Special Sauce: Artist and Author Maira Kalman on S…

[Photograph: Courtesy of Maira Kalman. Cake photograph: Vicky Wasik]

In part 2 of the Special Sauce interview with artist and author Maira Kalman, we were joined by Barbara Scott-Goodman, who co-authored Cake, and, of course, we talked cake. What else would we talk about?

The first question I asked was how the book came to be. Scott-Goodman said that she had always wanted to write a book about cake, but not one that dipped into the realm of baking bibles or took itself too seriously. She wanted a book “about moments of cake.” And so she approached Kalman (they have known each other for years) and simply said “I want to do a book about cake.” And that was that.

Of course, the way the collaboration worked was slightly unorthodox. “That process took a little while to figure out,” Scott-Goodman said. “I work as a cookbook writer and think in terms of, ‘First we’ll do this and that’ and when I said something about the yellow pound cake Maira said ‘Well, then that would be the picture of Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein.'”

But an unorthodox process was totally appropriate, in light of what they produced. “‘Is it a cake book? Is it a memoir?'” Kalman said. “It’s both of these things beautifully tied together.”

One of my favorite moments of the interview (admittedly one I engineered) was when Kalman read one of my favorite passages from the book:

The Cakes of People I Do Not Know

All over the world, all the time, people are eating cake.

They always have and they always will.

A group of children have stopped playing to have cake.

A man taking a nap on a comfortable sofa will wake up to a lovely cake.

Together, or alone, celebrating or sitting quietly and thinking, someone is savoring a moment of cake.

The words on a page don’t do this cake poem justice. To really feel the power contained in them you’ll just have to listen to the podcast.

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Transcript

Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, a Serious Eats podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture; food folks and non-food folks alike.

Barbara Scott-Goodman: One day I brought four lemon cakes over to Maira’s apartment and that was a good morning.

Maira Kalman: That was a wonderful day.

BSG: Yeah, and you know what? They picked the one that I didn’t like.

MK: I don’t know, I don’t even remember that.

BSG: I was outvoted.

MK: That’s funny. There was tension that I didn’t even know. I thought there was, you know, beautiful harmony every minute.

EL: Artist and provocateur and author Maira Kalman is back with us, joined by her collaborator on her new book, Cake. Author, food writer, and fellow designer Barbara Scott-Goodman. She’s the author of The Beach House Cookbook, Wine Bites, and Brooklyn Bar Bites.

EL: First of all, genius idea; a simple little book about cake that’s beautifully designed with awesome recipes. I mean, let’s just stop right there.

MK: Give the credit to Barbara.

EL: … really? Tell us how this came about. What’s the genesis of the book?

BSG: I had always wanted to do a book about cake, but I didn’t want it to be a baking bible and I didn’t want it to be huge and serious because other people do that and-

EL: Right, and you’re not Rose Levy Beranbaum.

BSG: … no, no. I’m not that. I’m not Alice Medrich. I’m not … but I do love to bake. Bake and cook, and when I think about baking and cooking I usually think about why I’m doing it and what the occasion is. Of course, cake always comes to mind because it’s about occasions.

EL: It’s about moments.

BSG: It’s about moments, exactly.

EL: Maira’s very fond of moments as you know.

BSG: And who better to capture a moment than Maira? Maira and I have known each other for many years and I didn’t see this book, as particularly about photographs or anything serious or heavy. It was more about the moments of cake.

EL: Yeah.

BSG: And memory, and good or bad, and all the things that go with cake.

EL: Did you just approach Maira and say, “I want to do this book about cake”?

BSG: Yes.

MK: Yes.

BSG: That’s-

EL: That’s very hard-

MK: It was really …

BSG: … That was it.

EL: … that’s a hardcore sales job.

MK: And you know what I said? “Yes.”

EL: Yes.

MK: And then we-

BSG: And then-

MK: … ended the rest of the evening, I don’t know, maybe we didn’t even talk about it anymore.

BSG: I don’t think we talked, we said, “We’ll talk about it, we’ll have coffee and cake, and talk about it.”

EL: We’ll have your agent call my agent.

BSG: Exactly, exactly. That’s what happened.

EL: That’s awesome.

BSG: It was really a delightful experience.

