Happy Birthday, Between the Layers! No. 109
It’s been a year! Time for some cake, reflection & what’s to come 🎉
One year ago I began this newsletter, Between the Layers, because the timing was right. I had finished one book project and hadn’t begun the next. Meanwhile, home cooking, which had mostly been about getting dinner on the table, became a Covid pastime.
I, too, had more time to cook and bake for enjoyment and sort through old family recipes. And I started weekly phone conversations with my friend Susan—she in Atlanta walking her dog while I was in Nashville walking mine.
Each time I mentioned a recipe or had an epiphany about food as it related to life, Susan said I should write about it. I had 15 cookbooks under my belt, but I had not written a weekly food column in 20 years, and I missed it.
So that, my friends, is how I wound up on Substack.
Thank you for opening my emails and joining the conversation this past year! To brag a wee bit, I have been in the top 20 food and drink publications on Substack from the get-go, and I’ve been recently awarded a Substack Food Fellowship with 10 other writers around the world.
Big hugs to my paid subscribers who have helped make this newsletter possible. You bought the groceries, hired the editor, and reassured me that storytelling about food is valued. Stand up wherever you are and take a bow!!
This past year, Between the Layers was where I shared great recipes and used cooking and baking to examine life, which gets messy at times. Like when you go out of town to visit family and come back home with Covid. And a newsletter deadline looms…
That happened to me this weekend. So I packed up my office things, laptop, favorite pillow, and walked upstairs to Camp Guest Room. I remember a decorator saying if we spent more time in our guest spaces, they’d be nicer. Well, I’m spending five days here, but I won’t upgrade the linens on this visit.
The thing is, just as I was preparing to get this newsletter out the door, Covid left me more interested in Coca-Cola than birthday cake.
And maybe it is some strange flu-like psychedelic dream, but I’m thinking Coca-Cola is the panacea for a lot of things. Motion sickness on a car trip, the jitters while flying, and being over-served are all good reasons we’ve reached for a Coke. It’s the sugar, the effervescence, the sacred formula.
First a tonic, then a beverage. I knew there was something curative about Coke.
In 1886, Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton created a tonic for whatever ailed you, and it was based on caffeine extracts of the kola nut and cocaine from the coca leaf. Ironically, it was Temperance friendly because it did not contain booze.
Five years later, another Atlanta pharmacist, Asa Candler, bought Pemberton’s business and marketed Coca-Cola as a beverage so to avoid paying the tax on medicines. And then he set out to make Coke the “Champagne of the South.”
Which it was. An icy Coke made summers more tolerable, and southern rabbis approved Coke to be kosher. It’s no surprise Coke wound up in Jewish brisket recipes and chocolate cake. My mother poured a bottle of coke over a boneless ham before baking it, and it was good!
Coming Thursday for Subscribers: Throwback Thursday. How to make my mother’s Coca-Cola Ham. And the first Subscriber Video!
Just last week I was emailing back and forth with the Coca-Cola marketing department about the origins of Coca-Cola Cake.
I jokingly asked if they had the original cake recipe stored in the vault with Coke’s formulation. The one-word reply was no.
It’s not imperative that I know at what exact moment the first Coca-Cola cake went into an oven and where. I’m just curious. I’ve always thought it originated in Texas and was a knock-off of the Texas sheet cake but with mini marshmallows, making it more similar to the Mississippi Mud Cake. All those chocolate buttermilk cakes seem related, and it’s a nice distraction to think about right now from this guest room.
I am triple vaxed, and I’ve worn my mask religiously, but this time, Covid won.
I am waiting for my husband to get home from the store with Coca-Cola. Not Diet, and not Zero Sugar. At one time in history, Coca-Cola created a New Coke, but that lasted only slightly longer than CNN+. Old Coke returned as Classic Coke, and now it’s just Coke.
And I want one, on ice, tall glass.
What went right this year at Between the Layers? What went wrong? Where do we go from here?
Just checking I had lived up to my promises, I re-read my first post. Boy, I had some big ideas, didn’t I? But it feels good that you met the guy who doesn’t measure but makes fabulous pancakes and cole slaw (my husband) and the brother-in-law who rocks pecan pie. You possibly made a cheesy cabbage gratin or the very-best hummus (paid post) from my daughter Kathleen’s kitchen.
