I went to a wedding two days ago with a thought from a book fresh in my mind. “We could eat a cookie or a doughnut or a cupcake every day,” the book said. “Cake is special. You really feel you have to deserve it.” That’s why cake is prominent at celebrations, birthdays, welcome home parties, and weddings.
So amid the matrimonial music, ceremony, gowns, and attractive, energetic young men and women Sunday, I took the time to appreciate my slice of red velvet cake with white butter cream frosting [pictured below]. The newlyweds deserved it, but I was fortunate to be there to share in the celebration.
The book I finished the night before was Leslie Miller’s new Let Me Eat Cake: A Celebration of Flour, Sugar, Butter, Eggs, Vanilla, Baking Powder, and a Pinch of Salt, a fun look at the author’s obsession with her favorite food. Although eight recipes are tucked within the pages, this is not a cookbook. It is a very engaging, personal appreciation of cake — thinking about, making, looking at, savoring, and devouring cake.
Call it cake lust. Miller does not want to eat cake; she is compelled to do so. “Addicted, neurotic, weak-willed,” she describes herself. Cake attracts her as she alternates between inhaling and avoiding it.
While I don’t share quite the same affection for cake as Miller, I can certainly relate. My obsession is Italian food. Ladling a thick tomato sauce on pasta has the same effect on me as spreading sweet frosting on a two-layer sponge cake for her.
Miller structures her book in layers and tiers (instead of chapters) and fills it with cake history, personal stories, and humor. The former college English teacher offers up funny observations, comedians’ punchlines, and clever turns of phrase. Example: “I have loved a lot of cakes. And I have loved some of them in shameful ways.”
There is also — in the fourth, fifth and sixth tiers — Miller’s exploration of professional cake-making from mass production bakeries to expensive specialty shops to a Today Show wedding cake competition.
But the personal nature of the writing grabs you whether you’re identifying with her guilt-dispensing Jewish grandmother (who I can vividly hear in my head as I read the words), sympathizing with her gestational diabetes, or comparing her baking experiences for family and school events with your own.
I had the pleasure of meeting the author last year. Our conversations then centered on our mutual interests of birds and photography, but I read this book as if we were picking up our discussion where we left off.
It can’t be a long discussion, though. I have to find a Boston Cream Pie. I’m hungry for cake now.
PHOTOS © Steve Campion