Rainbow Pride Party Cake

July 16, 2009 at 12:36 pm 118 comments

I think all little kids, at least at one point, have unrealistic ideas about what they’ll become when they grow up. I know I did. For a while I wanted to be an actress, then a singer, then a vet, and I went through an inevitable, short-lived pokemon master phase. I also remember once announcing that when I grew up, I wanted to be a duckling.

Yeah, I don’t know where that came from either.

But there was always something I wanted to be that I never told anyone about. I wanted to be a creative product namer – it would be the most fun job in the world! As a child I’d walk through the candle aisle of a store and think to myself, “This would be Golden Raspberry Dream and this one could be named Velvet Plum.” My favorite was to think of cute crayon colors, like Pink Lemonade Paradise and Safety Patrol Yellow.

Turns out I still can’t help but do it!

I can’t look at this vivid rainbow cake without feeling a bit of that creative spark all over again – Cherry-Red Hard Candy, Greenest Grass Green, Princess Eyes Blue. And even though I’ve seen the rainbow a million times, I still experienced an unexpected feeling when the cake was cut open. It was as if someone had waved a magic wand and restored all of the childish wonder and curiosity that I thought I’d outgrown years ago.

This cake was commissioned for a local company’s Pride celebration. I knew right away that rather than make a regular cake decorated with rainbow frosting, I wanted to make every layer a different color. This suggestion was met with a lot of enthusiasm, and I didn’t realize the difficulties of it until later.

First of all, I’d never made a cake of this size – six layers, 9″x13″ – and secondly I haven’t had a lot of success with white cakes. They usually end up dry or flavorless. Yet here I was, making six layers. I was also worried about height. Six layers is surprisingly tall, even taller after you add frosting, and I didn’t want the cake to lean or fall apart. I settled on Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party cake… after all, I trust Dorie whole-heartedly and it seemed like a moist, flavorful white cake that would also be sturdy.

I made two layers in advance, just to test things out. Unfortunately, I found the cake to be dry and much too sweet. I cut each layer into three, stacked them, and moaned a little when I saw how tall the finished cake would be. I tested freezing the layers, but they came out even drier the next day. I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into.

I pushed forward, and the morning of the party I woke up at 6:30 to be absolutely sure I’d have enough time to do the whole cake. Dorie’s recipe makes two 9″ round layers, so I was using one recipe to make two thin 9″x13″ layers – basically I would have to repeat the recipe three times. I measured, sifted, and set out all my ingredients beforehand. Then I made two layers at a time, did dishes, and repeated, working like clockwork.

I do kind of go into “baking mode” when I work, especially when I’m alone. I concentrate completely on the task at hand, and it feels good. I have a friend who loves running because it clears his mind and lets him focus, and this happens when I’m in the kitchen. Even though I was doing the same recipe over and over, it didn’t feel repetitive, and I even enjoy the feeling of being busy.

When all the layers were baked, I decided not to go with Dorie’s buttercream frosting, since it could be too rich in a 6 layer cake. I was going to go with whipped cream, but felt frosting would better hold the cake. Finally, I wanted the cakes to be moistened with jam but not too sweet. I ended up thinly spreading every layer with apricot jelly, then alternating whipped cream and cream cheese frosting. I frosted the outside with cream cheese frosting and then pressed shredded coconut into the cake.

Driving the cake to the office was a little nerve wracking. I was so worried about the cake leaning! A few hours ago, I had chilled the cake between layers. I had checked on it and realized, with horror, the cake was leaning to the right. I had turned the pan around and when I returned twenty minutes layer, the cake had straightened out. But every time we came to a sudden stop or made a sharp turn, I thought I could feel the cake moving like the leaning tower of pisa.

