Food writer and recipe developer Kristen Hartke shares how she fell in love with baking, plus her recipes for almond cake, mint chocolate cake and more.

Kristen Hartke
February 26, 2021
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Almond Cake with Pineapple Rum Filling
Credit: Johnny Autry

You may have dog-eared photos of your mom presenting you with a homemade birthday cake, glittering with candles, while you look on, delighted by the sight of this towering treat. I do not. My mom was a truly fantastic cook, but she was also a single mother with a career. When my birthday rolled around, I was perfectly happy to pick out a Pepperidge Farm layer cake from the freezer section at the grocery store.

But when I was 7 years old, I decided that I wanted to bake my mom a cake for her birthday. It was more substantial than drawing a picture at school or clumsily crocheting a potholder. I wanted to show her how important she was to me and, in my mind, cakes were meant for the most special people, on the most special days.

It was the 1970s in New Haven, Connecticut, and I was a true latchkey kid, wearing our apartment key attached to a long piece of blue yarn tucked under my shirt every day. One night when my mom was too tired to cook, she sent me across the street to the drugstore lunch counter to pick up hamburgers for dinner. And it was there that I noticed boxes of devil's-food cake mix and cans of frosting. Voilà—for less than a dollar, I could make my mom a "real" birthday cake. I don't remember if that cake was any good—I do remember that it was seriously lopsided—but she devoured it. 

That moment sparked my love for baking and for making cakes in particular. Cakes are a canvas, a way for me to honor someone through flavors or decorations. For me, baking a cake is truly an act of love.

Cake Recipes to Show Your Love

No matter who you’re aiming to fête—whether they’re gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan—we’ve got you covered with one of these cake recipes.

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Kristen Hartke is a food writer and recipe developer based in Washington, D.C. Follow her cooking adventures on Instagram @kristenhartke.

This article and recipes originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of EatingWell magazine.