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