We made it to the office in one piece. Everyone who saw the cake was impressed by how big it was (and it was heavy!) It sort of looked like a giant coconut candy. But nothing can compare to the reactions I got when the cake was cut. The inside was a surprise, and it elicited gasps and outbursts of surprise all around. It was a room of adults, and yet there was still a wisp – no, a spark – of that innocent, fleeting joy at seeing something colorful. At that moment, I was reminded why I love to bake so much. This is what it’s for. I love to make people happy, and here was an entire room full of happy people – but I don’t think anyone was happier than me.

I was nervous about taste, but I’d learned a lot from my test run. Even though the cake was served in tiny, teetering slices, it was almost completely devoured as people came back for seconds.

It’s almost indecent that I was paid to do this. Creative product namer? No, what I am doing right now must be the most fun job in the world.

I was more than happy with Dorie’s cake. After my adjustments, it was perfect – it was moist, had a beautiful tight crumb, and was just sweet and lemony enough. It might even be my new go-to white cake. When I froze my test run, it came out dry and crumbly, so it’s definitely best the day it’s made. I think it’s worth getting up early for.

I don’t know if people noticed the difference between whipped cream and cream cheese between the layers, but my dad and I did. We both liked the whipped cream better because it was lighter and added a creamy texture. At the same time, the cream cheese layers helped to hold the cake together. Despite all my fears about the cake leaning, this cake stayed upright and perfectly straight as it got smaller and smaller. I also thought the apricot jelly was great, adding moisture and a little flavor without being too prominent.

The cake was supposed to serve 20, but it could have definitely served 30 because the pieces were so small. I am highly recommending this cake. Good for your taste buds, good for your reputation, good for your emotional well being. I think everyone needs a rainbow cake once in a while.

Rainbow Pride Party Cake
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Makes a 6 layer 9″x13″ cake

I only had two pans. I would make the following recipe three times for a total of 6 layers, rather than tripling the recipe. If you don’t have buttermilk, make it by combining 1 tbsp lemon juice with a scant cup of whole milk for five minutes. Finally you want really soft butter, with the texture of mayonnaise.

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 slightly rounded cup sugar (originally 1 1/2)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
Gel or powder food coloring

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and put a rack in the middle or upper third of the oven. Butter two 9″x13″ glass pans and line with buttered parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the egg whites and buttermilk.

Cream the butter, zest, and sugar in a mixer on medium speed for a full 3 minutes until very light and fluffy. Beat in the lemon extract, then add 1/3 of the flour mixture, still on medium speed.

Beat in half of the egg-buttermilk mixture, then half of the remaining flour mixture, then the last of the egg-buttermilk mixture, and finally the last of the flour, beating until the batter is smooth. Beat the entire batter on medium high for two minutes until completely smooth and mixed.

Divide the batter in two (it’s about 6 cups total batter.) Dye each batter a different color of the rainbow and scrape into the two pans. Bake 20 minutes, rotating halfway through, or until a thin knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pans five minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack. To ensure moistness, once the cakes are cooled, wrap immediately and chill.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes enough to frost and fill two layers of Pride cake
From The Joy of Cooking

24 oz cream cheese
15 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
6 tsp vanilla extract
6 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Beat the cream cheese, butter, and extract together until combined. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until the desired consistency is reached.

Assembling the cake: Cut a piece of cardboard slightly larger than the layers and put strips of parchment paper all around the edges. Set the purple layer on top. Spread with a small amount of apricot jelly, then a small amount of stiff, sweetened whipped cream. (Sorry, I didn’t take measurements.) Top with the blue layer. Spread again with jelly, then a small amount of cream cheese frosting. You want very thin layers of frosting, just enough to cover the cake. Repeat with the remaining layers, spreading each with jelly and alternating between whipped cream and frosting. To hold the cake together, it’s helpful to chill between layers.

Use an offset spatula to wipe excess filling off the sides, which may have spilled out. Cover the entire cake with a very thin layer of cream cheese frosting (a crumb coat) and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Then frost the entire cake and press shredded coconut into the sides. Keep the cake wrapped in the refrigerator. Take it out 20 minutes before serving and enjoy!

