We were about two weeks into a four week diet (The Fast Metabolism Diet) and I was talking obsessively about dessert. Francis doesn’t care much for sweets so he tolerated my sugary ramblings without much temptation.
It’s actually bigger than cake though.
It all started a few years ago with my friends Erika and Blaine, after a screening of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” at the Film Forum in the West Village.
Nothing says old-time New York better than sitting in that cramped, unaltered downtown theater, packed full of Catherine Deneuve fans waiting to be taken on a kaleidoscopic French journey. I think we were not quite as moved by the production as some sobbing members of the audience, but this is not about classic film appreciation. Cake, remember?
Erika suggested we round out the afternoon with a cup of coffee and a snack from a local bakery: Amy’s Bread, on Bleecker Street. Bleecker Street is another New York time portal. Little restaurants and stores hold strong against the luxury condo invasion. You can sit and sip and relish this moment of cakey peace without the penumbra of skyscraper construction overshadowing your day.
Amy’s Bread has many cakes on display, but I was drawn to their classic yellow cake with bright pink frosting. It’s the sort of indulgence that instantly removes any pretense you have about being a grown up. It’s the seriousness eraser that we all need from time to time. It became a tradition: good friends, old movies and cake. Our lives would roller coaster through ups and downs and that pink cake both soothed and celebrated those turns. In fact, when I got married last October, I told Erika that we needed to go down to Amy’s (with no classic movie intro) for a cake tasting. She didn’t need much convincing.
In Amy’s, Erika peered into the cake display case and pointed to different confections.
“OOOHHHH, how about a Lemon Mousseleine Cake! I think we’d all love that! Or this Coconut Cream cake!”
“No,” I said, “I want the pink cake.”
“You only want it because it’s pink.” Erika said, as if that’s not a real reason.
“No, I would have them make it white, but it’s such a good cake. It’s sweet and silly and unpretentious.”
Unpretention was kind of the theme of our wedding, after all. And this cake, pink or not, had become a symbol to me of friendship and survival in New York. I needed it there at my wedding to send me off on my new adventures with my new husband while celebrating with my old friends.
In all honesty, this transition hasn’t been a piece of cake for me. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy focused on getting my business set up. Work is a great excuse for an introvert like myself, but I do see it for what it is– an excuse. Sometimes I feel lonely. Sometimes I’m really scared. It’s hard to make new friends, especially when your old friends are so amazing. But then I think, “Cry me a fucking river, Alison. You’ve found the perfect man– capable of listening to your fears without trying to fix you. You’ve moved to a gorgeous and welcoming city, with inspiration on every corner. You’ve found a home that makes you feel secure and exhilarated. You’ve got a marketable skill and a really cute dog. The only thing slowing you down is the belief that you haven’t changed at all. But look around: everything is different and it’s all because you were brave enough to leap into a new world.” And it works, this me talking to me about me. I’ll be ok. I always am.
When Francis and I finished our diet (4 pounds lighter for me and 5 for him), I jumped back into the kitchen to try out the recipe for Amy’s cake that I’d found online. I thought the cake was outstanding – it was light and buttery without being too sweet. The recipe for the frosting, however, was cloyingly so. Francis had asked me if the recipes put online were always correct (would sales for their cakes be lessened if the recipe for that same cake was available?) I said I had a feeling that some chefs alter the published recipes a bit, and I think this might be an example. So here is Amy’s Bread recipe for yellow cake and my recipe for pink frosting. To be enjoyed with your best friends.
Amy’s Yellow Cake
3 cups + 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups + 3 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cups +2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 3/4 cups + 2 teaspoons sugar
5 large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2, 9 inch cake pans. Line the bottoms with rounds of baking parchment then dust them lightly with flour. Shake out the excess.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk them gently for even distribution. In a separate bowl combine the milk and vanilla.
- Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until it is light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs gradually, mixing well after each addition, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl often.
- Lower the mixing speed to medium-low and add the flour mixture to the butter in 3 parts, alternating with 2 parts of the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix just until it is evenly incorporated. This is a thick, fluffy batter, resembling whipped cream. There should not be any lumps or dry pockets of flour remaining. If the batter has a curdled appearance it has not been mixed enough. Increase the speed to medium and mix for another minute or until it is thick and fluffy.
- Divide the batter equally between the 2 or 3 prepared cake pans. The pans should be about ⅔ full. Smooth the batter so it fills the pans evenly. Place the pans on the center rack in the preheated oven.
- Bake them for about 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the layers carefully from front to back after 20 minutes. The cake is done when it’s almost ready to pull away from the side of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs.
- Cool the pans on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert them onto a wire rack that has been sprayed with cooking spray and lift off the pans. Let cool completely while you prepare the frosting.
2 cups unsalted butter, cubed and softened at room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup powdered fondant
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
fine table salt, to taste
a few drops of lemon juice (SERIOUSLY, JUST A FEW DROPS)
2 drops of red food coloring
- In a medium-sized bowl, using a mixer fitted with either a flat beater or a whisk attachment, beat the softened butter until fluffy and creamy, about 2 minutes.
- Add the powdered sugar, the powdered fondant, the cream and the vanilla. Mix slowly with flat beater or by hand until smooth, fluffy and creamy, and the buttercream has lightened in color, about 3-5 minutes.
- Taste to see if the frosting needs salt. Then add one drop of lemon juice and taste again. The lemon juice will add to the character of the frosting but shouldn’t be detectable.
- Add the food coloring to your pinky preference and whip until the flavor and color is incorporated.
- Frost away!