EL: What was the process once you came up with the idea and Maira said “I’m in.” How did it work? Did you have a series of conversations about cake and memory? Tell us about that.

BSG: Well, we’ve said this before, right? The hardest part was picking the cake, which cake.

EL: And I have a bone to pick with you about that, but I’ll get to that in a second.

BSG: Okay.

MK: I know what it is too. Okay.

BSG: We were trying to pick which cakes would be the most … which ones we loved, which ones we hated, which ones were pertinent, right? Which ones …

MK: Which ones seemed to be the most classic. If you’re going to start, these are the cakes that you should have in your repertoire. You can get fancier later, but it just seemed like the most essential, the most iconic.

BSG: Right.

EL: Also, are each of them attached to a different moment? Like, birthdays, or weddings, or not necessarily?

MK: Not in this book. There are some moments that are identified with the cake itself, and then some others that are not necessarily those moments.

BSG: Right. That process took a little while to figure out what the book actually was because I work as a cookbook writer and think in terms of, “First we’ll do this and that,” and when I said something about the yellow pound cake Maira said “Well, then that would be the picture of Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein.”

EL: Of course.

BSG: … of course.

EL: Everyone knows that.

BSG: And I said, “Oh yeah, that’s what I thought too.”

MK: There was really room in the conversation to go back and forth between design, content-

BSG: Right.

MK: … playing with it, what … art. What is this book? What are these stories? You know.

BSG: I thought the real “aha” moment came from Maira though when she said, “I don’t think this should be picture, recipe, picture, recipe.” Then that whole thing changed because then we started to think about it as the whole book. Maybe it wasn’t going to be picture, recipe, picture, recipe, which there aren’t very many.

EL: It is a mini narrative about cake, with some recipes throughout it.

MK: Yeah with really wonderful, 16 … I think it’s a balance in that when … you can’t separate them, one wouldn’t exist without the other and I think they really work together to form the greater part of the whole, or whatever that is. I don’t see it as really, “Is it a cake book? Is it a memoir?” It’s both of these things beautifully tied together.

EL: Yeah.

MK: And you have a respite from cooking, you have a respite from memory.

EL: Yeah. It’s interesting because Maira, you’ve done a lot of collaborating over the years in different ways. Was this collaboration different and what do you like about collaborating rather than doing something on your own?

MK: The criteria always has to be, “Do I like the person, is the … does the person have a sense of humor? Can we talk to each other where we feel there’s a kind of comfort in I can say what I think without being … you know, without being terrified.” I think we really felt that. There was a relationship that was very flowing-

BSG: Right.

MK: … with a lot of humor and that’s really important to me.

BSG: And we both really understand books. We have both done books for many, many years. We know it’s a product and that’s what I happen to love about books is that it’s, you work on it for a long time, sometimes you work on it you don’t think it’s ever going to end, as you know. Then it goes to the printer, magically goes off somewhere and a few months later you get a product.

EL: I know.

BSG: You get this beautiful thing to hold in your hands and I think we’re really lucky, knock on wood we can still do it.

EL: It’s so true and I say this as someone who started a website, right? Which is the exact opposite, right? Everything lives in the digital world.

BSG: Right. Right.

EL: That’s what makes books special. They are a package.

BSG: Yeah.

EL: They’re a container for thoughts, and feelings-

BSG: Right.

EL: … and facts, and fiction, and it can’t be replaced by anything. But-

BSG: Right.

MK: Right.

EL: … but that is what makes something special. In this particular case it’s such an elegant and self-deprecating package.

MK: There’s the combination of enthusiasm and humility, you know? Nobody’s really an expert. You do the best you can.

BSG: Right.

MK: And I think the sense in that book is a very friendly, familial … we’re doing it, you can do it, here’s some stories of good days and of bad days. It’s … again, it’s a very humanistic cookbook-

BSG: Yeah.

MK: … and a very intimate one.

EL: Yeah.

BSG: And my problem with some cookbooks is that it’s always, “I’m the world’s foremost authority and I … and this is the way you should do it.” When I see a cookbook like that I go, “Mm, I don’t know if we’re going to be friends.” This book was more about, “These are cakes and you’re going to find one that you really like.”

EL: Yeah.

BSG: “And you’re going to want to, you’re want to going to get in the kitchen and bake it.” You take it, don’t take it too seriously. Take it seriously but not too seriously.