Printer Friendly Version – Rainbow Pride Party Cake

Entry filed under: Cake/Cupcakes. Tags: , , , , , , .

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118 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lyn  |  July 19, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    This is great I love it. Your story was so inspiring. I wish you luck in your creativeness. You are fantastic.

  • 2. Baking Monster  |  July 20, 2009 at 1:02 am

    Elissa! This cake is amazing! Your so crafty, I wish I could be like you. nice job! Oh and i dont drink green tea either I just have a addiction to matcha. :)

  • 3. Shelly  |  July 20, 2009 at 5:28 am

    This cake is awesome!
    BTW, my youngest son, who’s now 3 said that when he grows up he wants to be a toy or a snake….I think I would have preferred a duckling ;)

  • 4. zoe  |  July 20, 2009 at 7:04 am

    This is such a wonderful cake! I love coconut and the surprise inside!

  • 5. Erin  |  July 20, 2009 at 9:18 am

    These rainbow cakes are always such impressive dishes. How can anyone not want to eat something so vibrant and happy looking?! Great work!

  • 6. Angela  |  July 20, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    This is so creative! It reminds me of Rainbow Bright. =)

  • 7. alicia  |  July 20, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    That thing is massive! You did a great job on all the layers. Im always scared the more layers I add the more likely it will topple over! You should be proud of that one.

  • 8. birthday cake pictures  |  July 20, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    I love coconut and cream fillings, this cake looks like heaven and its like you unleash the 60’s when you cut it! You are very talented to come up with such a fantastic cake!

  • 9. flory  |  July 20, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    <3 <3 my mum used to make rainbow cake, but never as colourful as this.

  • 10. Susan  |  July 20, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    I just found your post by Stumble, and what a huge coincidence! I just made a cake on July 16 for my three year old’s birthday party the next day and it looks almost identical to yours! The ONLY difference (looks-wise) is that I started with the red layer on the bottom and mine wasn’t covered with coconut. (purple on the bottom looks better). Other than that, just by looking at the pics, I would have thought that was my cake! :-) I also used the gel colors and mine came out the same. The cake itself was somewhat different though. I don’t have the baking skills that it looks like you have. I’m just too lazy and in a hurry to bake the cake from scratch so I used Pillsbury Super Moist classic white cake mixes (one box for each 9X13 layer). In each layer, I added fruit. In the purple layer, I added fresh blackberries (I chopped them because they were so big), for the blue, I used blueberries, in the green I used the zest of a couple limes and squeezed some of the lime juice into the batter, I did the same with the yellow and orange layers only using lemons and oranges, and for the red layer, I lightly mashed fresh red raspberries and mixed them in. That white cake on it’s own is super moist because it has pudding in the mix, but adding the fruits REALLY made it wonderfully moist. I was afraid of it tasting like Fruit Loops, but it was very delicately flavored. (I think next time I will mash the berries through a sieve to get those teeny tiny little seeds that berries always have out). For frosting, I made a fluffy white chocolate icing from melting white chocolate chips, beating in butter and several pounds of powdered sugar and just a small amount of milk until it was a wonderfully smooth, fluffy and an easy to spread consistency. It was SO good and really held the layers together perfectly. That reaction when we cut into the cake was just fantastic, but the reaction to the flavor was even better. The little ones loved how it looked and the adults loved the flavor and several adults wanted some to take home. Even now, four days after it was made, and refrigerated all this time, it is still super moist and not the least bit dry. Next time, I’ll make the layers thinner, 1/2 a box mix per layer, because it was MASSIVE when it was completed, and very heavy. I will also try making it round instead.

    I would like to try it using your recipe sometime, I especially like the idea of spreading the fruit jam between the layers, sounds delicious!

    Thanks for a great post, can’t wait to dig through the rest of your blog!

  • 11. Gourmet Mama  |  July 21, 2009 at 5:44 am

    This is definitely one party cake that everybody would love. The colors are are amazing! The cake is so adorable. Hope I can make one myself.

