I hoped this day would never come, but here it is: You are reading the last-ever edition of Recipe for Disaster. If we were talking face to face, I’d pause and hand you a tissue. It’s under the best of circumstances (you’ll find out shortly the bonkers reason for my departure), but I never thought goodbye would come so soon.
This column started with me presenting a recipe alongside an album review. Genius! Artists with current releases get some press, and I get an excuse to bake. I love learning about music and I also love delicious food, so it was a perfect pairing. What I didn’t expect was for it to put me back so deeply in touch with my favorite hobby.
I learned to bake five or six years ago, newly vegan and with no idea how to cook, when I was in my early twenties and helping to run a DIY show venue out of an empty office below my apartment in Syracuse. I baked three or four times a week in those days, and I prided myself on being able to “veganize” any baked good. I studied stacks of cookbooks and spent an inordinate amount of money on donut pans, butter analogues, and cochineal-free food dyes and sprinkles (you know, the kind without bugs crushed up in the red dye). There was a time when, for me, baking and music coexisted in perfect, delicious harmony: I would occasionally sell baked goods at shows or bake for the bands that stayed with us.
This is a thing, by the way — it’s not unique to me. There’s a long history of folks in the punk and hardcore scene using food as a way to bring people together, both in an immediate sense (like the omnipresent bake sale at the Saturday punk show) and in a wider community (see: Food Not Bombs). But I was wary of the trope of the girl, always a girl, who isn’t good enough to be in bands and can’t afford a camera to take photos at shows, and so instead takes up baking. But I came to realize the women I worked with on these projects owned it with pride and did it by choice: We loved to bake, we loved being really good at it, and we were proud that everything we made was vegan (and though I’m no longer vegan, I’m still prouder than average when I turn out something animal-free that rules).
But time governs all things, and as my band Perfect Pussy took off, I was out of town more frequently than I was in it. Baking, my number one hobby and favorite thing to do, fell by the wayside, where it stayed for about three years.
And so, when the idea was suggested that I write a food column around the music I listened to, I went for it. Despite my best attempt at sticking to the album-recipe formula, before I knew it, my brain was blossoming in all sorts of peculiar directions, and I started breaking the rules: playlists to go along with giant, spur-of-the-moment holiday parties, a shepherd’s pie memorial for David Bowie when he passed, a blizzard-cabin-fever-induced collection of YouTube’s bad subtitles for Julia Child videos. I had a really good time, and I’ve learned so much — about baking, writing, music, and myself.
I learned how important it is to maintain a relationship between your various artistic disciplines of choice. About why it’s important to get your butter the right temperature for the recipe you’re making, and about how to make self-rising flour at home. About sitting at home proofing pizza dough while your friends are out at a party. About knowing your angles, even when you’re up to your elbows in raw turkey.
I gave recipe advice to my mom’s co-workers over the phone. I responded to Instagram pleas for help when dough didn’t rise or a cake fell flat. I tweeted at my food-writing heroes until we became internet friends. I bugged my real-life friends to come over and eat baked goods. I tested recipes until I had them down pat, and traveled all over the city with pies and cookies and cakes just to get rid of the surplus.
So thank you for coming on this weird little journey with me. Corny as it may sound, it’s helped me find a part of myself that I thought I’d lost — and reinforced my belief that love and knowledge, like cake, are so much better when they’re shared.
Speaking of cake, this fudge-avocado one was my most-loved recipe back in my vegan days. Somebody once made me swear that no matter where in the world I was, I’d make it for their potential future wedding. Why is it so good? It’s freaky-green, super-chocolatey, and so rich (because of all the avocados) that nobody can ever tell it’s vegan.
It’s been years since I last made it, but my beloved aunt recently asked me for the recipe, which reminded me of how wonderful it is. It’s the perfect sendoff for what has been an amazing experience.
I’ve doubled this and made adjustments to Joy the Baker’s original recipe, because a four-layer cake is much better than a two-layer cake. Cut this in half if you’re a crybaby who needs a little baby-waby cake, but prepare for a swirly if you do.
For the cake (four layers made in 9″ cake rounds):
6 cups all-purpose flour
.75 cups unsweetened nice cocoa powder
1 tsp sea salt
4 tsp baking powder
4 tsp baking soda
4 cups sugar
.5 cups vegetable oil
1 cup avocado, a/k/a one standard large bodega avocado, mashed to hell
4 cups water
4 tbsp white vinegar
4 tsp real vanilla
For the frosting:
2 lb of powdered sugar (it’s a lot! But Domino conveniently comes in 2 lb bags)
2 cups mashed ripe avocado (remove any weird brown spots before the mashing)
4 tsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp real vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350, then spray and flour your cake pans.
In a medium-big bowl, sift all the dry ingredients together except for the sugar. This might take kind of a long time, but you should be sifting your shit all the time anyway. Learn patience. It will help you in the future, and not just for baking.
In a real big bowl, mix all your wet ingredients, including the cup of smashed-up avocado. Whisk until combined, then add your sugar to the wet ingredients and whisk that in.
Dump all the dry stuff in at once and whisk it all up until it looks like, you know, cake batter.
Divide the batter evenly into cake pans. I only have two 9″ rounds, and my oven is fussy, so I bake the layers two at a time. It affords me more control if I can bake all four layers on the same level of the oven, and I suggest you do it. It will be worth it. Remember: Baking is science, so precision is key!
When the rounds come out of the oven, let them cool in the pans for 20 minutes or so, then turn them out onto parchment or a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way. (Even if you think it’s totally cool, give it another hour because it probably isn’t and you will be mad if you frost this too early and everything melts.)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a big bowl with a hand mixer, whip the avocado meat with lemon juice. (This will keep your frosting from turning brown!)
Add in powdered sugar a little bit at a time so it doesn’t get kicked up and fling dust all over you. When that’s all in, add the vanilla.
Frost the shit out of that cake and enjoy it because it’s the best cake in the world, and I made it for all of you, the best readers in the world. I love you. See you in the pit.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 19, 2016
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