Let Them Eat Cake!

I celebrated my 21st birthday with two cakes.One was devil’s food with German Chocolate icing that my mother made and sent to me by way of my younger brother.The other was a pound cake with pink, lemon-flavored fondant icing, an old-fashioned confection baked by my great-aunt Helen who lived in the small North Carolina town where I was going to college.

One birthday, two cakes—that’s just about the right ratio.When I moved to Los Angeles the next year, I ate my birthday meal in a now-defunct coffee shop called The Copper Penny.I ordered a slice of carrot cake.It was good.I ordered another slice to take home to the tiny studio apartment I rented in the middle of L.A.’s Korea Town.I’d been in the city for six weeks.There was no one in Los Angeles who loved me enough to make me a cake.

I felt pretty sorry for myself until I discovered that most of my new friends had never actually tasted home-made cake. Never.They were familiar with bakery cakes that come with thick, lard-laden frosting that coats your tongue with a sweet slime. Some had made cakes themselves from mixes and been happy with the results.(And really, the chocolate cake mixes on the market are great.If you weren’t raised on home-made cake.)The idea of someone actually … baking … a cake for them was an exotic concept.

Poor deprived children.As Benjamin Franklin once said about beer, “cake is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

I baked a cake for my best friend’s 25th birthday.It was chocolate with a chocolate mousse and raspberry filling and chocolate fudge frosting.Her response was the kind of rapturous appreciation master chefs dream of.

I make her birthday cake every year now.Because I love her and because making a cake is a way of saying, “I love you.”When my brother and sister and I were little, our mother used to make these incredibly elaborate cakes for us.There was a rocking horse for my brother one summer; a butterfly for my sister; a train for me.At Easter there would be coconut cake with the coconut dyed green with food coloring and little jelly bean “eggs” hidden in the “grass.”She invented a cake filled with walnuts and sour cherries to celebrate George Washington’s birthday.(It was served warm with cherry syrup poured over it.But it was also good cold, sans syrup.)

As we grew up, I started baking more and more.Bread and sweet rolls, brownies and cookies.And cake.

I once made my sister a Buche de Noell for her birthday because that’s what she wanted. No one in France makes their own; and there’s a reason why.By the time you make the cake and the filling and the syrup to brush the cake layers and the frosting—you’ve used up every pan in your kitchen and had to borrow some from your neighbors.I have to say, though, it was pretty tasty.And she was pleased that someone had gone to all that effort to please her.Which made me happy.

There’s an old expression, “If I’d known you were coming, I’d have baked a cake.”I grew up in a house where that could have been embroidered on a sampler.Food isn’t love, but making food for the people you love is an act of love.And there’s no sweeter way to say you care about someone than making them a cake.

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