  • 12. chefmaven  |  July 21, 2009 at 9:24 am

    great photos too… good job surely!

  • 13. Kathryn  |  July 21, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Wow, I’m impress…and proud :) Great job!

  • 14. Jamie  |  July 21, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    The vibrant colors in this cake are stunning! Well done!

  • 15. Melissa99  |  July 21, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Beautiful cake!

  • 16. Michelle  |  July 21, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    I love, love, love your blog.

    You are such an imaginative and talented baker, I am jealous. :)

    Your cake looks delicious. I am obsessed with anything that looks like it could be clown puke…from sprinkles to candy to to random odds and ends.

    Now I want cake.

    Happy Summer!

  • 17. Lori  |  July 22, 2009 at 10:07 am

    This is a beautiful cake. Are you sure your 17? You are amazing.

    My kids would go crazy over this cake!

  • 18. Simone (junglefrog)  |  July 23, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Wow, what an amazing cake!! I just came over from Nutmeg Nanny who was using your Mojito glaze, so I had to come and check it out myself…. That is one hell of an impressive cake you made there!

  • 19. Paula  |  July 24, 2009 at 7:33 am

    I have a soft spot for rainbow things (who doesn’t?) – always tend to bake more rainbow goodies than it would be considered appropriate for a grown up :D… Your cake is beautiful and put a big smile on my face!

  • 20. innocentcooking  |  July 24, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Wow, well done Elissa!

    This cake looks really impressive. Keep up the good work!

  • 21. sara  |  July 26, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    SO CUTE! I love it…the perfect pride cake. :)

  • 22. iheartdessert  |  July 28, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    I love how bright and vibrant the colors are!

  • 23. sage  |  August 18, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    I love the bright colors! Do you know any blogs written by kids?

  • 24. Sue  |  November 15, 2009 at 5:36 am

    Stunning! For the DB torte challenge, I made mine rainbow layers:)

  • 25. jennywenny  |  November 17, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Glad you enjoyed the dorie cake, I thought it was delicious too! Its not good under too much frosting or fondant as its very light, but wonderful for this presentation!

    Just found your blog via twitter/gluten free girl, just lovely!

  • 26. Grant Mildwaters  |  November 21, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Elissa, this cake is amazing!
    I’ve volunteered myself to bake the birthday cake for Joy94.9 (a GLBTIQ radio station here in Melbourne, Australia), and your cake was almost exactly what I had in mind!
    I’ll be baking the cakes in 30x19cm tins, two at a time, then splitting them horizontally to make each layer the area of 4 cakes (60x38cm or 24x15in). Then repeating this 6 times for each colour. Am going to do the same as Susan (comment 61) and make each layer a different flavour; Red = Raspberry, Orange = Orange, Yellow = Lemon, Green = Lime, Blue = Blueberry and Purple = Blackberry/Mulberry.
    Baking and Home Cooking is a fantastic skill to have, and to have such a great talent and enthusiasm at just 17, you’re in good stead! Keep it up!

  • 27. Melissa  |  December 4, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Crazy cool. You are going to be a star, Elissa.

  • 28. kara  |  December 26, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    amazing…can’t wait to read more!

  • 29. Alexandra  |  January 1, 2010 at 9:35 am

    It’s so cool. My church does one like this for VBS, easter EGGstravagansa, and Birthday Party for Jesus. They are sooo much fun to make! Oh and your pictures look great!

  • 30. Thao  |  January 9, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    I bought the Wilton tube gel coloring, and used the whole tube and I did not get the bright colors. You mentioned it was the icing gel coloring, I guess I must have gotten a different kind? If I can find the powder, is it better to get that?


    • 31. Elissa  |  January 9, 2010 at 6:23 pm

      Thao – Powder works great from what I’ve heard, but I don’t have any experience with it. The gel food coloring that I bought didn’t come in a tube, it came in these little tubs/plastic containers (http://www.wilton.com/store/site/product.cfm?sku=pg_icingcolors). Is it possible that you used pre-colored decorating icing gel, rather than food coloring? Sorry to hear that the colors weren’t bright :(

  • 32. Thao  |  January 11, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    Thanks Elissa. That is what happened. I bought the decorator icing in the tube. I will try again with the right food coloring.

