by Caroline

It’s been a heady time for the youngest member of our family. In the months since he turned five, late last spring, he has learned to swim, learned to ride a bike without training wheels, graduated from preschool, started kindergarten, joined a soccer team — and scored two goals in his first game. (Not that anyone’s keeping score.) He has also done something that, as he has said, proudly and repeatedly, “the forty-three year old in the family [that would be me] has never done:” invented a cake recipe.

Coincidentally, he did it at just the same age his big brother invented a cake recipe:

. But Eli was two when that happened; he has no recollection of it. Apparently, for some kids, hanging out with their mom making weekly batches of cookies and muffins translates into the desire to abandon the cookbook and strike out independently. It makes sense, even though it didn’t happen to me; I helped my mom bake bread every week when I was small, and was sous chef to thousands of batches of cookies before I mostly took over family cookie production when I was eleven or twelve. But although I may combine three or four recipes, although I am casual with my measurements and I tinker, it has never once even occurred to me to just get out the flour and bake without a map. I always start with a recipe.

When asked what had inspired him, Eli said simply, “I was in the mood for cake.” I didn’t coach him on ingredients or method at all, I just wrote out exactly what he dictated (though some of the numbers, and the method, he wrote out himself):

When we had it all written out, it was time to get out the ingredients and start baking; I’ve been through this before, after all, when Ben invented a bread recipe (one that looked likelier to turn out well than that cake), and knew there was no question of trying it out. Besides, it seemed like it might taste pretty good.

We did endure one conflict, over the sugar. Eli, quite reasonably, listed it with the “dry stuff” and wanted to mix it in with the flour, baking soda and salt. I reminded him that usually the butter and the sugar are creamed together. He nodded and agreed — yes, he remembered that — and insisted on doing it his way. I really wanted his cake to turn out well, and so I pushed back. He stuck to his guns. And I, despite the little voice in my head telling me to just let the boy make his cake already (because when have I ever invented a cake? Right. Never.) started to insist a little more strongly. Eli started to cry. And then, thank goodness, I shut up and hugged him and let him make his cake the way he wanted: “Pour wet stuff in. Mix 10 sec. Pour dry stuff in. Mix 10 sec.” At the end of which process it looked like this:

You might want to mix your batter a little longer — I won’t tell — but maybe not. Because despite how lumpy and weird our batter looked, the finished cake looked like this:

We’ve made it twice now to prove it’s no fluke, and I have to say, the cake rocks — it’s moist and a little chewy from the honey, and it’s not too sweet nor too salty (amazing how the sugar and salt kind of cancel each other out). We bake it in a standard glass lasagna pan, and the only deviation we’ve made from the recipe is to bake it for 24 minutes rather than the prescribed 12, but we do set the oven to 360. I recommend you do, too.