EL: Right. Sure.

BSG: Make sure your oven works.

EL: Yeah. Make sure-

BSG: Make sure your timer works.

EL: … right.

BSG: That’s, that’s …

EL: You talk about that in the beginning of the book is that you can’t walk away from cakes.

BSG: No. No. It’s not like you’re roasting a chicken and you can put it in the oven and go take a nap.

EL: That’s one of the two most important things you want to impart, right? What was the other? You have to be precise …

BSG: You have to be precise.

EL: Because it’s … you know and I’ve met and hung out with many pastry chefs, they’re insanely precise-

BSG: Yeah.

EL: … obsessive-compulsive people. We have a woman that I call the Pastry Wizard at Serious Eats, Stella Parks who wrote a great book called BraveTart, which is sort of re-imagining iconic American desserts. Like, homemade Oreos and she always says, “They can’t be too good or else they won’t be an Oreo, they’ll be something else.” You know? “They’ll be a Thomas Keller Oreo,” but she wasn’t looking to make a Thomas Keller Oreo.

BSG: Right.

EL: But she has that obsessive thing that you talk about.

BSG: Right. Yes and No. It’s not … this book isn’t for the obsessive baker I would say.

EL: Right, and you do say, you do follow that up by saying, “You just have to acknowledge that some cakes are not going to turn out.”

BSG: That’s right. Just toss it and walk away.

EL: You know what’s funny? The only time we were talking about Nora [inaudible 00:09:44], the only time she ever came to our house for dinner my wife made a lemon bundt cake and she’s really proud of this cake and it is an awesome cake. She was very nervous like, “Why do we have … we don’t even … barely know her. It’s like … this is stupid,” and she’s ruminating about it. Then she tries to take the cake out of the bundt pan by turning it over, it falls on the floor. It falls on the floor and then literally she starts crying and she just goes down to her knees. I thought about that when you talked about it and you know what she … I said, “Don’t worry,” you know? But she couldn’t deal with a broken lemon bundt cake, and so she made another one.

MK: Sure. I mean if you have supreme confidence you could say, “Ah, ha, ha. Look at my broken lemon bundt cake,” but you know, the emotional highs and lows in the kitchen are legendary, and the fights people have in the kitchen. What’s all this tension in the kitchen?

BSG: My husband doesn’t come near the kitchen except to wash the dishes and it’s perfect.

EL: Was there any tension between you two in writing the book? Tell me about the process. You’d think about the cakes that you wanted to do-

BSG: Right.

EL: … and then you would start playing with the recipes and would Maira taste, or were the two processes separate?

BSG: The list.

MK: The list. First we would-

BSG: The list.

MK: … the list went back and forth for I don’t know, six months? Easily.

BSG: How many emails?

MK: That was so much fun.

BSG: I wish we had saved the emails.

MK: If our job was only to make a list of cakes I mean, isn’t that amazing? So we-

EL: Yeah, because so you ended up with 18? Or is it 16?

MK: … 16.

BSG: 16.

EL: 16.

MK: Yup, yup.

BSG: And plus a recipe for schlag.

MK: Schlag.

EL: Schlag. I love that.

MK: No, but we asked friends and we traveled and asked people and I was, you know, we were saying earlier that everywhere that I went I would ask people, “What’s your favorite cake?” And that question stopped everybody to take it … they took the question very seriously.

BSG: Very seriously.

MK: It wasn’t … there were no flip answers. Deep thinking. I thought, “That’s really amazing that, that sense of caring and … over this wonderful object, this wonderful food,” so we did that for quite a while.

BSG: Right.

MK: The list.

BSG: So we went back and forth with the list and when we … we didn’t listen to too many other people actually.

MK: No I mean, we knew-

BSG: We knew what we-

MK: … we have strong opinions.

BSG: … yeah, we both do have strong opinions.

EL: And so you narrowed the list.

BSG: Narrowed the list and the process is that I would do … I would develop the recipe or had, had that recipe on hand and then I gave it to a cake tester, who I’m going to give her a plug as a best name, Chelsea Bacon, and she-

EL: That’s a great name for anything. A butcher-

MK: Right, exactly.

EL: … a designer, I mean-

BSG: … and she-

EL: … Chelsea Bacon could be a soccer player.

