Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Piece (or Two) Of Cake!

HANK:  Why is a raven like a writing desk? The famous riddle, of course, that the Mad Hatter asks Alice.

Today another riddle. An easier one.

First, do you know Debra Goldstein? She’s terrific, and hilarious, and retired from the judge’s bench to be an author.

Hey.  She’s brave –that was quite the life choice, right? And smart, and terrific.

And her essay gave me the answer to this riddle: 
Why is a book like a cake?

             by Debra H. Goldstein

Celebrate! You can bet if I’m celebrating anything, there will be cake.

Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, nice weather, rain, and TGIF are all good excuses for cake. 

Some of my favorite “just for the sake of it” desserts include P.F. Chang’s Great Wall of chocolate (chocolate with raspberry sauce) and Cheesecake Factory’s Linda’s Fudge Cake.

 For a quick “invited to dinner at last minute and the hostess requested dessert rather than wine,” my local Publix offers a moist, well-decorated white cake available with a variety of fillings and icings. 

If in doubt, I know I can never go wrong bringing an ice cream cake.

Of course, there are the specialty bakers whose products combine flavor with artistic decoration. 

The tasting process for my daughter’s wedding cake was quite extensive before a final decision was made. Nothing matches that cake, but other ones also have meant a lot to me – my thirtieth birthday surprise road to life sheet cake, the twin cakes my twins smashed on their first birthday, the one my office staff and I shared the day I left the bench, and the cakes I associate with writing.

When my first book, Maze in Blue, was published, I was the keynote speaker for an evening where funds were raised to reopen the library in my old high school.

 In a decision that was a travesty for students, the school system had eliminated all school libraries and art programs to resolve a financial crisis. Community outrage resulted in a wide-spread grass roots campaign to reverse the decision. Volunteers created invitations, flyers, radio and TV spots advertising what time the school band would play, when barbecue would be served, and my talk. 

Every media announcement highlighted “And, there will be cake.”

No matter how I tried, I couldn’t figure out the significance of the cake reference. True, a sweet treat is always a nice way to end an evening, but in this case everyone was receiving a copy of my book. How could there be anything sweeter than that?

As I worked on my remarks on writing, I tried to think of a way to tie them to “And, there will be cake.” There were obvious similarities:

   1.    Cakes are usually made by combining flour, sugar, eggs, butter or oil, a leavening agent and liquid. A written work requires mixing ideas, words, punctuation, grammar, and editing.

   2.  Bakers often add flavorings, candies, coconut, or nuts to enhance texture and taste. Dialects, local expressions, expanded descriptive settings, and extra adjectives do the same for writings.

    3.    Cakes can be made in all shapes and sizes. A story can be told in as few words as Hemingway’s “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” to the multi-volume, and still expanding, saga of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

   4.  Rather than make a cake from scratch, one can, as a matter of convenience, use a box mix. Writers often agonize over creating an original work, like the structural twist used in Gone Girl, but they can always rely on the tried and true three act formula.

   5. Writers often embellish characters by adding personality quirks or clothing oddities. In a mystery, clues may be hidden or obscured by red herrings. Bakers do the same thing with frosting. Not only can icing cover imperfections, but balloons, flowers, and other decorations offer personalization of the final product.

   6.  Cake varieties are endless. Sponge, gooey butter, chocolate, layered, and flourless are only a few that exist. Mystery, historical, biography, and literary barely scrape the surface of available writing genres.

I was ready with my comparisons until I saw the cake. At that moment, I understood why they had advertised “And, there will be cake.” Although I viewed the signing as an evening with a mission, the community was celebrating coming together to work for a common goal. They hoped their actions, like the words of a good book, would combine well.

When a prominent wedding cake maker offered to provide the evening’s dessert, it was accepted because her presence added to the credibility of their efforts. 

Although it meant a lot to me that with all the things she could have put on the cake, she chose to commemorate my book, what was more important was the unifying impact her cake had on the volunteers. Because everyone knew the quality of her work and the value of what she was giving, “And, there will be cake,” spoke volumes.

