Take a minute, and think about all of the times that we eat cake. We commemorate birthdays, holidays, and graduations with candles and confections. We recognize the achievements of those we love with layers of pastry and frosting. We gather around sweet rounds to remember the lives of those we have lost. MOST IMPORTANTLY, we might even eat cake to celebrate anniversaries.
Four years ago, I posted my very first recipe. November is a bit late in the year for talk of Spiced Brown Butter Nectarine Scones, I know. Originally, I had a Tumblr for my recipes, which I had named A Trail of Crumbs. It no longer exists. That is where that first recipe for scones appeared, sometime earlier in the Fall of 2012.
Obviously, that never stuck. I realized fairly early on that I wanted to create something more. I spent months deliberating, continuing to post half-heartedly on my Tumblr, before I found something that worked better. This is how, four years ago today, I shared with you that very recipe, right here.
NOW. Some of you have been following me since the very beginning, and I know what you’re thinking: this space wasn’t always called Queen Smithereen. *gasp*
There was a time when, inspired by the still-life minimalism of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, I named my website Roast potatoes for. That name, from Stein’s three-word poem that made me ask a lot of questions, changed to what you see here sometime last fall. Given that I babble a lot about life and yoga and memories and playlists, it felt more fitting to call my website what it is: a representation of a Mary Poppins-type leading lady whose tastes-food and otherwise-are bits, bobs, and morsels of a greater whole. She is a queen of smithereens, if you will.
When I think about sitting down to write out that first recipe, I know there was a lot I hadn’t even considered about doing this thing. I could hardly photograph a dish to save my life. In fact, I am still working on retaking some of my old pictures for recipes; I just want what you find here to represent the effort I have put into each and every post. My first step was to take that old, first recipe and make it look the way I’d like it to. Given that we are always learning all the time, I feel that, in some ways, I can do a better job at what I couldn’t do back then: photograph.
I can no longer provide the old photos for certain recipes. I can, however, give you a picture of what I looked like way back when this website was in its early stages. I was a fresh-faced college graduate with a sweet tooth and a lot to say in a new city with the support that came from a longlonglong-term relationship. I was shy at the time. I had just entered the work force full-time, and I was floundering. I would sit at my favorite coffee shop in Saint Paul drinking Thai Iced Coffee and I would brainstorm recipes (or, I would write about the ones I’d just perfected). For those of you who are unfamiliar, Thai Iced Coffee is a chilled, extremely strong brew made rich and creamy with sweetened condensed milk. I sipped on so many of those while I poured my heart out into this thing that has become my baby.
Let’s face it–Nina’s Thai Iced Coffee kept me company while I worked away at this website. In honor of that, here is a cake made of all the things that went into that beloved beverage. Coffee-flavored layer cake tinged with the suggestion of astringent, warming cardamom. Topped with espresso-infused frosting made from sweetened condensed milk. Places to eat it: on the floor; standing up in the kitchen because you couldn’t wait to get it to the table; with friends; without friends; in bed, cozied up to whomever or whatever you’d like (even if that refers to a heating pad).
What do I look like now? For one, I have crow’s feet these days. I have a salary at a job I never thought I’d be working four years ago. My longlonglong-term relationship evolved into what is now a friendship. I have a collection of recipes I cannot wait to try out. I live on my own in my own apartment. I kind of play the ukulele these days, and I really like to sing. I have a brand new car. I feel loved by people that I love. I have been to cities I had never visited before. There are so many beautiful humans that have come my way. I have moved around and returned to wonderful Minneapolis. I have loved, and I have lost. In so many ways. I have recovered from some things I didn’t see coming. And all the while, I have continued to better my approach to what I create.
I am so proud to have been able to build a relationship with you all over the course of the last four years. Sincerely–thank you so much for taking the time to follow me. It means so much to me that we can share our love for deliciousness together.
Coffee-Cardamom Layer Cake with Sweetened Condensed Milk Frosting
Makes 1 Layer Cake
Coffee-Cardamom Layer Cake:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp instant espresso powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup strong coffee, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk
Sweetened Condensed Milk Frosting:
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tbsp instant espresso powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
8 oz Cool Whip, softened
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cardamom. In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, and molasses until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating in between. Beat in vanilla. Beat in coffee. Add dry ingredients in halves, alternating with the milk, until just combined. Divide batter evenly between cake pans and bake until tester comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Let cool five minutes in pan before turning out on cooling rack to cool completely.
Beat together butter, sweetened condensed milk, cream cheese, espresso powder, and vanilla. Gently fold in the Cool Whip in thirds. Once cake is completely cool, place one layer on a cake stand, with parchment paper gently tucked around its sides to catch any drippings of frosting. Top the cake layer with about 1 heaping cup of frosting and gently spread to the edges. Place second layer on top, dolloping frosting into the center and spreading out and down the sides of the cake. Once the cake is completely frosted, gently tug the parchment paper out from under the sides of the cake. Voila!