The final in a short series about sharing, caring and not going it alone. In this installment: Sarah Miller and Rob Guerin improvise, shop for and bake an amazing cake.
Sarah: When we talk about cake in this article, should we admit that we call it 'cakie'?
Rob: Yes, but you should say that you're the one who started calling it that. And that I never call it that.
Sarah: I don’t think that’s true. And you’re the one who really took 'cakie' to a new level with words like 'ckakanie' and 'cakkeei' because the iPhone spell check is so annoying that we always just have to write something even stupider than 'cakie' so we know that we mean not just a cake but a caakkeiieie. So, Rob, we have been making cakes together since… hmm. What was our first cake? Was it the Super Bowl where Michael Reed and Carvell and Jody came over? The first year we were together, 2009?
Rob: We made that coconut mango pineapple upside-down cake in that giant spring form that leaked goo all over the oven.
Sarah: That thing was so good.
Rob: Your friend Carvell—he was freaking out—he was like, "Oh my God, the Steelers are winning, and I am eating this cake, and it is too much pleasure." I remember doing the syrup on that. It really got to the best temperature. It’s all about convincing the sugars to turn to caramel and the fruit to not float to the top (bottom) whatever.
Sarah: I am so glad you deal with the stuff like that because I hate dealing with stuff like that.
Rob: Such as figuring out what temperature something is by sticking a reliable instrument in it and reading the instrument.
Sarah: You don’t understand how difficult that sounds to me. It’s giving me a headache just thinking about it.
Rob: Well. You really are good at the cake part, and that’s not really my thing—it seems like one of those things you get in the rhythm of… you know how messing around with it changes the texture, and I don’t, and even though it’s detail oriented you really nail it every time. If any one person had to be tasked with all aspects of a great cake’s creation, it would be very tedious, and, I don’t know… too self-sacrificing. Dividing up the labor allows each set of tasks to get a lot more attention without losing your life to, you know, a kakkiek.
Sarah: The parts I do seem so easy to me, the rest of it that you do seems so hard.
Rob: Your inability to make sense of a measuring cup’s basic principles would on the surface make it seem that the cake part wouldn’t be your thing.
Sarah: But even though people say baking is all exact and stuff I think that’s kind of bull.
Rob: You really understand proportions and moisture and you never screw up on the baking powder or salt.
Sarah: So if you were going to describe the kind of cake we make, how would you describe it?
Rob: We always make sweet cakes that are vanilla based—we avoid chocolate because it’s too easy. We work with fresh fruit, homemade preserves or just ones from the jar, and cakes that we moisten with cream or liquor. We use a lot of vanilla in the cake part. We like intense combinations, but not too unusual. Wild plum and ginger with a little cocoa and cinnamon, passion fruit and coconuts.
Sarah: Yeah, I put in about four times the amount you’re supposed to.
Rob: And sometimes you have to make egg-free cakes or whatever for your yoga people. And sometimes I have to help you because they get screwed up because egg-free cake is crazy. And as far as like, how we do the thing… you’re the cake and I’m all the other stuff. Which is like, crazy whipped cream and fruit sauces and so on. Never frosting. Frosting isn’t in our BRAND.
Sarah: Do you remember how we started out figuring out the way we do it?
Rob: What do you mean?
Sarah: I make the cake part. You—
Rob: I’m the music, you’re the lyrics.
Sarah: I’d also say you were the art director.
Rob: (Mutters something unintelligible)
Sarah: You’re not?
Rob: I am, I am. I totally am.
Sarah: It makes me happy that you are the art director.
Rob: Well in that case I am happy to make you happy because I like being the art director.
Sarah: What’s your cake that you are most proud of?
Rob: I don’t know. I think there’s going to be a contender, but that Super Bowl cake was pretty good. But the lilikoi cake we made for Thanksgiving this year in Hawaii was pretty good too. We were very, very lucky to get that fresh lillikoi from Lea’s mother’s tree.
Sarah: The lillikoi cake was very impressive but that wild plum cake I made for your dad’s birthday was kind of exciting as well, because it was such a surprise.
Rob: But you did that one by yourself.
Rob: So it doesn’t count. I mean, not that it doesn’t, but it’s not in this category of our words-and-music cakes.
Sarah: There’s a Drew Barrymore movie called Music and Lyrics. I have a song from it on my iTunes.
Rob: Please don’t ever play it for me. Oh, that cake we made for Violet’s birthday—with the marzipan violets. That was good.
A CAKE IS BORN
Sarah: So I thought of the cake we’re going to make for the Christmas party. Kabocha squash.
Rob: You really love kabocha squash.
Sarah: Can you live with that? Does that sound gross?
Rob: No, no. Not at all. You make a kabocha squash cake, I will come up with what will take it to the next level. But this one should just be the test cake. We’ll figure it out and then we will make the big one.
Later that day Sarah gets a text:
Rob: Pistachios. Pistachio whip cream
Sarah: oh good is that it?
Rob: no am still working on other elements
A few hours later Sarah gets another text:
Rob: mochi fondant
Sarah: I am scared of that.
Rob: Too bad
Two days later, we get out of the car at BriarPatch, the fancy organic market in our town that’s like a non publicly held Whole Foods, and happens to also have a lot of dudes that look like this guy here:
The conversation in the car.
Sarah: Look at that big giant arrow they have there right when you pull in the parking lot telling everyone to go to the right. They’re like, “Look, stupid hippies, go that way.”
Rob: I always go the wrong way here.
Sarah: So they’re like, “Look, stupid hippies, and not-hippies.”
Rob: This place is so expensive.
Sarah: It’s really not that bad. And I know how much kabocha squash and butter cost at every store in town.
Rob: That’s weird.