Recently, my second book, Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery was released. I take joy from the positive reviews it has received, but a box of cookies sent to me for the book’s launch and a cake my friends made for a special Mah jongg game playing/signing party captured my ongoing celebration.

The written word is meant to be celebrated. Whether the book being read or displayed is mine or one written by someone else, the words the author strings together create a reason for cake. 

What do you think? Is there a cake or book you particularly enjoyed? For a chance to win a randomly awarded copy of Should Have Played Poker, leave a comment!

HANK: We need cake today! I am having cataract surgery…so I am celebrating Debra’s wonderful attitude. I am celebrating my coming ability to see—crossing fingers. And darling Debra’s continued success!

(And does this mean a cupcake is like a short story?)

(And the answer to why is a raven like a writing desk? I have one idea…although I guess Lewis Carroll meant there to be no answer.)

What’s the best cake you ever had? Any cake secrets?


Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery (Five Star Publishing - April 2016) and the 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus. She also writes short stories and non-fiction. Debra serves on the national Sisters in Crime, Guppy Chapter and Alabama Writers Conclave boards and is a MWA member. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Joel, whose blood runs crimson.


  1. Hank, I’ll be thinking good thoughts and saying a prayer for your cataract surgery today.

    Debra, I love your comparison between cake and writing. [And I agree, there should always be cake.]

    Best cake I ever had? I’d probably say the yummy decadent chocolate cake topped with chocolate ganache, but the truth is the best cake I ever had is the one I shared with family and friends.

    Cake secrets? I always wrap my cake pan with bake-even strips so that the top of my cake is flat . . . .

  2. Hank: I will be praying that all goes well with your cataract surgery today. We often take good vision for granted.

    Debra: I love the title of your second book. You did not talk much about the book's plot, so I am hoping the mah jongg playing club plays a prominent role in this mystery.

    Very difficult to choose the best cake I ever had, but it probably had chocolate in it! And as for cake secrets, it's pretty easy to add unusual ingredients in a chocolate cake to keep the cake moist and add some nutrition. Shredded zucchini is popular but I had one chocolate cake recipe that had sauerkraut as a major ingredient. It was surprisingly yummy.

  3. Thank you so much! I am on the way now!
    And then--cake.

  4. Yay, Debra! I've been following your successes, as you know, with joy. But I wanted to see a picture of the There Will Be Cake cake, too. ;^)

    So many great cakes, so little time. I will say that Christina, the baker/owner at our favorite bistro, just two blocks away, is a supreme cake maker. The other day we had her Chocolate Hangover Cake (with espresso ice cream, also home made), but her lemon cake and carrot cakes are also divine. Hard to choose!

    Hank, may your surgery go well and your vision be clear!

  5. Good luck for perfect eyesight, Hank. I'm sending my love and light along with everyone else's.

    My daughter is such a fan of bakery (and icing!) cake that she will buy the single serving birthday cake at the grocery, just for herself. I'm much more of a pie person.

    However, there's an exception: rich, homemade chocolate cake, possibly flourless, preferably with deep, dark chocolate, preferably homemade, frosting. Trader Joe's sells a dark chocolate torte, in the freezer section, that is almost as good, by the way. It's just the right size to take for a dinner party, straight out of the freezer. By the time you get there and have dinner it's thawed.

    I have a recipe for a one-bowl chocolate cake that is to die for. If anyone wants it, let me know and I'll paste it into a comment later. It was in a Better Homes & Gardens Magazine about 15 years ago, and I've made to rave reviews every time.

  6. Hank, good luck with surgery! I hope all goes well.

    Debra, cake is my favorite topic and the only thing better than cake is cake with ice cream. The wedding cake designer in your post is a true asset to the community.

    Cake secrets? I have a few. I am not a baker, but give me a mix and I can doctor it. My favorite is to add a box of pudding and a cup of sour cream to the regular cake mix for extra moistness.

