17 and Baking Turns One
17 and Baking turns one year old today.
Can you believe it? I’ve been thinking about 17 and Baking and my passion for food and everything I’ve learned in one year, and I’ll be honest. It’s ridiculous. I never believed for an instant this blog would go anywhere. In fact, I even want to link you all to the first real post I wrote exactly one year ago, where I lament my lack of talent, following, photography skills, and experience. Honestly. It sounds like me, but… it really makes me consider what can happen in one year.
But today, I wanted to do something special. If I really think about it, all of this doesn’t start with that morning in early spring when I decided I wanted to blog about food. Really, it started when I baked my very first cake from scratch at fourteen. For today, I knew I wanted to make that exact cake again – a real full circle.
I remember buying my first cookbook from Costco, somewhat ludicrously, since I’d never had any interest in baking before. I just liked the pretty pictures. And I remember nearly a month later, suddenly being seized in the middle of the night with a desire to do something. I didn’t know it at the time because it was so very new, but it’s a feeling I’m very familiar with now – it’s the urgency to be in my little yellow kitchen with a whisk in one hand and a spoonful of sugar in the other.
I dug up the untouched cookbook and scanned the pages with an inexplicable hunger, bookmarking everything that looked good – German Chocolate Cake, light-as-air Raspberry Dream Cake, kid-friendly Peppermint Chocolate Cake. I threw open cabinets, trying to centralize all of the random baking supplies in the house. We only had a few pans, and not many baking tools. As it turned out, the only recipe I had all the ingredients for was a rather unglamorous iced sponge cake.
I decided to make it anyway. I remember very clearly trying to measure out the flour, awkward and clumsy and fumbling until I had a soft dusting of flour all over my front. I didn’t know what it meant to cream butter, so I stopped the mixer (not the KitchenAid, but a cheap plastic one) once the butter had sort of formed chunks. I didn’t have much confidence for success when I slid the pan into the oven, but I couldn’t help but feel a satisfying accomplishment either way.
All in all, it was undoubtedly a failure. The cake was supposed to be light and delicate, but it was significantly heavy. The frosting was a total flop, tasting like egg whites. But when I cut that first slice and looked back at the photo in the book, my smile was uncontainable. When I took that first bite, the small triangular tip of that perfect slice, I knew in my heart that it had truly been a complete success.
I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly skilled baker, not now or then. I’m just a girl who happens to love all things sweet and homemade. Even more than that, I’m just a girl who wants to share her zest for life and make you forget your troubles, even if only for five minutes. Through 9th and 10th grade, I had just as many baking failures as successes, forced to learn as I went. So many times I was discouraged, screaming tantrums at my sunken cupcakes, and I might have given up if it weren’t for the unbelievable gratification of sharing.
I’ll be 18 next month, and no matter how much things have changed since then, that satisfaction from handing out cookies or watching my parents clear their plates is what propels my passion. I can’t help but want to lift weary spirits on a bad day with a lemon bar or light up a neighbor’s face with a slice of pear tart. Isn’t that the whole sense of the blog too, to share a dozen cookies with even more than 12 people? Maybe even with hundreds of people around the world? If I can inspire at least one of those people one morning, then everything is worth it.
So here we are today, everything is different and somehow nothing is different. It’s been one year since I began 17 and Baking, but it’s been four years since I baked that first cake, unquestionably beautiful in my eyes. I decided I would dig up that old cookbook for the second time, now a senior in high school and so much surer than I was back then, and bake that cake again.
The recipe came together very quickly and very easily, letting me focus more on my nostalgia than on my product. The finished cake smelled delicious, like vanilla and sugar and flour, and I just put my face next to it and inhaled while it cooled. I patiently waited until I could try the first slice. Just like before, I carefully broke off that first perfect bite.
I can’t kid anyone. It wasn’t a very good cookbook, it wasn’t a very good recipe, and frankly, the cake was disgusting. The flavor was strange, the texture was off, and I couldn’t eat more than that one bite.
I wasn’t completely surprised, but definitely disappointed. Somehow, baking the cake that started it all seemed like the perfect way to celebrate my first blogoversary. Finally, I decided I would bake another cake, similar to the first, but something actually in line with my taste today. I whipped up a simple hazelnut and mixed berry cake, and when it came out of the oven I knew I’d made the right choice.
Unfortunately, some things seem destined to stay unchanged, and I tried to turn out the cake before it was done. While it was delicious, I was left with a pile of crumbled cake, certainly nothing presentable on the blog. I wondered if it would maybe be funny to blog a failure – but on my one year anniversary?
I started laughing as I considered the fact that four years later, I was still screwing up. But I couldn’t be in a bad mood. In a way, this seemed like a better representation of 17 and Baking than anything else: the ability to laugh at your mistakes, learn from them, and persevere. I didn’t have any more hazelnuts or berries, so I shrugged and started again with almonds and lemon. I’d learned from my previous mistakes and the cake came out beautifully. I made a quick mascarpone frosting (no recipe!) and spread it over the cooled cake just like I did before. And that first bite?
Thank you guys… all of you for being here to celebrate with me. :)
I am so, so glad I didn’t give up on this cake because it is really excellent. Even though it’s a simple one layer cake with a humble swirl of frosting, there’s something special about it. Mom and I ate the failed hazelnut berry cake in one night all by ourselves, and the almond cake won’t last much longer. It’s slightly dense, not too sweet, and full of beautiful, rounded almond flavor. The texture is perfect.
I can’t think of a better compliment for it than this frosting, which I sort of whipped up spur of the moment. I think this whole no-recipe thing might be good for me sometimes, although I couldn’t have gone wrong with mascarpone, heavy whipping cream, and lemon zest. This frosting is light and sweet, like a cross between whipped cream and cream cheese frosting. I was eating it by the spoon without the cake.
I’ll also include the recipe for the hazelnut berry version because it was so good. Just make sure it cools long enough before turning it out!
One Year Anniversary Almond Lemon Cake
A 17 and Baking recipe
Makes one 9″ round cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup almond meal (make your own by grinding almonds to a fine powder)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup + 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp almond extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 9″ round pan, line it with a circle of buttered parchment paper and then flour the pan.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar at medium-high speed for about 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Mix in the extracts and lemon zest, then beat in the egg. Working on low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/2 the buttermilk mixture, then another 1/3 of the flour, the last of the buttermilk, then the last of the flour. Mix until just combined.
Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then finish cooling on a rack. Cool to room temperature before frosting. If frosting the cake with mascarpone frosting, store the cake in the refrigerator.
Hazelnut-Berry Version: Replace almond meal with hazelnut meal (hazelnuts ground into a fine powder), use vanilla extract instead of almond, use orange zest instead of lemon, and sprinkle the batter with 3/4 cup fresh mixed berries before baking. I used thawed frozen berries and even though I tossed them in flour, they sunk. Still delicious.
Lemon Mascarpone Frosting
A 17 and Baking recipe
Makes enough to frost one 9″ round cake
3/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Zest of half a lemon
1/4 tsp vanilla
Beat cheese and cream together until smooth and creamy and slight peaks begin to form. Sift in the powdered sugar and zest and beat until smooth. Mix in the vanilla extract and spread on cooled cake (or eat with a spoon.)
Printer-Friendly Version – One Year Anniversary Almond Lemon Cake with Lemon Mascarpone Frosting