  • 33. Cucurbita moschata  |  March 6, 2010 at 9:01 am

    […] Adapted from 17 and baking […]

  • 34. Chloe  |  March 12, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Wow. This looks amazing! Whenever I make a colored cake it comes out a dull color. I really want to try it but I am so afraid it will turn out bad. Many of the cakes I make are always dry and/or tasteless. Please oh please let it turn out right!!!

  • 35. Lookit me  |  March 21, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    I wanted to be that person too! only I planned on naming nail polish colours and ski runs. Too bad I failed creative-product-naming school :(

  • 36. Kaitlin  |  March 23, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    I’ve been reading through your archives since I got out of class today (ok, maybe a little during class, too. My prof was rambling and I was on FoodGawker :P), and I have to say that I absolutely love your blog! You’re a fantastic writer, your photos are gorgeous, and everything you do is so very inspired!

    I absolutely had to comment on this post in particular though because I made a cake identical to this over the summer. I can’t believe no one mentioned this one to me! It looks amazing, and from what I’ve heard about that recipe (and based on the changes you described) I bet yours tasted fantastic.

  • 37. andy the photographer  |  March 24, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Thank you for sharing the cake

  • 38. gabrielle  |  April 2, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I am so jealous!!! i Am eleven an i adore baking so much!!! my favourite thing to bake are cupcakes.I found a book in stevens called 500 cupcaks and i desperately want it!!!

  • 39. Mariam  |  April 18, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    I smiled so big when i saw this! stunning. tiered cakes intimidate me, i might have to call a friend to help me with this one. might baking layers in a jelly roll dish be a possibility?

    • 40. Elissa  |  April 18, 2010 at 8:58 pm

      Mariam – I don’t have much experience baking layers in a jelly roll dish… I’m sure it’s possible, I’m just worried about whether they’d be dry. I really like using the 9″x13″, especially for this recipe, but there are a lot of genoise recipes that call for a jelly roll dish. :( Wish I could be more helpful, but I’m not sure how this recipe would adapt. I’m sorry! Go for the tiered cake, you can do it! :)

  • 41. me  |  April 19, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    can i use this cake for fondant cake? will the frosting be hard?

    • 42. Elissa  |  April 19, 2010 at 9:09 pm

      me – This cake uses a cream cheese frosting and whipped cream filling, both of which need to be refrigerated, but fondant will crack in the fridge. I suggest you either use a different kind of frosting/filling (a buttercream, probably) if you want to cover the cake in fondant, or eat the cake immediately after decorating so that it doesn’t sit in the fridge.

  • 43. Emily  |  June 24, 2010 at 1:10 am

    hello! just wondering if the measurements are right…1 tablespoon of baking powder seems an awful lot :S

    my friend and i are making this cake right now, hope it turns out alright! :)

    • 44. Elissa  |  June 24, 2010 at 7:33 am

      Emily – Just made this recipe again yesterday! A tablespoon of baking powder is the right amount (it does sound like a lot.)

  • 45. Vivienne  |  June 30, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Hi Elissa,

    Just now found your blog. This is great and love the surprise effect when you cut into it. Could you tell me how to put the layers on? I will look around on your site to see if you have instructions somewhere. I would be worried that the cake layer would fall aprt when I try to stack it on there, so there must be a good technique that you use!


    • 46. Elissa  |  June 30, 2010 at 12:16 pm

      Vivienne – One thing that really helps is to freeze the cakes. After the cakes bake, I turn them out onto wire racks, leaving the parchment paper on. Then, after the cakes have cooled enough to not melt plastic, I level the tops, triple wrap them in plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge. Fifteen minutes in the fridge will make the cakes very easy to handle. These cake layers are so thin – it would definitely be harder if they were as thick as a normal layer of cake! Then when assembling the cake, I put each layer cut side down. This way, the parchment paper helps keep the cake together, and I peel it off after the layer has been set.