MK: … she might be.

BSG: … she might.

MK: But later on, next year, but for now-

BSG: She’s actually a designer and she’s also a brilliant baker and will probably do something in baking some day. She was totally precise and she took pictures, emailed back, said, “I think this needs more of this,” and I think everything inside a cookbook has to be tested. You can tell when you read a cookbook, you go, “I don’t think they tested,” you know?

EL: Yeah. Brave Tart tests every recipe that’s on Serious Eats and in her book 10 times.

MK: … 10 times.

BSG: That’s what we did, right?

MK: I think that’s what we … 10 times we-

BSG: Chelsea Bacon’s still there baking.

EL: I understand that she’s that … the obsessive needle is pinned to the red.

BSG: Right. Right, but it is good to just give it to someone who hasn’t baked this thing before and just sort of blindly does it and has thoughts. She tested and then we-

MK: We tasted.

BSG: … we tasted and we did … The lemon cake was … one day I brought four lemon cakes over to Maira’s apartment. That was a good morning.

MK: That was a wonderful day.

BSG: And you know what? They picked the one that I didn’t like.

EL: Really? How do you deal with that?

MK: I don’t remember that.

BSG: I was outvoted. I was out …

MK: Wow.

BSG: Yeah.

EL: So Chelsea and Maira voted?

BSG: No, this was-

MK: There was someone, Katelyn-

BSG: … there was someone, Katelyn was there. I think someone else was there and-

MK: … right. That’s funny.

BSG: … and there were lemon cakes and I walked in with four boxes of lemon cake and that was-

MK: That’s funny. There was tension that I didn’t even know. I thought there was beautiful harmony every minute, which there was.

BSG: … no like-

MK: I clearly-

BSG: … I went out and punched the wall.

MK: … yeah.

BSG: No. No, no, no. It was fine.

EL: What are each of your first memories about cake?

BSG: My first memory. You know, I grew up in … I didn’t grow up in the city so I didn’t go to restaurants a lot when I was a kid. I went to a restaurant with my parents once and they ordered cake for dessert and I was stunned that you could go to a restaurant and get cake. I mean, I was young but-

EL: Right.

BSG: … I just thought mothers made them. I didn’t know that you could just go and I remember it was a white cake with chocolate frosting and it was delicious. I just thought, “People go to restaurants and eat cake?” And then it was, I was obsessed you know.

EL: Really?

BSG: Yeah. Yeah because I grew up in the country and people always baked and brought cakes to people’s houses and it was very … it wasn’t like I walked down the street and looked at bakeries until I got much older.

EL: Yeah. Yeah. What about you Maira? What’s your first memory of a cake and what does it evoke?

MK: The first memory is the first story that I wrote for the book, which is being on the terrace of my aunt’s apartment in Tel Aviv. She had three children, so my sister and I and her three children would spend the summer together. I don’t know how she survived it and took us to the beach every morning at the beautiful beach in Tel Aviv. Then we came home and she would have … of course she made breakfast for everybody and then she was in the preparation for lunch for everybody which would lead to dinner for everybody. But in between she baked a few cakes. This one was a chocolate cake with no chocolate in it, it was cocoa and coffee.

BSG: Wow.

EL: Interesting.

MK: Which we still have the recipe for. I should try … I’ll make that for you one time, see what you think.

BSG: Yeah.

MK: And it was rich and wonderful. I remember that cake, being given a plate with a piece of cake and some grapes, and the deep sense of well-being of complete, this life is perfect you know?

EL: It was a moment.

MK: It was a great moment.

EL: Cake is so evocative and it’s one of those things that it’s not just about taste memory, but it’s also about the moment that you have a bite of a certain cake.

BSG: Right.

EL: We all have those memories and … I once wrote a story, Looking for the Best Cheesecake, and you have the … In New York, for the New York Times a long time ago, and you have this thing, you wrote, “How could anyone not love cheesecake,” you know?

MK: I feel that very strongly. It’s cheesecake. It’s amazing.

BSG: Cheesecake’s amazing.

EL: It’s a miracle.

BSG: It’s a miracle.

EL: Why is cheesecake a miracle?

BSG: It’s not really a miracle. It’s a-

MK: What is it?

BSG: … it’s cream cheese.

MK: It’s cream cheese.