You read about recipes that were more than just recipes, as in Edith Warner’s Chocolate Loaf Cake and learned about war cake. I devoted a month to the foods of Ukraine because I said I would inform you and serve up the bitter with the sweet. And thank you for sharing your feedback on Mollie Katzen’s Ukrainian Poppyseed Cake.
Going forward, I’ll be writing about mothers in May (trading places with Leah Koenig of The Jewish Table), and throughout the year I’ll welcome some surprise guests.
I’ll bake in my comfort zone and venture out. I’ll perfect fruit crisp and try my hands at milk bread. I’ll shortcut when possible and demystify complex recipes like I did with Tarte Tatin. I’ll cook more in my cast iron skillets.
On Subscriber Thursdays, I will share video! I will continue Open Thread discussions, share more throwback recipes, and cook for summer in my air fryer. And, if they wish, subscribers can join me in testing recipes for my new book.
But never, ever will you get offal.
Nope. Reminds me of that ill-fated trip to Provence when a Michelin-starred chef wouldn’t let me order from the menu and instead thought he was doing this food writer a favor or testing my courage and sent me calves brains with orange mayonnaise, pan-fried sweetbreads, and kidney pie. I knew then I was no Ruth Reichl.
I was just me. The one who writes about Martha Stewart and tells it like it is. And you are the ones who joined in that conversation and talked amongst yourselves, and that was a magical moment in Between the Layers land. It was like hosting a dinner party and when you step away from the table no one notices you’re gone because they’re having such a good time with each other. (And one lucky paid subscriber will win a copy of Martha Stewart’s Fruit Desserts in my April cookbook giveaway. Deadline to subscribe and be that lucky winner is April 30.)
Anne Byrn: Between the Layers is a reader-supported publication. Thank you to my paid subscribers for helping sustain this newsletter without ads. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.
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Why do you read me? What do you like to cook and bake? What recipes do you want more of?
The Confetti Cake
You cannot take this cake too seriously, and yet the carefully orchestrated parts of this recipe make it work. For example, the recipe for the cake is a sturdy white batter in which the sprinkles suspend and don’t fall to the bottom of the pan. Use whatever sprinkles you like - 1/2 cup for the cake and more for garnish. In the end, this cake seems wonderfully whimsical, spur of the moment, or of the moment, and is the most popular birthday cake since the 1990s.
Makes 12 servings
Prep: 30 to 35 minutes
Bake: 25 to 30 minutes
Vegetable cooking spray or shortening, for greasing the pans
All-purpose flour, for dusting the pans
1 package (15.25 to 16. 25 ounces) white cake mix
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided use
1/4 cup sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups whole milk or coconut milk
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sprinkles
Cream Cheese Frosting:
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 to 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon whole milk or coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sprinkles for the top of the cake
Place a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Set the pans aside.
Place the cake mix in a large mixing bowl. Measure out 1 tablespoon of the flour, and place in a small bowl. Add the remaining flour, along with the sugar, to the cake mix, and stir to combine. Add the butter, milk, and eggs. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until blended, 30 seconds. Stop the machine, and scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 1 minute longer. The batter should be well blended.
Pour the 1/2 cup sprinkles into the small bowl with the tablespoon of flour. Toss with your fingers or a spoon to coat the sprinkles with flour and fold them into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans, smoothing it out with a rubber spatula. Place the pans in the oven.
Bake the cakes until they spring back when pressed with a finger and are lightly golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven, and place them on wire racks to cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edge of each layer and invert each onto a rack, then invert them again onto another rack so that the cakes are right side up. Allow the cakes to cool completely, 20 minutes longer.
Make the frosting. Place the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low until combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla, and blend on medium until creamy.
To assemble the cake (without sprinkles on the side) place one cake layer, right side up, on a serving plate and spread 1 cup of the frosting over the top. Place the second layer, right side up, on top of the first. Spread another cup of the frosting over the top. Frost the sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Garnish the top with the 1/4 cup sprinkles. Slice and serve.
Have a great week! Stay well. And take the survey!