“Cake Magic!”Â is a simple cookbook I wrote, one that has resonated with many hesitant bakers out there and is a project I am really proud of. It is part fantasy—as any great book about cakes should be, with ethereal pictures that show perfect confections ready for the perfect celebrations that await them—and one part artist’s palette. It offers simple, staple recipes and techniques that can be mixed around according to the baker’s whim to create something entirely new…even if that baker has only baked from box mixes before. From one simple mix of flours and sugar stored in the pantry spans over 100 totally different cakes. It’s an explosive, empowering and totally thrilling concept that resulted in a really beloved book.
I had no idea when I wrote it that it would eventually feel like it belonged to someone else. That an idea that strong could break under the weight of life and somehow become shameful.
Two years after the book came out, I was diagnosed with brain cancer and immediately and totally shifted my diet to exclude all of the ingredients held within “Cake Magic!.”Â I was struggling to survive and focused on my family, so it didn’t matter much to me at first. Then the scans kept coming back clean. I was told I was cancer-free, a statistic anomaly, and hope began to build for the first time since my diagnosis. As my timeline reaches forward and I look ahead to celebrations—birthdays, both mine and those of my two little sons, among them—I yearn to bake to celebrate earning them. “Give me wrinkles, give me cakes,” I beg. It feels selfish to ask for decades of watching my boys grow older and hug me from giant bodies when I was only given a year to live, when I’ve seen cancer as closely as I have. But I’m asking. And hoping, even though it’s scary to and I know I shouldn’t. I’m fighting for more. Of everything.
I made a cake recipe for the year anniversary of my diagnosis and wrote about it a few months ago. It felt important to face my community and share the changes to my diet when I had been feeling that my career as I had imagined it was over. It felt important to combine the two narratives of my life – my life with food and my career. The airing out of these fears, shattering the glass box I was trying to store it in, was a repeat of the lessons I had learned over and over during my most dimly lit days of treatment. It may sound like a platitude, but the simplest truths are really the most profound from the hopeless place of terminal cancer: “Anything is possible.”
Having one cake recipe felt good, empowering. But as I baked more and more with grain-free flours and alternative, unrefined sugars a symphony of ideas came together in my head and its momentum felt unstoppable. “What if I could make a grain-free and refined sugar-free Cake Magic mix?”Â I did the quick check of what my hands had come to know of the materials I was working with and believed it was possible. “Yes,” I thought to myself as I imagined the over 100 cakes multiplying from that one mix, populating like a cartoon of mating rabbits.
“I want more.”
I brought the idea to my editor at Workman and we determined it could be treated as an official addendum. And just like that, “Cake Magic!”Â was mine again.
I started from a hunch, which is where I start most of my baking endeavors, combined with the helpful anchor of the original “Cake Magic!”Â ratios. A few handfuls of flours whose properties I had come to notice in pie crusts or cookies I played around with, some coconut sugar, “too gummy.” Make one switch, add some xanthan gum, and “there it is,”Â the texture I remember from years ago. The warm scent wafting from the oven even reminded me of that hot Dallas summer when I was developing the recipes and systematically baked all the cakes in the book. My house smelled so much of cake, then and also recently, when the fragrance spilled out from the front door I believed for a moment that the outside world smelled like cake, too.
I remember, not long ago, when I would walk outside and wonder if that day would be one of my last. That honest memory, that stripping away of humanity to expose something about yourself that isn’t yours, to let everything go, will remain with me forever. It broke the part of me that cared about what “should” happen, the critic, the perfectionist. It is the same part of me that would have scoffed at celebrating a book that came out in 2016, like “Cake Magic!”Â did.
“Anything is possible.”
Working on “Cake Magic!” felt different this time, changed, because I was not only figuring out a recipe to serve the idea I’d created, but because I was also serving myself. I am on both sides of the project now, deeply grateful for the versatility of the mix and the variety promised within that, but also that the book belonged to me again somehow. I could use it again and not just sign it when asked. The variations of this single recipe represent years and years of birthdays and celebrations—life.
I think again, knowing the gift of this thought for someone living with terminal cancer: “Anything is possible. Really.”Â
HOW IT WORKS
This is the official addendum I referenced – it’s intended to be printed, folded up and sandwiched into your copy of “Cake Magic!.” For those of you who don’t have the book (pick up a copy here), allow me to tell you how the book is organized so, ultimately, you can make sense of how the addendum is organized: the bulk of the book are photos of cakes with this strip of what my editor and I lovingly called “cake math” at the bottom of the image. That equation points you to a layer recipe, a frosting and a syrup to use to replicate the cake in the photo. The back of the book contains the recipes – cake layers, frostings and syrups—along with simple variations for each that transform the flavors further. This PDF includes the mix itself as well as instructions on how to translate the remaining recipes in grain and refined sugar-free ways. This PDF basically acts as a key to unlock the book to suit those bakers who avoid grains and refined sugars, like me.
But, because it doesn’t seem terribly kind to give you the mix without the ability to use it if you don’t yet have the book, I am giving you the recipe for the Vanilla Cake as well. Consider it a test drive! Just keep in mind that this simple vanilla cake can transform into a chocolate cake (or peanut butter, coconut, lemon, among others) as easily with very simple variations outlined in the book.
I’m honored you’re here with me celebrating this old idea (book years are way less forgiving than dog years!), making it new again. I’m happy to have friends along for this crazy food ride I’ve suddenly found myself on. Can’t wait to hear what you do with it!
Cake Magic! Vanilla Layer Cake
Makes one 8- or 9-inch double-layer cake (or one 10-inch bundt cake, one 9 by 13 sheet cake, or 24 cupcakes)
Unsalted butter, at room temperature, for greasing the pans
All-purpose flour, for dusting the pans
4 cups Paleo Cake Magic! Cake Mix, whisked well before measuring
3/4 cup full-fat plain yogurt (preferably not Greek yogurt)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup water
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 / Preheat the oven to 350Â° F. Butter the bottom and side of the pan(s). Dust with flour to coat, then invert and tap out any excess. (If making cupcakes, use liners instead of greasing and coating the tins.)
2 / Place the cake mix in a large bowl. Stir in the yogurt, butter, water, vanilla, and eggs until moistened and no lumps remain (be careful not to overmix).
3 / Bake until the layers are domed and golden brown, and a few moist crumbs cling to a skewer inserted in the center of the cake, 35 to 40 minutes (40 to 50 minutes for a Bundt, 25 to 30 minutes for a 13 by 9-inch cake, and 20 to 25 minutes for cupcakes). Transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
4 / When they are cooled, one to two hours, carefully turn them out of their pans and assemble and frost.
This post was originally published in January 2019, right here on this blog. It’s a favorite, so I thought I would post it again! Thank you for being here and continuing to read while I work on new projects. To hear about them, sign up for my monthly newsletter here. I’ll be honored to keep you posted!