BSG: It’s cream cheese.

MK: Yeah, we’re not going talking about ricotta or anything.

EL: Right.

MK: I’m not even going there. It’s cream cheese.

BSG: We disagree there. I love ricotta cheesecake.

EL: Really? So-

MK: Do you?

BSG: I do.

MK: Interesting.

BSG: Yeah.

EL: … so, you like the … how do you feel about the oozy Junior’s cheesecake? Are you down with that or is that too oozy?

MK: You know what? It’s been a while since I’ve had Junior’s. I usually like a … what do I like, with a lemon.

BSG: Lemon. Yeah.

MK: Gotta have the lemon-

BSG: Lemon zest.

MK: … and some berries, with some berry juice next to it.

BSG: I think a lot of cheesecake is too heavy, too dense. That’s my opinion.

EL: Yes, for sure.

BSG: And this recipe for cheesecake has egg whites in it and it’s much lighter.

EL: Yeah. Which is-

BSG: Yeah.

MK: I’m going to make it this weekend.

BSG: Yeah, you should. And it’s-

EL: … You know about this book called Cake? It has this-

MK: I was going to say, I wish I knew how to make it.

BSG: Really. You should try it.

MK: Clearly I wasn’t focusing.

BSG: Maybe we can get her a copy.

EL: … I’m going to give you my copy after-

BSG: But that’s my opinion about a lot of commercial cheesecake is that it’s too dense, but some people love it like that.

EL: … I agree.

BSG: They like a big-

EL: In this cheesecake piece I said, “I don’t want … Junior’s Cheesecake,” and then I got letters and phone calls from the Rosen family who owned Junior’s and they were like, “How could you do this to us?” And I was like-

MK: … did you find one that you loved?

EL: … I did.

MK: Is the place still …

EL: Yeah, there was actually an Italian bake shop, I think it’s still there, in Dyker Heights called, I think it was called Mona Lisa? And I liked this place, they still have a little shop on Cleveland Place and now of course, Eileen’s Cheesecake.

MK: Eileen’s.

BSG: Eileen’s. Yes, that’s good. That’s very good. I like that. That’s my style too.

EL: That was right near the Serious Eats offices originally. It’s-

MK: I keep wondering if I made that place up, you know like, “Is it really there?” Eileen, like is it-

BSG: No, it’s-

MK: … really a real place? Did I dream it?

BSG: … everything on Cleveland Place looks a little made up.

MK: Yeah, it does. Are any of those places there?

BSG: I’m not sure.

MK: Yeah.

EL: … Eileen’s is still there, it’s amazing.

MK: Okay. Maybe I won’t bake, maybe I will just shop.

EL: Well that brings me to my next question. Cakes at a bakery evoke a very different feeling versus a cake that you make yourself or somebody brings to you.

MK: Right.

EL: Talk a little bit about the difference, and you know of course for many years the neighborhood bake shop was gone.

BSG: Yeah.

EL: People could only either make their own or go to the supermarket and get a terrible occasion cake. Now there’s been a great resurgence and renewed interest in obviously American baking and just bake shops in general but a cake bought is different than a cake made, is it not?

BSG: It’s a little more processed and it’s convenient and there are great ones and there are you know … but the difference to me is I like a little … I like some cakes with flaws. As I said in the intro, It’s like I like to see a little lopsidedness or that you see the human touch to it and that somebody made this for you. There are bakers I know and even home bakers who can make a perfect cake but I kind of like to see just a little, something a little off.

EL: That makes it feel human.

BSG: That makes it feel … feels that somebody made this for you and here I am, flaws and all.

EL: What about you, Maira, in terms of you know, as someone who loves room service and whose perfect life would be going out to eat, I mean …

MK: Oh yeah. I’m torn. You know, I’m really this bipolar cake person. I adore the idea of making cakes and I don’t do that much baking but if I were to choose something it would be baking over cooking. That’s usually somebody … I’m the assistant to somebody making the actual meal, but I’ll do the baking. Then I adore the notion of going to a bakery and looking at what they’ve made-

EL: Me too.

BSG: Yeah.

MK: … and these crazy confections that I would never be able to attempt in a million years. Then something about, and then the box, and the string, and the outfit that the person is wearing there. All of it kind of makes me tingle. I like both of it, both of them.