Sarah: And it’s the same here… less even.
Inside the store.
Rob: You get the squash, I get the pistachios and the mochi and stuff.
Rob finally finds the bulk section, convinced he has been moving quickly and keeping right on schedule. No sooner does he realize that the spices are arranged by alphabet does Sarah appear with a hand-carry basket full of: kabocha squash, lemons, butter, apples, lettuce and heavy whipping cream, on sale. Rob is reaching for the bulk vanilla bean.
Rob: How the hell did you get so much stuff so fast?
Sarah: I don’t know. I just grabbed it and put it in a basket.
Rob: You know this place too well. You told me you don’t shop here that much but I think that is a lie. Where are the pistachios?
Sarah: The pistachios are one aisle over. Or in your case, 10 minutes away.
We make our purchases from Jonah, my favorite checkout person. Back at the house, we start making the cake.
Sarah: This recipe is stupid. I’m changing it. This person is making a pudding and calling it a cake. Why are people so stupid?
Rob: I trust you completely. Oh… great.
The pistachios are burned. They are dumped into the trash, where they promptly melt the plastic.
Rob: So annoying.
Sarah: Try not to think how much money just burned.
Rob: I’m trying.
Sarah: Do you think I should mash up this kabocha squash? It’s kind of lumpy.
Rob: The art director likes texture.
Sarah holds up a 7 inch long, 1/4 inch wide vanilla bean and asks with complete sincerity, "What do they mean: 'Split it lengthwise'?"
Rob: I think they mean, "split it lengthwise."
The phone rings. It's Brandy, a neighbor and Sarah's friend.
Brandy: I need to come over. My mother is driving me crazy.
Rob: You should tell Brandy about how you just asked about the vanilla.
Sarah: Because she thinks I am so smart?
Rob holds up the vanilla bean and slices it.
Rob: Look. Lenggggtthhhhwisse! Yes. She deserves to know the truth about you.
Sarah: I kind of agree with you. One of the reasons I like making cakes with you is kind of the same reason I like being with you, which is…
Rob: I answer all your stupid questions, and don’t think they’re so dumb that you couldn’t possibly be asking them?
Sarah: More or less.
Rob: One of the reasons I like working with you is it’s constantly fascinating to notice which parts of your brain are overdeveloped and which parts just simply don’t exist. We're like that that father-and-daughter cooking show, the one where the daughter’s really annoying and dumb, but she’s really pretty.
Sarah: You know I don’t mind being those first two things as long as you say I'm the last. What father-daughter cooking show?
Sarah: Jacques Pépin?
Sarah: I’ve never seen that. I have heard of him, but not this show. And I think I thought he wasn’t a real person. Like I thought he was what they called Pepé Le Pew when he became a chef.
Brandy comes into the kitchen. Sarah is at the laptop, and Brandy reads over her shoulder.
Brandy (reading): "She seems annoying and dumb, but she’s really pretty." You’re not talking about me are you?
Rob: No, we’re talking about Jacques Pépin’s daughter
Brandy: It’s so cute how you guys make cake together all the time.
Brandy: Seriously. Why are you guys so into making cakes?
Rob: Because we are pigs.
Sarah: Because it’s like this epic challenge that’s quite doable. And we get to have like, cakkkei meetings with memos and a cakakieie agenda.
Brandy: Whose idea was this cake?
Sarah: I just said I wanted to make a kabocha squash cake, and then Rob thinks of all the weird stuff to go on it that sometimes sounds gross at first. Like I am not into this mochi fondant…
Rob: But you know it’s going to be good. Sarah’s reluctance is the perfect inspiration to make me go forth with my crazy ideas that I’ve have. She makes faces when I suggest stuff and that’s how I know I’m onto a good idea. Like in the case of the fried-chicken upside-down cake.
Brandy: That sounds so disgusting.
Rob: It was amazing.
Sarah: It really was. But the top was cornbread, and Rob originally wanted it to be a regular, sweet vanilla cake.
Brandy: I am gagging.
Sarah: And the cornbread was my idea.
Rob: No, I didn’t want to do yellow cake, I wanted to do cornbread.
Sarah: I swear to God you wanted to do regular cake,
Rob: Maybe I did. Sarah makes me think about the negatives.
Brandy: Have you guys ever made a bad cake?
Rob: No. All our cakes rule.
Sarah: I put four times as much vanilla in this as it’s supposed to have.
Rob: Do you want me to grate some nutmeg in there?
Sarah: There is a point in every cake making operation where Rob asks if he can grate nutmeg into the batter. He loves nutmeg.
Rob: Supposedly if you eat a lot of it, it gets you high. There’s some chemical in nutmeg they were trying to reproduce when they make MDMA.
Sarah: That is like the most NorCal piece of trivia I have ever heard IN MY LIFE. I’m putting more flour in this. What do you think?
Rob: We’re putting pistachios in the batter.
Sarah: You didn’t tell me that.
Rob: I’m telling you now.
Sarah: I really like deferring to you in these situations. It feels very liberating.
The cake has been completed—and consumed and adored by many.
Rob: Excellent test run. Congratulations.
Sarah: I really thought that mochi fondant was going to be gross.
Rob: The fact that you thought that convinced me I was headed in the right direction. For the party we’re going to cut it into petit fours. It’s going to be a big operation. And I wonder if there’s a reason our pistachios weren’t that green. I have this fantasy of this cake being greener. I wonder if it was because the pistachios weren’t younger? Or organic?
Sarah: You could just use food coloring.
Rob: I want to learn more about pistachios first.
Sarah: I am confident I know everything I want to know about pistachios.
Rob: Well, luckily, that is my job.
Rob Guerin was born in Maine, grew up in Honolulu and lives in California.
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