I’ve always loved cake. Deeply. The fewer ingredients a cake has, the more I want it. There’s nothing as comforting as the smell of a cake baking when you walk into a home. It smells like love.
Simple Cake is a selection of unfussy, classic recipes that I’ve been tinkering away at for years, not only to satisfy cravings but also to share my love of cake with my family and friends. These recipes are the ones that are in high rotation in my busy home. They’re simple enough to survive a little household chaos; in fact, let’s just agree that pandemonium is one of the ingredients.
Because no two cravings are the same, I’ve written this like a choose-your- own-adventure cake book: ten cakes and fifteen toppings that can be mixed and matched to create endless flavor combinations. At their simplest, these cakes can be baked and dusted with confectioners’ sugar. I’ve also created a chart of flavor combinations for you to experiment with as you get to know the recipes. Following the base recipes are thirty cake-worthy moments when the people in my life need or enjoy cake, and it goes way beyond birthdays.
You might be wondering where to find the time and energy to bake a cake. It’s hard enough most days just getting dinner on the table; right? But here’s the thing; I promise you that it won’t take long to bake one of these cakes for that birthday boy or girl, for a friend who’s having a rough time, for yourself as a bribe, for someone who has captured your heart, for a family treat, or because it’s rainy and you’re stuck inside with sick kids. Bake for the people you love, and they’ll surely love you for it. Baking a cake for someone shows that you’ve put them at the forefront of your mind, that you’ve used your time and creativity to love them. Even if it’s lopsided love.
I had the idea for Simple Cake rattling around in my head for years. There’s
an iconic publication that had a huge impact on my relationship with cake: The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book. Published in the eighties, it became the bible for kids’ parties around the country and a cult classic back home in Australia. The premise was simple: one cake recipe, a handful of toppings, and a bunch of fanciful themed designs that made
it nearly impossible for a child to choose just one every year. You wanted them all so badly that the selection process became half the fun. There were typewriters, pools, rockets, castles, pirates, and the coveted train cake that graced the cover. (I never got that one!) These cakes satisfied every kid’s birthday cake dream. It was an imaginative workhorse of a book— home-baker friendly and a source of rich family folklore. Making the cakes generated many happy and hilarious memories. It was always exciting to turn up at a friend’s birthday party to see which cake they had chosen and how their family had executed the design.
It was the unexpected death of my father that finally gave life to Simple Cake. When I was back in Australia helping organize Dad’s funeral, I found myself poring over his old photos. In among the curling images was one of Dad and me. We’re in the backyard with a neighborhood friend and my brother. I was dressed in Dad’s paint-splattered cargo work shirt, looking at a cake he had baked for my birthday, taken from a recipe in The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book. Dad is craning over the cake, lighting the candles as I helped by shielding them. Despite the fact that my father’s family had owned a successful bread bakery in town, I know that Dad, a newly divorced father in his late thirties, would have been out of his comfort zone baking a bunny birthday cake. It was a bittersweet discovery, a happy childhood memory I’d forgotten about that I suddenly wished I could thank him for.That photo was taken more than thirty years ago, and I’m now a mother to Opal and Ned and stepmother to their big sisters Dixie and Matilda. Remembering that cake my father had created made me appreciate how important small acts of kindness are in the big picture, that when you step outside your comfort zone, good things can transpire. I’m now a long way from that secure, suburban childhood. Twelve years ago, I left Australia for love, and it has been an adventure.
Home is now a brownstone in Brooklyn with a never-ending rotation of friends and family coming and going. I love the energy of a full house. It keeps homesickness at bay and gives me a good excuse to bake. After I returned home from Dad’s funeral, I felt a need to share why I believe cake matters.Simple Cake started with a summer of baking and jotting down my cake memories. (Tough gig.) My infatuation with cakes began, as it does for many, in early childhood. On special occasions, my mother would bake, and after she had finished mixing the batter, my brother and I would each get a beater to lick. One beater was never enough. I’d sneak my fingers into the batter when she wasn’t looking and rescue the spatula from the sink. When I was a little older, I’d come home from school cravingsomething sweet. When I couldn’t find anything except the salty sandwich spread, Vegemite, and brown bread in the pantry, I’d mix myself some cake batter. I did this so often that I memorized a basic batter recipe—with just the perfect afternoon portion. Most times, I wouldn’t bother baking the cake—I’d just eat the batter. To this day, I still don’t know which I lovemore: the batter or the baked cake. I have no fear of salmonella.
Copyright © 2019 by Odette Williams. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.