      Hope this made sense!

  • 47. Vivienne  |  June 30, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Thanks Elissa, you are doing a great job, and I bet your Dad is very proud. Continue to inspire as you grow older! Looks like there will be many great things to come in your life.

  • […] again, I drew inspiration from 17 and Baking. This time, I admired Elissa's gorgeous, gorgeous Rainbow Pride Party Cake. (I’m including a screenshot because I can’t force you to follow the link, and I […]

  • 49. You Fei  |  August 9, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Hi !

    I love how the cake texture looks! The crumbs so fine and tight, and definitely not dry!

    Does this cake keep well in the refrigererator?

    You Fei

  • 50. Allison  |  October 3, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I used to have the same problem with white cake (tasteless) until I found the White Chocolate Whisper from The Cake Bible. I recommend it if you haven’t tried it (I’m happy to forward the recipe). It has a very light tasting texture but is dense enough that the layers hold together when split and stacked. I’ve used it in multiple layer wedding cakes.

    Wedding cakes also often use tiny dowels, skewers, or drinking straws to keep the layers from slipping and sliding. Just don’t forget to remove them when you go to serve it.

  • 51. Elle  |  October 26, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Really wished the printer function on this website worked. LOVE gingersnaps and am thankful for this recipe. Print Screen should capture it! The best Molasses cookies so far I’ve ever had is from Borgen’s Cafe in Westby, WI. http://www.borgenscafe.com/

  • 52. Elle  |  October 26, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    LOL. Oops. I moved my comment where it should be, under Gingersnaps. Cake looks good, too! Love cake. My oven burns the bottom or cooks any bread too quickly so I have to take it out before it’s done.

  • 53. Serena  |  November 28, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Hi Elissa, i have to make a very complicated cake, made up of different parts
    just to let you understand what i mean

    something like that

    my problem is, today it’s snowed A LOT, and i’ve run out of eggs! i had to make 2 pound cakes for making the “fake chocolates” that will fill the box, (one yellow cake to make petit fours, one chocolate cake to make cake balls)

    i have had this wonderful rainbow cake of yours in mind for MONTHS, and i had just bought some food coloring ’cause i want to try it soon, and… as i was saying, i have no eggs left

    i do have plenty of eggwhites though!, some frozen

    do you think your base cake you used here would workif used to make petit fours and cake balls? i’d just leave out the food coloring and keep the rest of the cake as it is

    maybe that sounds like a stupid question to you
    but what i’m really concerned about are consistencies (i seem to have read that too greasy cakes don’t work fine for cake balls making – ?? – for instance)

    i just wish you could give me advice and reassure me :)

    my best wishes for everything in your life

    many congrats for the blog and the pics :)



  • 54. Serena  |  November 28, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    (i meant – it’s snowed a lot, and i don’t know when/if i’m able to get to the supermarket … the sentence the way i had written it didn’t make a lot of sense by itself :D)

    xoxo again

    (thanks 4 your patience ;) )


  • 55. Emily  |  February 7, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    I’m making a camera shaped cake for my friend’s birthday next week and I’m using this recipe! Just want to check, is it alright if I use a metal pan instead of a glass one? Also, when whisking the buttermilk and egg whites, is it till it’s just combined or until it becomes really frothy? I’m planning to sandwich the cakes together with chocolate frosting, would that still work? Thanks! :)

    • 56. Elissa  |  February 8, 2011 at 3:22 am

      Emily – I’ve never tried this recipe with a metal pan, but I think it should work fine. Mix the buttermilk and egg whites until they’re combined and the egg whites are broken up, it’ll be a little frothy but not crazy bubbly. Finally, chocolate frosting will definitely taste great! Good luck with the cake :)

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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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