A Cake for Troubled Times


Personal trouble, world trouble, political trouble, family trouble, mental trouble, so much trouble these days. The list seems endless and the feeling—oh, the feeling—a weight on my chest. I am reminded of Giles Corey, the man accused of witchcraft in 17th century Salem who was pressed to death, rock after rock placed atop a board covering his chest, yet he only kept saying “more weight”. I am no Giles Corey, of course. It is solely my brain metaphorically placing rock after rock even though I keep pleading “less weight. Please, less weight.” And I don’t know how to really talk about what’s happening yet, with me, with the world. I keep trying and the words keep either twisting into impossible knots or fading like disappearing ink.

Lemon sometimes helps, like the juice and heat work together to reveal these hidden words, and I’ve been baking so much with lemon lately yet still . . .

Did you read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake?

Cake. I may not have the words but I do have cake, a language that never fails me, and I have the words of others, their poetry concise and beautiful and articulating what I can not.

So, all that said, I will share both with you in hopes that, may you too be experiencing troubled times, either or both provide hope and solace.

A Cake for Troubled Times
I went to my books of magic and correspondence and meaning and symbol. Sometimes I need to look further than my cookbook shelf to bake what I need. This recipe has Chocolate for healing and positive energy. Maple sugar for the latter too; black pepper and clove for dispelling negativity; cinnamon for focus; coffee for clarity; walnut for wishes; yogurt to ease depression; baking powder for extra magic. The flower stenciled out on top is a snow drop which, in the Victorian Language of Flowers, means hope.

If the notion of magic is not your thing, then take that with a grain of salt. It is, after all, also just a Chocolate Spice Cake.


1 1/4 c (156 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 c (64 g) dutch process cocoa power (I used 40 g Valrhona and 24 g black cocoa)
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1/4 t ground cloves
1 t cinnamon


3/4 c (150 g) maple sugar
1/4 c (50 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
112 g walnut oil
240 g whole milk yogurt
2 t coffee extract

1. Prepare a 9” round cake pan and preheat your oven to 350°
2. In a medium bowl, sift (please do sift) together the dry ingredients.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients.
4. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet until thoroughly incorporated.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 28 to 32 minutes until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, the top springs back lightly when pressed in the middle, and, if you need extra reassurance, a toothpick inserted in the center comes back clean or with just a few crumbs attached.

Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes then remove to a rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioners sugar as desired, stencil or not. I hope your troubled times end soon.

The Poems. Just a few. If you have one, please do share it with me.:

What Kind of Times Are These by Adrienne Rich

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

The Way It Is by William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Oh Me! Oh Life! by Walt Whitman

O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish; Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who  more faithless?) Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d; Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me; Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined; The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here—that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

An Elegy for Van Gogh


When my mom was visiting recently I bought a few of her favorite flowers—sunflowers—for the guest room. After she left they were still lovely, but definitely close to death. Fresh, vibrantly alive sunflowers are fine and all, but it's the dead and dying ones I love the most. The petals deepen in color and take on texture and character. Seeing them in the vase in that state I thought immediately of Van Gogh. And me being me, I thought next of cake.


They've been dormant and drying in the kitchen for a few weeks now while I pondered what, exactly, I wanted to create. Finally, today, inspired by the need to test a recipe for an upcoming article and looking for something to do with the kid after camp I baked up two 6" layers of perfect white cake (recipe in the works) and whipped up a batch of Swiss Meringue Buttercream (from THE BAKER'S APPENDIX). Armed with paintbrushes and some inspiration we got to work...