EL: The box and … One of my first memories I think I must have been seven or eight. No, I was probably 10 because I could get on my bike and go to the bake shop in our little town. My mother would give me money to buy a babka and some rugelach at the Cedarhurst Bake Shop. What I most remember is taking a number.

MK: Taking a number.

EL: That’s one of the greatest things.

BSG: I love the number tickets.

EL: Yeah. Tickets are … I know you-

BSG: I collect them, yeah. It’s important to-

EL: … you collect them but-

BSG: … it’s important.

EL: … there’s something magic about that ticket.

MK: But also, the other thing about the bake shop is that there are other people there making decisions. You’re really seeing a cross section of life. People are deciding what they need, saying it nicely, saying it not-so-nicely, and all of those fantastic … it’s like a theater.

EL: Yeah.

MK: It really is like theater.

BSG: Yeah, I agree. I was in an Italian bakery recently on Arthur Avenue and they-

EL: Which one?

BSG: … Madonia.

EL: I know Madonia well.

BSG: With that most delicious biscotti, the chocolate and pistachio and-

EL: That’s serious.

BSG: … and she had a small box for the biscotti. Like not the big box and that was the special. This is the biscotti box.

EL: Right, the small, rectangular box.

BSG: And just … the small rectangular box and that was really, really good. That biscotti.

EL: I think every room should have bakery string in it. You know just for … that’s like good karma.

MK: String in general is really good for the soul.

BSG: We have a roll of twine that we’ve had for 12 years now, so. It was from a Thanksgiving from you know-

EL: Really?

BSG: … yeah.

MK: Yeah.

BSG: Every time my sister comes to visit once a year she goes, “You still have that? This is from the Thanksgiving 12 years ago.”

EL: That’s awesome.

MK: Does she want it?

BSG: No. She can’t have it.

MK: Of course, she can’t have it. She covets it.

BSG: She does.

EL: Barbara, this is where I have to take you to task.

BSG: Okay.

EL: You teased us with a mention of a peach cinnamon cake in the book. In the beginning of the book, by the way, not the end of the book. Then I would have been okay with it. I thought that as I turned the pages that I would come across a recipe for a peach cinnamon cake. That didn’t … either it didn’t make the cut or you just forgot that you mentioned it.

BSG: No, it was neither one of those.

EL: Okay.

BSG: That was a memory and it’s a very simple square, little square sheet cake. I didn’t think it was quite …

EL: Like iconic enough?

BSG: Iconic enough, yeah. Yeah, it’s just a little simple little cake that I can actually do without the recipe-

EL: Really?

BSG: … but I’ll give you the recipe.

EL: All right, yeah.

MK: That’s a good idea.

BSG: Yeah. Yeah. And it was-

EL: I know Maira would like one too, so you might as well make two.

BSG: … that’s fine.

MK: Of course I would.

BSG: It did cross my mind. I said, “Damn, I should put that peach cake in there.”

MK: I didn’t know whether I had said, “No way. No. Peach cake is not coming into this.”

BSG: Well, Maira doesn’t love sheet cakes so there’s that. But it was-

MK: That’s true.

BSG: … that’s true.

MK: That’s true.

BSG: So it was a little … it was almost too simple, you know? It was almost … but I could be convinced to send you the recipe.

EL: All right. Each of you, I want to hear about your first experience making a cake and what it was like.

BSG: The first cake I made was a white, just a white layer cake with … my mother told me how to make it and she, you know, we did it step-by-step and it came out really well. It came out perfectly and I thought it was a miracle.

EL: Really?

BSG: So it always stayed with me that I … So I was never scared of making a cake.

EL: And-

BSG: And I mean, I’m scared of making a big … like a big bakery kind of a cake.

EL: … right.

BSG: But a home cake, I … it was probably-

EL: Even the first one, she just filled you with confidence.

BSG: … she did. She did, yeah.

EL: Interesting.

BSG: Yeah, yeah.

EL: What about you Maira?

MK: Oh, my god. I’m shaking with bad memories. All I can think about are all of the disasters-

BSG: There’s a lot of other things that didn’t go well. But-

MK: … yeah, right. Yeah, I’m remembering some cakes that didn’t go well at all, but I think probably the first cake that I made, and I’m not … I don’t have a good image, but I know that I probably made the honey cake at a very young age, a very young age-

EL: And there is a honey cake recipe in the book.