    My super secret for moist cake is this--which works best for pound (loaf) cakes and Bundt cakes: Remove the cake from the pan while still very hot. Don't let it cool in the pan. Place it on a plate and cover with an aluminum cake cover. Mine is vintage (my grandmother's) but any will do. The cake cover will get very hot--as in, if you touch it you will burn your finger--because it is steaming the cake with its own heat. After an hour, remove the cake cover. It will be dripping wet on the inside and there may be moisture on the cake plate. Wipe that up and let it cool. I promise this will give you the most moist cake you can imagine.

  7. That wedding cake, Debra, is glorious! And your book cake must have been a fun surprise.

  8. Hank--blessings coming your way for a successful surgery and quick healing!

    Debra, I will be definitely be looking out for this book--cake and mah jongg--gotta love it!

    Best cake? Ah, so many cakes, so little space! But, my mom's 'just because we want cake' chocolate cake, hot from the oven, no frosting! Ummmm......

  9. Hank, I'll be praying for successful surgery today!

    And I recognize that cake!

    Our book launch parties always include cake from the Oakmont Bakery (see Hank's picture). Our chapter provides money for the debut launch and there is yet to be an author who doesn't ask for a cake with the book cover on it.

    My girl can make a pretty good cake from scratch, although she is still working on what she considers the "perfect" frosting.

    My boy chose an Oakmonter for his birthday cake, what I consider the ultimate decadence. Layer of cheesecake (Italian style, I think), layer of fudge, layer of dark chocolate cake, ice in chocolate buttercream frosting, drizzled with chocolate ganache, topped with maraschino cherries, whipped cream and four pieces of milk chocolate.

    I feel my arteries hardening just talking about it.

  10. Oh, most unusual? The year my husband asked for "tomato soup cake." I kid you not. Turned out like a spice cake. Very moist, very good with cream cheese frosting.

  11. How is a book like a cake? Debra's got great answers, but I confess my mind went immediately to the movie Shrek. Cakes have layers. Books have layers! (Donkey explains to Shrek: Onions have layers. People have layers... Guess you hadda be there.

    My favorite cake is a sponge cake with lemon glaze. And I've NEVER been able to make a descent light airy one like the one in my dreams.

    Congratulations on the book, Debra! And your delightful sense of humor.

  12. Bonne chance Hank. All shall be clear after today! I had mine in February and March this year. Happiness is a cataract free existence. Trust me. I am a nurse.

    Congratulations on the new book Debra. And please pass the cake.

  13. Hank, hope the surgery is a piece of cake!
    Joan, Grace, Karen, Mary, Edith, Ramona, FChurch, Hallie, and Ann, thanks for stopping by and sharing some of your favorite cakes. I've already gained five pounds. Also appreciate your good wishes.
    I'm having a blast with Should Have Played Poker (and yes, the Sunshine Village Retirement home Mah jongg players have a definite role in the book. They serve as the comic foil and co-sleuths helping Carrie Martin unravel why her mother, who was absent from her life for twenty-six years, was murdered only hours after returning and leaving her with a sealed envelope and the knowledge she once thought of killing Carrie's father).

  14. Congratulations on your book, Debra! Favorite cake? Hard to say. I love lemon cake, and carrot cake. But recently I saw a recipe for a chocolate tea cake in an old issue of the UK Country Living magazine that I am determined to try. I would also love to able to bake my little granddaughter a proper birthday cake!

    Karen, please post the one bowl cake recipe!

    And, Hank, think of you. It will be amazing, I promise.

  15. Deborah, thank you for the congrats and the mention of another type of cake. I'm going to have to make a list - tea, chocolate, etc .....wonder what I could do with all of these ?

  16. Debra, I look forward to reading the new book. I like your explanation of why a cake is like a book!

    Hank, you're in my prayers for a positive outcome. Also, congratulations! Your vision will soon be so much better! I'm on that road towards cataract surgery but am not far enough along to require it. I can't wait, though, because it's getting more and more difficult to see at night.

    Mary, a long time ago I used to make a tomato soup cake. It really is a delicious spice cake!

