My name is a homonym of and all my life has been tuned to the word. A soft fris­son goes through me when servers re­cite the dessert menu. Choco­late lava kate. My heart coughs. Straw­berry short­kate. My ears fritz. There is al­ways the feel­ing of some­one be­hind me in cer­tain gro­cery store aisles, al­ways the phan­tom smell of melted but­ter. At birth­day par­ties I am a coiled spring. Some­times when I look in the mir­ror I ex­pect to see a five-tiered pink cake with white frost­ing roses and Ray-Bans. So it’s hard to say whether my affin­ity for cake mak­ing is nat­u­ral, in­born, or sim­ply another tool in the end­less Swiss Army knife of my wom­an­hood: a sweet vanilla-scented salve for a ner­vous dis­po­si­tion and a deep-rooted need to be sat­is­fy­ing, beau­ti­ful, and de­li­cious.

I got into cake-mak­ing early, in the usual way: a Baker Bar­bie, an Easy-Bake Oven. I was a one-hun­dred-watt bak­ing witch, sum­mon­ing but­ton-sized cook­ies and brown­ies dry as coast­ers af­ter two or three hours un­der the Easy-Bake’s bulb. The prod­ucts of this magic went mostly un­eaten be­cause all the fun was in cre­ation: I had the power to pull a thing from in­side my head onto a plate, to in­trude on the world, to dis­rupt the flow of space like a rock skipped across a lake. Who could stop to eat at a time like that? Then the age of ac­cess to a real oven co­in­cided with the on­set of re­marks from my par­ents’ friends at din­ner par­ties, as I set down a wob­bling stacked pavlova or a deep­dish tiramisu: “Who­ever mar­ries Kate is go­ing to be one lucky guy.” And note: I was not a good-look­ing child. I’d never even been kissed. I was a skipped rock, landed on the far shore and lost on the beach, im­pos­si­ble to dif­fer­en­ti­ate from so many mil­lions of other rocks. It’s the cakes, I thought. The cakes must be the ticket.

My process was re­fined over time, so that all hard-won knowl­edge and tech­ni­cal skill were ren­dered in­vis­i­ble. I learned to crumb coat (this is when you coat your cake with a pri­mary layer of frost­ing to trap crumbs and loose bits, giv­ing the fi­nal prod­uct a very pol­ished, if mo­not­o­nous, fin­ish). I ac­cu­mu­lated a box of ac­ces­sories that sur­vived every move and every tiny, sil­ver­fish-in­fested kitchen: three six-inch cake

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