MK: … a few years ago-

BSG: There is a honey cake recipe.

EL: Because a lot of honey cakes are dry.

MK: No, this is moist.

BSG: Magical moist, right? The magical moist.

MK: Majestic.

BSG: Majestic and moist.

MK: Moist and majestic.

BSG: Moist and majestic.

EL: This is a very important question I have to ask both of you. Your birthday’s coming up, you’re throwing yourself a party for family and friends, what kind of a cake will you be having at the party? And I’m talking specifics here. I need to know the kind of cake, the kind of icing, is there a filling, and are you making it, hoping someone else volunteers to make it, or buying it at a bakery?

MK: I recently made a birthday cake for my granddaughter, so I would make the same cake. It was a roulade, does it have to be a cake from our book?

BSG: No.

MK: Should it be …

EL: No.

BSG: It should be a cake out of our book.

EL: No, we’re promoting the book enough.

MK: It was the Jacques and Julia and it was a chocolate cream roulade.

BSG: Wow.

EL: That sounds delicious.

MK: Not hard, so delicious, light as a feather.

EL: And yet moist.

MK: Elegant, and elegant, you always have to add and yet elegant.

BSG: And yet elegant.

MK: Simple yet elegant.

EL: That’s good.

MK: Or strawberry shortcake.

EL: Or strawberry-

MK: But with the recipe that you have with biscuits.

EL: … right. Like the traditional strawberry shortcake.

MK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

EL: And you?

BSG: I have two answers. My first answer is I would go pretty safe and just do the white layer cake, with white buttercream frosting because I actually know some people … if it were someone in my family … someone in my family doesn’t like chocolate, so … If she were there.

EL: So it’s a vanilla buttercream.

BSG: A vanilla with a buttercream. I just think it’s … like, I called it The Little Black Dress. It’s the cake you could make and you could put sprinkles on it, you could put fruit on it, you could put lemon zest on it, you could do anything with it and it’s-

EL: All right. I like that.

BSG: … that’s the cake.

EL: So that’s answer one.

BSG: That’s answer one, and if I wanted someone to bring a cake I would say that Lady M cake.

EL: Oh yeah.

BSG: The Lady-

EL: The mille-feuille-

BSG: … Mille-feuille, yeah.

EL: … which is, stands for a hundred or a thousand layers.

BSG: Thousand layers, yeah. I think that cake is divine.

EL: Really? And what’s your favorite bakery cake?

MK: I was thinking of the … I think it was from Payard, the giant, what’s the-

BSG: Croquembouche.

MK: … croquembouche, but a giant croquembouche with gold spun whatever-

BSG: That gold-

MK: … what are they spinning?

BSG: … gold around it.

EL: It’s edible-

BSG: That like-

MK: It’s like a caramel. It’s like a spiderweb-

BSG: … caramel, yeah.

MK: It’s like some kind of fantastic fluff, and we had that for a party once.

BSG: There’s also a bakery in Brooklyn called Villabate which is-

EL: I know Villabate, it was in New York Eats in 1991.

BSG: … they’re still there and they do these … I’m just thinking visually now. Their cakes are so gorgeous. I’ve never eaten one, and they also have a huge marzipan collection.

EL: Yes.

BSG: So that is a … that’s a field trip.

EL: I admire marzipan from afar.

BSG: Yeah.

EL: I have no interest in eating it.

MK: I’m not a marzipan fan.

EL: Yeah.

BSG: No, I don’t eat it. I just … it’s just to look. I just think it’s so amazing that they make it.

EL: Yeah. It’s a packaging element. The one piece of baking advice that you would give.

BSG: Give yourself time. Don’t do it on the run. Just make sure you’ve got the time to do it right and if you don’t have the time, buy a cake.

EL: Got it.

BSG: Like, I just … you gotta be there for it.

EL: Yeah, for sure.

BSG: Yeah.

EL: Preferred and correct accompaniment to cake?

BSG: I’m kind of a coffee girl.

EL: You are.

BSG: Yeah.

MK: Yeah.

EL: I’m a cold milk person.

MK: I could understand that everybody has different feelings, but I am also a coffee … I’m a coffee lover. Cake and coffee seems like the right thing to do.