    Deb Romano

  17. And I forgot to say that my favorite cake is any chocolate cake with chocolate icing!

    Deb Romano

  18. Cake. Yum. I lean towards pound cake, spice cake, gingerbread, and so forth. Vanilla. I'm not a chocoholic but do enjoy chocolate from time to time. I used to make a Mexican chocolate cake that was yummy. The recipe was from a women's magazine 30+ years ago. My mother-in-law used to play mah jongg with her buddies every Sunday afternoon until dementia ended that. She kept threatening to teach me how to play so I could fill in and I kept avoiding that lesson.

  19. Hank, I'm hoping that by now your surgery is over and you are resting comfortably. It may not sound sane to envy someone's surgery, but I want cataract surgery. My doctor says that it is quite a ways off for me, and I'm disappointed. My husband's had the surgery and raves about his vision now. In fact, most of my friends have already had it.

    Debra, congratulations on your new book. Going to check more into it after my posting here. Your comparisons of cake and writing are so clever. I love the cake for your new book, looks almost too good to eat. Oh, and your mention of those other delicious cakes. Yum.

    My favorite cake is probably my mother's jam cake with its caramel icing. My mother's been gone 21 years now, but I still remember how amazing that cake tasted, along with some of her other cooking. I used to make a chocolate steam cake that was to die for, but I haven't made it for a while. So moist. Ramona, I'll have to try your steaming method for making cakes hold their moist. I was very pleased with my daughter's wedding cake that had shells piped onto it, as they had gotten married in Key West and had the reception back in Indiana a couple of months later.

    Hallie, I think most life lessons and comparisons can be explained with Shrek.

  20. One-Bowl Chocolate Cake

    The recipe, from Better Homes & Gardens magazine, is called Chocolate Harvest Cake. I made it one year for Thanksgiving as a birthday cake for my daughter, and everyone loved it, although I did not make the pumpkin filling. Instead, I doubled the glaze recipe and used that between the layers. When you need to make a cake, but don’t have much time, this is the one. Ten minutes from mixing to oven. And it’s delicious.

    1 C buttermilk (you can make this from buttermilk powder, too)
    1 C water
    2/3 C cooking oil
    2 C sugar
    2 eggs
    1 tsp baking soda
    ½ tsp salt
    2 C all-purpose flour
    ¾ C unsweetened cocoa powder

    Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 9 x 1 ½-inch round pans; set aside.

    In an extra-large bowl combine buttermilk, water, oil, sugar, eggs, baking soda, and salt. Using a large wire whisk, whisk until well combined. Add flour and cocoa powder, whisk vigorously until smooth. Divide batter between prepared pans.

    Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until top springs back when lightly touched in the center. Cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely.

    Prepare Pumpkin Cream Filling

    1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
    1/3 C canned pumpkin
    ¼ C sugar
    ¼ tsp ground cinnamon

    In a medium bowl whisk together cream cheese, pumpkin, sugar and cinnamon until thickened. Place one cake layer on a plate. Spread filling over top. Top with second cake layer.

    Make Chocolate Glaze (double, if not using pumpkin filling)

    ½ C whipping cream
    4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped

    In a saucepan, bring whipping cream just to boiling over medium-high heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolate (do not stir). Let stand 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. Cool 15 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Pour over cake, allowing glaze to drip down sides. Chill until set, about 30 minutes. Top with desired toppers (seedless red grapes, whole berries, toasted hazelnuts, or shredded orange peel). Makes 14 servings.

  21. Kathy Reel, your caramel icing reminded me of cakes my grandfather made: spice cake with coffee buttercream icing. So fabulous, especially with a cup of coffee. Which was probably the whole point. My grandparents drank gallons of coffee a day, and so did everyone in the large (9 kids) family. Grandpa had a sweet tooth, and he always made the cakes in heart-shaped pans, and then he got the humps and the point when the cake was sliced!

  22. Yum, cake. can't go wrong with that. Your writing/cake making analogies are spot on! Now I'm hungry.

    Hank, all the best with the surgery, you will love the result. The difference is amazing.

