Baker’s Choice

Tender yet firm chiffon, spiraled around and frosted with a blend of whipped cream, espresso, and Kahlua, with a crunchy coffee candy.
Tender yet firm chiffon, spiraled around and frosted with a blend of whipped cream, espresso, and Kahlua, with a crunchy coffee candy.

Back in the fall, my friend Holly asked me to make her a cake. “Baker’s choice,” she said. “Surprise me.” So after a few strategic questions (fancy or for a casual dinner? No nuts or fruit, please. How do you all feel about coffee?), I had the wonderfully fun task of selecting what I would bake for Holly and her family–like a matchmaker of cakes.

And in the same way that our choices speak to who we are, as a baker, I do see a certain logic to the cakes people request. Similar to how we look into a child’s face and trace features back to each parent–her mother’s eyes, his father’s smile–I can often connect the kind of cake someone requests to their personality.

Jules' lemon cake
Lemony white cake, doused in lemon syrup, lemon cream filling, and lemon curd buttercream.

For example, more often than not, Jules requests a lemon cake. And if you know Jules, this makes complete sense. Sweet, high density flavor profile, snappy and tart. Jules is an incredibly loving, compassionate, sweet person, who thinks deeply about dense subjects and packs a high density of meaning into life, and she is quick-witted and sassy–you’ll know it if you’ve gone too far–as delightful a blend of traits as the Lemon Cake that I now think of as her signature cake.

So in selecting a Baker’s Choice for Holly, it was a pretty quick journey to the Swiss Coffee Spiral. As a writer and a reader, Holly is sophisticated, perceptive, and intelligent. She has such skill with the pen, or keyboard as it were, that she can lay out the truth with a knockout punch so smooth and gentle that the recipient didn’t see it coming and is likely wondering why they’re out cold on the floor. We understand each other in that secret wink kind of way that I find writers generally do, but whereas I am all too often Annie Oakley, roaring in with blazing guns and a cloud of dust from the trail as I kick down the door and say what’s what, Holly is the East coast, tradition dense, women’s school educated sophisticate and I watch with no small amount of awe and respect for her measured thoughts and solid execution.

I connect Holly with coffee shops–someplace where people go to sit and think, read or commune meaningfully with others, to talk about ideas or crises or banalities with equal thoughtfulness. Holly is at once simple and classic, yet complex, which makes me think of a Swiss Roll–so simple in form, yet often complex to shape without cracking or weird, harsh angles.

Chiffon cake in a lovely spiral around the light, sophisticated blend of whipped cream, espresso, and Kahlua.
Chiffon cake in a lovely spiral around the light, sophisticated blend of whipped cream, espresso, and Kahlua.

This Swiss Coffee Spiral is delicate yet structured, sweet but with restraint. The chiffon cake is firm but tender; it’s coated with a blend of whipped cream, espresso, and Kahlua, then sprinkled with a frothy coffee candy that has a texture similar to crisp malt balls. It is the lovely intersection of simple and complex, rich and delicate. Hopefully, as she and her family share this cake after their Sunday dinner, she’ll find that my cake matchmaking was an ideal fit.

 

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