A little more than 100 days and counting…my new cookbook called American Cake will emerge from the oven!
Cakes have been my passion, obsession, and occupation. I have enjoyed a celebratory, eyes-wide-open life marked by cake, candles, and good times spent with family and friends. Which is why I wrote American Cake, to show how cake has always been part of the American story. I share the deep and real stories and authentic recipes behind our country’s classic – as well as lesser-known – cakes, from past to present.
It was a sweet experience… to pardon the pun. And had I known American history would have something to do with my career, I might have paid better attention in high school history class! But thankfully, we get second chances and mine was a fascinating project to uncover the who, what, where, why, and how behind cake in our great land.
Our country is blessed with the contributions from all the people who have lived here and left their marks on its cuisine. And if you didn’t know that from history class or personal family experiences, do the research on American cake and you will find we would be nothing without the German Blitz Torte, the Swedish cardamom coffee cake, the French style of King Cake of New Orleans, and many more unknown cakes to this Southern girl born and raised in Nashville.
Sure, I had baked a Lane Cake, Lady Baltimore, and Japanese Fruitcake. These were mainstays when I took my first job as food writer of the Atlanta Journal. I also knew the classic pound, coconut layer, Appalachian Stack Cake, Huguenot Torte, and the Coca-Cola Cake.
But I did not know cakes from other regions – how a chocolate cake from Los Alamos, NM, for example, fed the souls of the men who created the atom bomb. Or the Pink Champagne cake, beloved in California, or the spice and cane syrup cakes of Louisiana, the fig cakes from Ocracoke Island, the Wellesley Fudge Cake and Mother Ann’s peach cake of New England. I didn’t know how the Wacky Cake, Fruit Cocktail Cake, and Tunnel of Fudge Cake came into our lexicon. I didn’t know how hard it was to bake a cake during the Depression, nor did I know how sweet victory cake tasted after the end of World War II.
“The recipe for American cake looks something like this – one part technique and history from a homeland, one part available ingredients, and one part American spirit.”
– Anne Byrn, American Cake
What I learned from this book is that no matter the place or time in American history, people baked cakes to share with those they loved. They baked to celebrate and commemorate holidays as well as individuals. And ironically, some of our more modern cakes have a lot in common with our earliest American cakes. They are less sweet, smaller, and they contain organic wheat and often cornmeal.
And while I share the history of cake mix and how it helped create a new definition of post-war American cake, the recipes in this book are from-scratch. Many are one-bowl easy, like the Lazy Daisy Cake and Mary Ball Washington’s Gingerbread. Others are for layer cakes, Bundts, sheet cakes, and of course, the American brownie. I hope you enjoy the stories in the book, bake the recipes, and learn about our country through cake. This might be the sweetest news to be shared this election year. So, sift the flour and set the oven, the story of American cake begins.