I AM WRITING THIS POST FROM MY DINING ROOM, alongside a giant piece of leftover cake. Tim’s gone at a meeting, and I’m facing a front window, from which I have now seen my neighbor add and take things from at least three different people’s trash bins this bright and sunny Trash Day, and everything’s as quiet as it is in the middle of the night. Actually, I take that last sentence back. The neighbor’s terrier just got loose, and a woman walking down the street with her dog just became the middle of a barking, frenzied confrontation. But, ah, the neighbor’s wife is coming out! The loose terrier is lolling in the grass and being rubbed! Now, all is quiet again.
Last night was my turn to host book club, the first time since we launched this monthly meetup back at the start of the year. There are nine of us in the group, ten if you count Emmie who got a job in Chattanooga this summer and now reads along with us from two hours away. When you host, you make snacks, and for Tim’s and my sakes, it’s probably good book club is always at the end of the month when it meets, because that way, when everyone comes over on the last Tuesday of August, I know not to spend a hundred dollars on food as the end-of-the-month food budget is noticeably smaller—but, for my book club’s sake, it’s also good my turn happened to fall in the month of August because I am the fresh recipient of my parents’ annual Whole Foods gift card as a birthday gift, and so yesterday afternoon Tim ran to the grocery after his meetings and came home bearing the makings of all the fresh vegetables, fruit, butter, flour and cream I could want.
Before he’d left that morning, I’d seen a tall birthday cake on Pinterest and told him how I wanted to try one. It was a sort of ambitious just-before-guests-come project to take on, especially for a girl who would list layer cakes among her top five most scary things to bake (it’s the frosting! hand me a spatula with whipped cream and I freeze!), but when I’d finished my hours for the day and he came home with brown paper bags, he helped me mix and bake and assemble things. He also spread most of the frosting. Everything was going beautifully until I decided to pull out the parchment strips I’d criss-crossed underneath the cake (“So the cake plate will be pretty and frosting-free!”) and ended up breaking the cake apart. PANIC! The end result was a large, pink, dense, moist layer cake—smooshed back together and slightly tilted to one side, like a sort of Leaning Tower of Cake hidden beneath all that whipped cream. With spelt or other heavy flours, it’s hard to achieve the same lightness of crumb and fluffy texture that defined the cake mixes of our childhoods, so the cake wasn’t as tall as I’d hoped, despite its three layers. The frosting job wasn’t perfect. And in the process of assembling things, I’d managed to spread cake crumbs all over the kitchen, from the stove burners to the floor.
“Oh, well,” I said out loud to the kitchen after Tim had left again and my book club friends were on their ways. “It’s just another rustic.”
I set out all the food minutes before seven. I lit candles. I wiped the counters clean and set out chairs. Then, I plopped down on the sofa and looked at Instagram and barely moved when my friend April arrived. “Come on in!” I shouted to her through the storm door, motioning for her to join me on the couch. Not quite a Martha Stewart welcome, but it was the most genuine one I could offer. She plopped down next to me, more friends arrived, and Tracy said, “Is it okay if I go grab some food? I’m starving!” and I was so happy, I wanted to cry. Planning a party, whether that means buying drinks or baking cakes or spending money or all of the above, is stressful, but (!) seeing people eat what you give them is such a reward.
Over the course of the next few hours, we talked about our book and about Ernest Hemingway and about marriage and about creative pursuits and about Woody Allen and about Paris and, I guess, about life, all alongside peppers and hummus, slices of birthday cake. A little after nine, my friend Carrie asked for a tour of the house, and so there I was parading our messy guest bedroom and full laundry basket for everyone to see. “Might as well be real,” I heard myself saying, speaking the feelings to make them come.
Then everyone left; then Tim came home; then we did dishes and he told me about his meeting and I told him about my book club, and we went to bed.
In the morning, I opened the fridge and found plastic baggies of chopped vegetables, plastic baggies of chopped fruit, a bowl of leftover hummus, the entire white bowl of kale salad I never remembered to put out. This was always one of my favorite parts of entertaining—the prepared, packaged leftovers in the fridge the next day.
I reached for a piece of cake, and I brought it to the table, and I ate it, right here alongside my computer while I wrote to you.
Spelt Birthday Layer Cake with Raspberry Whipped Cream
Makes one three-layered nine-inch cake (enough for a crooooowd!)
This really is a lot of cake, so be prepared to serve a lot of people or to have half the cake leftover, the way I do today. Alternate options would be to make only one or two layers; to make thinner layers; to make cupcakes, the way we did with an adapted version of this cake recipe using einkorn and a ricotta filling.
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened to room temperature
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
2 1/2 cups coconut sugar
8 eggs (I know!)
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 1/2 cups spelt flour
6 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoon salt
2 cup milk
1 cup yogurt
1/2 cup water
Equipment needed: 3 nine-inch-round cake pans
For layers: 16 ounces plain cream cheese and enough honey to sweeten to taste
For frosting: 1 pint of whipping cream and enough honey to sweeten to taste, plus a handful of fresh raspberries to make it pink
Preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Grease and flour the three nine-inch-round cake pans and set aside.
Begin by grinding the coconut sugar in a food processor or Vitamix to get it a little more fine. Combine this sugar with softened butter, olive oil and coconut oil in a large bowl, creaming it all together. Next, beat in the eight eggs and vanilla.
Make a dry bowl and a wet bowl:
DRY BOWL: In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.
WET BOWL: In a small bowl, combine milk, yogurt and water.
Now, add the dry and wet mixtures to the creamed sugar alternately. (Add some from dry; mix; add some from wet; mix; add some from dry; etc.) Once well combined, divide batter among the three pans.
Bake cakes for 30 to 40 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool before removing from pans to frost.
WHILE CAKES COOL:
In a small to medium bowl, combine 16 ounces cream cheese with enough honey to your taste. Stir together until combined.
In a large glass bowl, pour the pint of whipping cream, tilt the bowl, and use a stand mixer to whip the cream on the highest setting possible without spraying cream everywhere. Keep blending until soft peaks form. Add enough honey to sweeten the cream to your liking. Add raspberries and blend just a little longer, being careful not to overblend (or you’ll end up with butter!).
Place first cake layer on cake plate. Top with about a 1/3 of the cream cheese mixture, spreading it out in a nice, even layer. Add next cake layer. Top with another 1/3 of the cream cheese mixture, spreading it out in a nice even layer. Add next cake layer.
Add the remaining cream cheese mixture to the whipped cream—this will make the whipped cream just slightly sturdier and easier to spread.
Frost cake, top and sides, in whatever form and fashion works best for you. Enjoy!