    My best cake is an adaption of one from a Diane Mott Davidson book. I don't remember what it was called in the book--or even which book--but it is a dark chocolate bundt cake with dark chocolate fudge frosting and super simple to make. At my house, we call it Chocolate Church Cake. I was baking one for my friend's surprise 40th birthday party when she showed up at the door. This woman is a chocoholic. She asked if it was cool enough to cut, and I said the first thing that came to mind, "Yes, but it's a church cake, it's my week to do coffee hour." The next night the cake was out on the table and 20 of us were hiding around the house when my friend walked in to "take care of the cats." We yelled "SURPRISE" and she yelled, "I thought that cake was for Church!"

  23. Great cakes and I'm looking forward to reading even more of them....keep the conversation going. I'm off to catch a plane (speaking tomorrow night in Jackson, Michigan where I went to junior high and high school and Sunday in Ann Arbor .. Go Blue) so I'll be off-line for a few hours, but believe me, I'll be checking back. This is a delicious thread ... Debra

  24. I'm back! And all appears to be fine! Hurray... And no I am going to take a nap--as directed!

    So glad to see that cake recipe Karen! Hmmm..never heard of buttermilk powder...

    Thank you everyone! Xx. You all keep chatting and I will see you later! So pleased we have such a great topic today.

  25. Hank sending healing thoughts and the happiness of clear vision thoughts your way. For me, cataract surgery --- Monday left eye, Friday right eye -- was quicker and more pleasant than having my hair cut. Blessings.

  26. Debra, mouthwatering to read the mystery. My favorite cake: Wacky Cake, mixed in the pan, no milk, no eggs, no butter. My mother and aunt used to make it. It is a recipe from WWII rationing -- lovely rich cocoa cake, powdered sugar on top instead of icing or, if we were really celebrating, chocolate ice cream!

    Mary, thanks for the reminder of my grammy's tomato soup cake. Another recipe coming from strained times, the Great Depression. I never learned the recipe for this and never really liked it much.Neither did my mother (Grammy's daughter).

    Kathy Reel, downsides to cataract surgery: the "sudden" appearance of many, many wrinkles on my face and the unbelievable number of very dusty corners in my house. I warned my mother about this when she had the surgery 5 yrs. after mine. And did we ever laugh when she had to admit I was right!

    Good wishes all.

  27. Congrats on the new book, Debra. Looking forward to reading it.
    And quick healing to Hank.

    Any event is improved by cake. That is a universal truth. ( One of my daughters prefers ice cream and I often wonder who switched her at birth) My favorite might be a nearly flourless chocolate with sour cherries, baked in a springform pan. The recipe came to me from a friend of my mother, but she learned it from her German mother in law. So it goes way back. Or maybe my mother's chocolate-walnut cake. This time of year, a fresh blueberry coffee cake can't be beat. Or... Or...

    My only cooking secret is to follow the recipe.

  28. Hi, Debra -- I loved your analogies. You could also extend it to writers who are plotters vs. panthers. Some bakers follow recipes religiously, while others experiment, throwing in a bit of this and a bit of that. My all-time favorite cake--dark chocolate with chocolate fudge icing. A close runner-up: white cake with white icing, topped with coconut.

    Hank, the good news is that everyone I've talked to who had cataract surgery came out of it with much, much better eyesight.

  29. Hank, so glad to hear the surgery went well!


  30. One of my law school profs liked to say that there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who continually divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't.

    At Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, we have roughly divided ourselves into People of the Pie and Clan of the Cake. Fortunately, those lines are blurry -- like if Hank drew them before cataract surgery, or if I piped them in frosting -- because Debra puts it perfectly: Words are for celebrating, and cake is always in good taste!

    Congrats, Debra, on the book! And Hank, so glad it went well!

  31. Great to meet you, Debra. Your books sound delicious.

    I used to make a mean carrot cake but I've since decided it's better to support local businesses and buy any sweets. 😄

    I have a friend who's an attorney in Birmingham but he shall remain nameless just in case you've bumped heads. LOL

    Continued good luck with your new career. I've now added new books to that TBR pile that keeps growing.

