Between the Layers & the very best Strawberry Shortcake - No. 1
A Tuesday recipe and conversation
Welcome to my newsletter!
Many of you have been with me since the Cake Mix Doctor days, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting! Between the Layers is so-named because cakes have been my life, and obviously they are more interesting with fillings and frostings, sometimes dark and bold like ganache, other times subtle and surprising like a thin veneer of apricot jam spread between almond cake or an unexpected red ribbon of raspberry between coconut. I see this newsletter in the same way - stories and thoughts between lines of print that I don’t always get to say in books.
One of the struggles I’ve had is being boxed in - yes! - as the “Cake Mix Doctor,” and as much as I love cake and am crazy about shortcuts, I’m interested in all aspects of cooking.
I cook daily for my husband and myself, pulling out my favorite cast iron skillet or sheet pan. I enjoy having my extended family over for a meal whether I cook it all or give everyone assignments. I relish cooking my children’s favorites when they return home - my mother always did the same for me. When the weather warms up, I plan casual porch suppers for friends. Oh, and I love a good project, from pickles to sourdough to gardening, to making my own ricotta for lasagna night.
During the pandemic I was reminded of how much time we spend in the kitchen and also grateful that unable to frequent my favorite restaurants, I already knew the joy of cooking at home. Seeing everyone’s social media posts on banana bread and offering a Zoom challah-making class for my daughters made me feel like this affection we have for cooking and baking is also a means of survival. Cooking sustained us in more ways than one. I worked on a new book and baked hundreds of cakes. Grocery shopping was challenging, and tasting the cakes with my assistant took place outdoors in the summer heat, but other than that, no complaints. I was glad to be baking.
I know you have a gazillion places to find a recipe, so what I will share in this space week to week are my favorites. I feel like we should build on the momentum of this past year where the focus shifted from restaurant to home and talk honestly about cooking. I’d love to hear what you want to read in this space, what you don’t get from food mags or TV or social media. I’d like this to be a conversation instead of a lecture, so, here goes:
What do you wish you could cook better?
I wish I was better at roasting the big impressive holiday cuts - knowing when I place it in the oven that it’s going to come out perfectly medium-rare. I wish I could make better pie crust. It’s never been that important to me, but my husband weeps when I bake an apple pie. (Poor Mr. Pie Guy married the Cake Doctor.) And I’m buying an air fryer - what should I cook first? Have you ever made a blender hollandaise? And chocolate chip cookies - mine are never chewy enough. Should I remove an egg? And pizza crust, I’m getting better at it, but it’s not there yet. Do I need a Baking Steel?
In return, I’ll share the lessons - and mistakes, too - I’ve learned along the way like simple salad making from Julia Child in her Cambridge kitchen.
I’ll write about the 1-2-3-4 cake since my Instagram post generated so much interest. It’s a sad connection, really, of illiteracy and baking. Also, I’ll dish on the Chiffon Cake and its bizarre birth, which involves a runaway husband and a secret. I’ll write about foods that are peacemakers, why you never, ever refrigerate tomatoes, and why cast iron makes food taste better. Cooking does make life more enjoyable, doesn’t it? At the very least, it helps us stay sane!
My cooking muse, my mother Bebe.
The joyful ease with which she stirred fudge icing and how she carefully cut out sweet biscuit dough for strawberry shortcakes every April 27th for my sister’s birthday - I was in awe. When it was your birthday, you got to choose your cake for family dinners at home. Mine was invariably chocolate on top of chocolate, but my sister Ginger picked Strawberry Shortcake. And we were all the beneficiaries of her wise decision.
This was not the pre-made spongecake sort of shortcake with frozen berries and Redi-Whip, mind you. It was the Southern version, based on a biscuit-like dough, delicious and really not hard to make from scratch. That one recipe still connects me to the past, to the hands who made it, and through the years I’ve customized my mother’s recipe to make it more like the way I cook today.
How much can you really mess with a family recipe? Next week, I revisit Chicken Tetrazzini. Goodbye cream of mushroom soup.
Here’s how it works on Substack. You are on my newsletter list, but if you have no interest whatsoever in anything I’ve said to this point, you may unsubscribe, absolutely. No worries!
But if you decide to stay with me on this journey and be a part of this newsletter as it takes shape and grows - I might just get a fancy logo if this thing takes off! - you will receive it each Tuesday. And if you choose at some point to pay to subscribe, you’ll get more in the way of recipes, content, links, new voices, even book giveaways. Yay!
Welcome to my new baby. I look forward to reconnecting with you in the kitchen!
And now, that Strawberry Shortcake recipe… If you make it, I’d love to hear how it turned out!