When I initially started this recipe, I thought it was a revelation about taking time for yourself. How we often feel guilty for doing it, or how what we consider “self-care” is actually not really good for us (drinking, splurging on treats both edible and non-, etc.). I was coming off a week out of town, and the only thing I could bring myself to do was to bake. This, for me, was self-care.
I continued to think about this post this way as I carefully made the piecaken over two days. Two days of happy, humming baking, apron on (for real) and Florence + the Machine in the background. Two days of crossing my fingers because really, as with life, any stage of this piecaken could have taken the whole week completely off the rails.
But then I stumbled across this TED Talk. If you have never seen or heard of Marina Abramovic, go ahead and take a second and watch this.
Done? Because after I watched this video my whole week changed. Funny, that, how I started out making this weirdly named, #trending cake and then suddenly the whole thing became a metaphor. The fluffy outside, vanilla flavored and sweet-smelling, followed by the almost crusty exterior of the vanilla cake and finished with a sweet, tart, creamy pomegranate cheesecake (with a final bite of its sugar cookie crust).
This cake is like me. Like many of us, really. On the outside it is just a beautiful bit of cake, snow white with smooth, glossy frosting.
On the inside, things change. Get more complex. Marina Abramovic talks about vulnerability as the thing that connects us all. Our willingness to truly show ourselves is what brings us together, not our common hobbies or politics, the fluffy white frosting of life. Vulnerability is where real change lies, where the art is made. Our insides don’t always match our outsides. We hide behind The Facebook and a carefully cultivated online brand that has us posting only the happiest bits of ourselves.
’tis the season for the happy horseshit group Christmas letter where the ENTIRE FAMILY was EXCEPTIONAL this year.
But that’s not real.
Which is sometimes okay because I know I don’t always want an intimate relationship online. And not everyone needs to know my business.
I have a friend (who shall remain nameless but who will know clearly who I am talking about if he reads this) who was a raging asshole in his younger years, angry and obnoxious and crappy to pretty much everyone. We didn’t like each other much at first but somehow became close. I got to know him. He showed me his cheesecake-like insides.
Gross, I know. But it’s the cake metaphor, people. Keep up.
Once when we were both deeply in our cups and he had just finished being a total douche to someone, I told him that if he would stop being a dick maybe more people would realize he wasn’t, well, a dick. If he would just let them know the person I know.
He said (or yelled, really, because this was the kind of drunken argument that happens in full voice), “But I don’t WANT them to know me that way.”
And that’s where it is. And that is where the art lies. My friend is an artist (in a genre I will not name, again, for his protection), and in his art he is completely and totally himself. Absorbed. Dare I say…vulnerable. He shows his squishy places to the world if the world will just look and see.
This cake, and the writing about it, and the sharing of it, is my squishy place. As noted in a previous post, food, to me, equals love. So I research it, I make it, I write about it, and I give it away.
And just as complex as we are as humans, this cake is also complex and time-consuming to create. But totally, utterly worth it.
Pomegranate Cheesecake With Sugar Cookie Crust Wrapped In A
Marshmallow-Frosted Vanilla Cake. You know, #PIECAKEN
Make these elements in this order. Read each recipe through before you begin.
1 1/2 c. finely ground sugar cookies (I used gluten-free cookies, but graham crackers, Oreos, or any other crunchy cookie works)
4 T. melted butter
2 – 8 ounce bars of cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 c. sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 c. heavy cream or half-and half
1/2 c. cooled pomegranate syrup (2 cups of pomegranate juice reduced to 1/2 cup. Apple cider works here, too)
1 t. vanilla extract
For the crust: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter the bottom of two 6″ springform pans and then line with parchment paper circle. You could also use a regular 6″ cake pan and line the whole pan with parchment.
In a food processor, crush cookies. Or put in a freezer bag and bash with a rolling pin until you get finely crumbled cookie. Add melted butter, and mix to combine. Divide between pans and press firmly. Bake at 300 for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely.
For the filling: In a food processor, thoroughly combine cream cheese, sugars, and spice. Add the eggs, one at a time, then add the heavy cream, pomegranate, and vanilla. Mix completely.
Pour into cooled pie crust and bake at 350 degrees until custard is completely set (about 35 to 40 minutes). Let cool completely. You can prepare these the night before you make the cake.
You could also make this in one regular spring form pan and stop here. But why would you?
Plain White Cake
a.k.a., possibly the best white cake you will ever put in your mouth
NOTE: You are making TWO of these. Make them one at a time. Do not double the recipe. Or give it a whirl and let me know how that goes.
350 grams (about 2 1/2 c.) gluten-free all-purpose flour mix (or cake flour if gluten isn’t an issue)
1 T. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. butter (one stick), softened
1 t. vanilla extract
330 grams (about 1 1/2 c.) sugar
1 c. milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare pan: butter bottom of 9″ cake pan, line with parchment circle, butter the entire pan and dust with flour. If you skimp on this step, your cake will stick and all your hard work will be for naught.
While you are making this cake, pop your cooled cheesecake out of the pan and into the freezer. This makes it easier to work with.
In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl with hand mixer), cream butter with sugar and vanilla extract. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until smooth. Add dry ingredients and milk, starting and ending with dry (flour, milk, flour, milk, flour).
Pour approximately 1/2″ of batter into prepared pan. Place one cheesecake into the batter, crust side facing up. Pour remaining batter over cheesecake and level the batter in the pan. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean (test on the sides and in the middle until it hits the cheesecake crust), between 40 and 50 minutes.
Cool in the pan for ten minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. You can cool on the rack in the ‘fridge.
Make second layer, and while it’s cooling, start on the frosting.
250 grams (approximately 2 c) powdered sugar
1/4 t. cream of tartar
2 t. light corn syrup
2 egg whites
1/4 c. water
1 t. vanilla extract
Combine ingredients in a metal bowl and whisk to combine. Place metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and beat with a hand mixer on medium until the mixture begins to thicken (like marshmallow Fluff). Continue to beat on high until mixture stiffens (stiff peaks). This whole process takes 10-15 minutes.
Remove from heat and add vanilla. Continue to beat the frosting until it is completely cool.
Frost as you would a regular cake, with a generous hand. A rotating cake stand and offset spatula make the process easier but are not requirements.
This is a time-consuming affair, but the resulting cakes serves 16 people, easily, and is impressive as hell. Make it over two days to take the pressure off.