake up, and I need coaxing with conversation and activity to stay awake past 8:30. The thought was uttered that maybe a proper date would be a good idea, since neither of us could remember when the last one was, except that it was well before Winter hit in November. He taught me a bit about music, and I gave a casual lesson on European versus American buttercream frosting. The day before, I baked a coffee almond cake and dressed it up with the silkiest buttercream frosting I have ever tasted (learned from Butter: A Rich History). It was consumed in great company. We even managed a piece for the next day's breakfast. So it goes with my valentine. I will go so far as to call it our Best Ever Valentine's Day.

February's cake* is a good'n, and it comes from Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. My mother-in-law gifted me this cookbook for Christmas and I haven't stopped baking from it. Every recipe is incredibly straight-forward and prizes simple, whole ingredients. It does not shy away from sugar or butter or whole milk, but neither do I. Being that I only own four cookbooks, Fika is my companion for simple desserts and savory breakfast recipes. I think I've stained every page. This cake, hasselnötskaka med kaffe (hazelnut coffee cake in Swedish), is not especially sweet and has a wonderful texture from the ground nuts. I used almonds because I could not find hazelnuts at the grocery store and because I love almonds. Otherwise, I baked the cake exactly as described and really, really liked it.

I found the recipe available here if you want to try it! I surely think it's a worthy treat to feed your loved ones.

*Psst. I began my Cake-A-Month goal in 2017. Here's January's cake!




In consideration of the state of the union, there is much to write on, much to mull over, much to overcome. We have no shortage of thoughts — and, in full honesty, moments of desperation and anger — and so a bit of lightness and levity feels as important as ever. To this end, may we not forget that we are the masters of our mood and gratitude is a choice. If by chance every turn you make on the internet is wrought with opinions (good or bad) on politicos, here's something different: a cake adorned with hopping marzipan bunnies. A cake for January. Dense from olive oil and buttercream, and balanced with the lightness of lemon, this is Karen Mordechai's olive oil cake from Sunday Suppers, my favorite cookbook and Mark's favorite cake to eat. I'm not much for New Year resolutions, but I did make one: eat more cake. It's the same resolution I set in 2016, except this year I added the fun + highly caloric goal of a Cake-a-Month. Because as sad as mediocre cake makes me, excellent cake makes me really happy. 

For being extremely rural, Mark and I have found ourselves in quite a few clubs: Raw Milk Buying Club at our neighbor farm, Hamity Family Book Club Special (a self-made club in which we mail, every month, a special book to our nieces + nephews; psst: highly recommended), Fish Gang (a weekly supper club with our pals), and the Book Buying Club at our local, independent bookstore. The fourth really came in handy last week, when I was eager to buy Elaine Khosrova's Butter: A Rich History but didn't have expendable income. All our paychecks spent on books finally paid off because we had credit for a free book! I am unapologetically interested in butter. My job as a milkmaid surely influences my interest in the *magic alchemy* of plants being converted into milk being converted into butter, but if I could talk to you for five minutes I might make you a believer in butter, too. It is this food that is so elemental—boring, almost—that fuels my interest in cake, also. I love olive oil (the preferred fat of our family across the ocean) as much as butter, which I suppose explains this January cake.

So, I don't have the cake recipe to share* but I do have a hot tip for how to make any baked good special: marzipan. Marzipan is ground almonds and sugar, and it originated in Eastern Europe as so many delectable things do. It acts like fondant, but tastes delicious. If you don't care to make it, it can be found in a roll tube in the baking aisle. I work food coloring into hunks of marzipan, roll them out with a rolling pin, and use my favorite cut-outs to "theme" a cake. Over our winter visit to Ohio, I found this vintage bunny cut-out and couldn't wait to use it atop a big layer cake. I never make enough frosting, which is why most of my cakes look wonky and so lightly frosted, but I always have enough marzipan on hand. I'd love to know if you decide to give this a try, or if you're already a believer in marzipan.

Happy January's end, and may you find yourself with a big slice of cake. (You probably need it!)

*Sunday Suppers is a phenomenal cookbook that you should check out from the library, or maybe join a bookstore's membership club so that you can, eventually, get it on free credit.