Cake holds memories of special occasions, like birthdays and weddings. For Maira Kalman, there’s also the chocolate cake her mother made to soothe her broken heart at 16, the lemon pound cake she makes on the regular, and the very first cake she remembers eating — a chocolate cake on her aunt’s terrace in Tel Aviv on a summer visit.
“The wonderful thing about cake is it really is connected to so many moments — not just celebratory moments, but moments of heartache,” the Greenwich Village artist said. “There are many moments when cake enters into the story.”
In new book “Cake” (out April 10, $25, Penguin Press), Kalman collaborated with friend and food writer Barbara Scott-Goodman for a colorful meditation on the dessert. Kalman (whose books include “Beloved Dog,” “And the Pursuit of Happiness” and “The Principles of Uncertainty”) provided the memories and illustrations and Scott-Goodman the 17 recipes and baking tips for a resulting book that is part memoir, part cookbook.
“It was a very serious process where we had a lot of very important decisions to make, like which glaze is best for lemon pound cake,” Kalman, 68, joked. “We had the weight of the world on our shoulders and in our mouths.”
Growing up in Riverdale, Kalman has fond memories of getting mocha cream cake at Mother’s Bake Shop, which closed in 2016 after more than 60 years in the neighborhood.
Nowadays she’s prone to popping into nearby Breads Bakery for rugelach or having coffee and a sweet after walking around Central Park at Bouchon Bakery & Café in the Time Warner Center.
“I walk into almost every bakery I pass just to see the design of the cakes and the people that are shopping and the white boxes and the string,” Kalman said. “I love the whole sense of it.”
She doesn’t bake much herself, save for “a lot of lemon pound cake.”
“Lemon pound cake and cheesecake are probably the two cakes that represent cake-dom for me,” she said.
The book has recipes for both, along with classics such as carrot cake, honey cake and a plum torte, and had approachability in mind.
“I like that they’re reasonable to make,” she said. “It’s not some huge, complicated adventure.”
“Things are much nicer with cake,” Maira Kalman writes in her new book, “Cake.” With strawberries and blueberries coming into season, keep this shortcakes recipe handy for when you need a special cake.
Strawberry and blueberry shortcakes
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling the dough
3 tbsp. sugar
1⁄4 tsp. salt
5 tsp. baking powder
6 oz. (1 1⁄2 sticks), plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1⁄4 cups heavy cream
2 pints fresh ripe strawberries
1 pint ripe blueberries
1⁄2 cup sugar, or more to taste
2 cups cold heavy cream
1 tsp. white rum
1⁄2 tsp. vanilla extract
1. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Butter a baking sheet and set aside.
2. To make the shortcakes: Sift the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder into a large bowl. Add 6 oz. of the butter and work into the dry ingredients using your fingers or a pastry blender. Add the cream and mix into a soft dough. Knead the dough for about 1 minute or until it holds together.
3. Transfer to a lightly floured pastry board or a large sheet of wax paper and, using a floured rolling pin, roll it out to a rectangle about 1⁄2 inch thick.
4. Using a floured 3-in. biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can. Press the scraps together, roll out again, and cut out to make 16 rounds. Transfer 8 of the rounds to the baking sheet. Melt the remaining 2 tbsp. of butter in a small saucepan and brush the tops. Place the remaining 8 rounds on top of them. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the tops of the biscuits are golden brown.
5. For the berries: Meanwhile, hull the strawberries, slice them in half, and put them in a large shallow bowl. Add the blueberries and stir in the sugar. Toss together gently, cover, and set aside for about 30 minutes. (If you are not serving the shortcakes right away, prepare the berries no more than half an hour before serving so they don’t get mushy.)
6. To make the whipped cream: In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium high speed, whip the cream until it just begins to thicken, add the rum and vanilla and beat until firm. If not serving right away, the whipped cream can be chilled in the refrigerator for up to 1 hour.
7. To serve, pull the shortcakes apart and arrange the bottoms on small cake plates. Spoon some of the whipped cream and a generous amount of the berries over them. Top them with the shortcake tops, the remaining whipped cream and berries, and serve.
IF YOU GO
- Maira Kalman and Barbara Scott-Goodman celebrate the release of “Cake” on April 18 at 7 p.m. at the Community Bookstore | 143 Seventh Ave., Park Slope, 718-783-3075, communitybookstore.net
- Kalman will also hold a book signing at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library on May 6 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. | 10 Grand Army Plaza, Park Slope, 718-230-2100 | RSVP at bklynlibrary.org