Writing this book was a sweet excursion down memory lane for me, back to the first cooking I ever did. Long before I knew much about Thailand, much less how to cook paht Thai and pho, and grow lemongrass at home, I was baking cakes and pies in my North Carolina kitchen. I loved baking instantly, from the time I was 9 years old.
Cakes gave me particular pleasure, with the glorious mess of flour and sugar, and the mystery of turning a jumble of single ingredients into a smooth, lucious batter which emerges from the oven as a third entity: The sweet, delicious, inviting incarnation of a homemade cake. I loved making cakes, I loved presenting them to my family, and I loved, loved, loved eating them. All these things are still true, to this day.
I still love cooking and writing about Thai food and Asian cuisines, but I’ve longed to write about cakes and sweets and Southern cooking for more than 10 years. It took awhile, like cake batter rising in the oven and cooling in the pan, but was it ever worth the wait. Writing this book was particularly sweet because I had constant, precious help from my daughter, Camellia, who stepped to become chief tester (“What cakes are we doing today?” she asked with an eager and lovely smile?). A fabulous, creative cook, she took on every challenge and turned out magnificent cakes along with savvy observations that helped me craft the recipes just right. My daughter Isabelle served as the tasting and review panel, offering insight, criticism, and praise in abundance. She kept us going when it seemed we couldn’t find the strength to crack one more egg, with her wit and clever projects to amuse the cooks. My husband Will came home from work to survey the results of our cake-baking sessions, and provided smart, succinct input and a gratifying appetite for our creations.
Since the demands of recipe testing often left us with way more cake than any one family needs, we enjoyed sharing plates of cake with neighbors, friends, and teachers. We also loved taking a plate of cake slices to the police station, the fire station, or the post office. When we had abundance of cake, we wrapped up individual slices in waxed paper and took them to the community kitchen where meals are served daily for anyone who could use one. It made me happy to share the cakes we baked for the purpose of writing this book, and it makes me indescribably happy to have Southern Cakes to share with you.
Cooking up this book kept many hands busy for a good, long while, and I am deeply grateful to all the people who made it real. I came up with the ideas, recipes and the words, but without the brilliance and creativity and skill and hard work on the parts of photographer Becky Luigart-Stayner and her team, and of Bill LeBlond and Amy Treadwell and their fine colleagues at Chronicle Books, I wouldn’t have such a delicious treasure of a book to share with you. I would love to hear what you think about Southern Cakes, how the recipes work for you, and anything you’d like to share about cakes that are precious to you.