    So glad surgery went well, Hank.

    BTW, has anyone had trouble posting here from an iPhone?

  32. Hank, good luck! Yikes.

    I love cake. My daughter, Elizabeth, is a great baker and she has made plenty of great cakes -- one Christmas she made a salted caramel chocolate cake. But our family's favorite cake was a specialty provided by a friend who is a caterer --- chocolate meringue cake -- pretty, light, delicious.

    Here is a cake story for you -- I was in 4-H growing up and when fair time approached, I would study the categories to decide what I would enter. One year I saw there was an Angel Food Cake category. What could be easier? I had watched my mom make plenty of them. WITH A BOXED MIX. It never occurred to my 13 year old self that I could have made Angel Food Cake FROM SCRATCH! Disqualified.

  33. The best cake I ever had was a chocolate cake baked by my cousin, who is a member of a bluegrass band. I think she used cocoa powder or mocha in the mix.

    It's very sweet and I love sweets. I love cake. When I was a kid, I loved the frosting more than the cake ;-)

    Reading your post about cake made me think of one of my favorite characters, Stephanie Plum. She loves cake. Her creator is Janet Evanovich.


  34. Denise Ann, that's hilarious!

    And thank you so much, everyone…you make me feel so much better! Tomorrow I'll be back on track a bit more.


    And oh, the winner of Rhys's book is BEV FONTAINE! Email me at hryan at and I'll put you in touch with Rhys--or email her directly!

    ANd thank you, dear Debra! What a great day….and we all love cake. (Leslie, can we be on both teams? That is SUCH a difficult choice!)

  35. Hank, glad to hear your surgery went well!

    My absolute favorite cake (which for some reason I've never tried to bake) is the Mexican tres leches cake. Literally translated to "three milks," it consists of sponge cake soaked in condensed milk, evaporated milk, and either whole milk or cream. Usually topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream and cinnamon. I also love carrot cake and lemon cake, but never bother to make them either. Weird.

    My favorite cakes that I actually do make are the chocolate peanut butter cake from Smitten Kitchen (so ridiculously rich and decadent!) and Thai iced tea cake with condensed milk frosting (condensed milk is the nectar of the gods).

  36. They only offered me pretzels or cookies on the plane (bummer), but I'm sure you can guess which one I picked :). Glad you kept the conversation going while I was out of pocket. Best of all, delighted to see Hank back online and obviously feeling well enough to debate pie or cake. It is a difficult choice, but based on the posts above, make mine cake. Each one makes me want the recipe or at least someone to make it for me .... I'm honest enough to admit I'm a cook of convenience, but I also conveniently can be available to be a taster.

    Mia, Mexican tres leches cake sounds decadent in its own right, so I can't imagine how much more decadent your chocolate peanut butter cake is. Diana,let's share a piece of cake sometime --I'll take the cake, you take the icing..a perfect match. Denise Ann, what a rotten learning experience. Every cook of convenience would have been in your corner with the boxed mix! Marianne, you have me curious whether I know the attorney in question, so I'll concentrate on the carrot cake. Ironically, I never tried it until I was an adult -- and I love it. Leslie, thank you for the congrats and for the many words you link together in your books - they may not describe cake, but they are delicious. Karen, appreciate the comments you've added to the conversation today. I love when a blog generates comments and the comments become a discussion. That's the beauty of the interaction words can create. Triss, how did you get that daughter?? (but I can't lie, I like ice cream and pizza, too) From your tongue in cheek comment, I gather she has other wonderful qualities that make up for her unenthusiastic reaction to cake? Grace, what a great analogy between the plotters and panthers. I wish I had thought of it when I wrote the blog :) . Elisabeth, Wacky Cake may have had limited ingredients, but it sounds like a lot of love and family caring went into it.

    Everyone, thank you for dropping by today. Loved reading about your cake preferences. As I've already written, I'm traveling For those who want to see what the "And there will be cake looked like," I just posted it on my author facebook page: .