Before I learned how to ride a bicycle, I had baked a cake. A lot of cakes. In my family, feelings were expressed via sugar, more specifically, baked goods. For birthdays, in lieu of presents, my mother would painstakingly assemble cakes shaped like dolls, molded to resemble a hoop skirt, hand-sculpted icing roses decorating the hem. The cakes required hours to complete and lasted only a few minutes, wrecked by the first cut. Breathtaking, but easily destroyed. Such, the lesson seemed, was the inevitable trajectory of love.
My mother baked for her husbands—all five of them. I, too, deployed my culinary wherewithal during courtships. To me, making the perfect dessert remains one of the better ways to share your feelings. It takes time and effort and sustained attention. With baking, you are making something nobody really needs and yet something almost everyone on some level desires. To bake is to summon sweetness into life. And share it.
Then I met T, a vegan with lactose intolerance and celiac disease, a trifecta of eating needs that eliminated virtually every ingredient in any bakery item. Gone was flour. Gone was butter, a food group in my household.
Still, I loved T In fact, I loved T more than I had ever loved anyone. I realized this the day I voluntarily put soymilk into my tea. Being with T made me happy. Healthier. More tofu, fewer ribs. Besides, T loved sweets, and missed them terribly since his diagnosis. Missed them enough to spend $7 per gluten-free cupcake at the specialty bakery, and by “cupcake” I mean desiccated bread topped with beet-colored oil. One bite and I knew I had to bake for him. To show him the depth of my affection.
And what a cupcake should taste like.
I decided I would take my beloved lemon cake recipe and convert it somehow. I started with the curd filling. This was simple enough. Lemon juice, sugar and soy butter. The consistency wasn’t exactly right, and the soy butter made the curd less lemony, more edamame-y, but more sugar and lemon juice helped.