BSG: Yeah.

EL: Okay, so I’ve been outvoted here.

BSG: Yeah.

MK: You can take note, two coffees and one milk please. Are we ordering?

EL: Here’s another cosmically important question, does ice cream belong on a piece of cake?

BSG: Ah, yes.

MK: Sometimes, definitely.

BSG: Yeah.

MK: Definitely.

BSG: Not with every … Yeah, not with every cake.

MK: I’m thinking with some kind of chocolate confection and some kind of wonderful vanilla ice cream or …

BSG: Right.

MK: That’s amazing.

BSG: Right. If there’s a lot of frosting, no. And I don’t think it goes with cheesecake, but-

MK: No.

BSG: … I also think fruit, strawberry, blueberries, all of that. I think it’s fabulous with cake.

EL: Yeah.

BSG: I always look for that.

EL: There’s a couple of poems in the book. There’s one that I really loved at the end, close to the end called, The Cakes of People I Do Not Know, which seemed to have a resonant political implication. Maybe you could read it for us and the cakes of-

MK: This page?

EL: … yeah.

MK: And go on or not?

EL: The one on the left. The one on the left.

MK: Right, but go on or that’s it?

EL: No, yeah then-

MK: Go on for like 20 more pages?

EL: … no, no. There is one more I want you to read so you can keep your book.

MK: The cakes of people I do not know. All over the world, all the time, people are eating cake. They always have and they always will. A group of children have stopped playing to have cake. A man taking a nap on a comfortable sofa will wake up to a lovely cake. Together, or alone, celebrating or sitting quietly and thinking, someone is savoring a moment of cake.

EL: It’s a very inclusive, whether you call it a poem or just prose, statement about cake. You know, which I thought really resonated for me in this current political climate.

MK: Well, probably one of the reasons this book resonates so well now is everybody needs a break from all of this. We need some sweetness in our lives.

BSG: Exactly.

MK: From all of this bitterness, literally bitterness that’s going on. I think there’s some instinctual gravitation like a respite, a release from that.

BSG: I need to get in the kitchen and break some eggs.

MK: Yeah.

BSG: Yeah.

MK: Exactly, and just sit with some people and feel good and not complain.

EL: Yeah, and actually, that actually leads in perfectly to the next one which is the last sort of poem in the book which I love. If you read this one, and really-

MK: The dog wrote this one.

EL: … fantastic.

MK: What have I learned? It is not a party without cake. It is not a holiday without cake. It is not an auspicious occasion without cake. Things are much nicer with cake. Bring on the cake. We really want to live.

EL: Yeah. I thought that was very powerful. Barbara mentioned, did … were there ever moments in the process where you just were in awe of what Maira had written or drawn-

BSG: Oh, yeah.

EL: … like, because it’s not a …

BSG: Yes. Yes. And it was … the book evolved into something … at one point I said, “This is not a cookbook, this is a cookbook, but it’s not a cookbook like any other.” And I was very, really happy to be part of it.

EL: What’s next? I mean, cookies, come on.

BSG: Subway home.

MK: Right, exactly. Back to the factory.

BSG: We need-

MK: I don’t know.

EL: Would you consider writing another one of these about cookies?

MK: Cookies?

EL: Yeah.

MK: You haven’t really hit my heart string with cookies. I don’t know, but we … we’ll see what happens. We’re both … the nice thing is that we both have lots of projects going on and that we will reunite when we know we want to reunite with the right thing.

EL: Sounds perfect.

MK: Maybe it’ll be cookies. Who knows.

EL: Pies.

MK: Right, pies.

EL: Pies. That’s a whole other show.

BSG: That’s a whole other life.

MK: Yeah, that taps into a completely different kind of feeling. It’s interesting.

EL: Thank you so much for sharing your special sauce with us. Maira Kalman and Barbara Scott-Goodman. Anyone who loves cake or who loves a good story, and who doesn’t, should get a copy of their new book, Cake. It should be required eating that you be inhaling a big piece of cake with a cup of coffee or a cold glass of milk while doing so. Thank you both so much for being here.

MK: Thank you very much.

BSG: Thank you Ed, very lovely.

EL: So long, Serious Eaters, and we’ll see you next time.

MK: Adieu.

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