A Tale of Two Cakes

It was the best of cakes, it was the worst of cakes. Armed with a recipe, lemons, and an inordinate amount of patience, Katie took a Lemon Bar Cake Bake literary recipe for a  test drive….twice. Which means I got to eat TWO cakes Katie baked. Which means yum (though, as you will soon read, one was a tad melancholic). Take it away Katie!


My house typically has a small but steady supply of lemons, but a recent error in sharing grocery store shopping lists meant we were faced with having TOO many lemons. While it’s hard to grow tired of fresh lemonade, my hands and arms were getting worn out from the constant squeezing. I decided it was time to do something new with our lemon abundance.

I went on a search and discovered a recipe for a Lemon Bar Cake Bake in the picture book titled Pop Pop and Me and a Recipe, written by Irene Smalls, and illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson (Xist Publishing, 2012 – read here by The Little Reading Nook). Pop Pop and his grandson cook up a fine day together preparing, baking and eating a delicious lemon cake. Filled with sweet rhymes and beautiful imagery of a grandfather with his young grandson, this book is sure to bring a smile to your face.

Armed with a plethora of lemons and a bottle of lemon extract left over from making Harry Potter’s favorite Triple Power Icy Lemon Pops, I pulled out the rest of the required ingredients that were already in my pantry and got to work.

I soon discovered there were a couple of ambiguous directions in the recipe. Under the list of needed utensils, it mentioned a flour sifter, but the recipe never specifically stated when you should use it. The instructions also said the butter needed to be either softened or melted. I decided to use softened butter, which I later learned was not the correct choice (more on that shortly).

After stirring the dry ingredients together, substituting all-purpose flour for cake flour, I set the bowl aside and started combining the other items into a different mixing bowl. That’s when the troubles started. I ran out of lemon extract, so I decided to add a little bit more lemon juice to cover the missing extract. The softened butter was also not fully mixing into the batter, despite using my trusty Kitchenaid mixer at high speed.

My son was heading down the shore for a few days with some family friends, so I decided to send a cake down with him. Thankfully, there was enough batter to separate the cakes into two smaller aluminum baking trays.

When I pulled the trays out of the oven, I knew something was amiss. It looked… weird. Upon trying the cake, my tastebuds confirmed what my eyes had seen. The cake was off. It wasn’t particularly bad, but it wasn’t good either. There was a strange odor that I have reason to believe was the lemon extract. According to the bottle, the extract hadn’t expired, but I know it was roughly four years old. There may have also been a reason why the recipe called specifically for cake flour, and I knew I should have fully melted the butter before mixing it together with the other wet ingredients.

Sad and defeated, I threw what was left of my original lemon bar cake into the trash. I later learned the cake I sent with my son also ended up in the garbage. The beachgoers shared my opinion and were underwhelmed with the texture and flavor of the cake.

[Dr. Dana: I also had a piece. The lemon was anemic and definitely off. The cake had a weird heavy texture with an occasional eerie lump thrown in. It was kinda gross, but if you’re wondering if I still ate the whole piece, the answer is YES.]

However, I am not one to give up on a recipe. I was determined to make Pop Pop proud and bake, bake his favorite cake. On a future visit to the grocery store, I bought a new bottle of lemon extract and a box of cake flour. I followed the recipe down to the very letter.

I sifted the dry ingredients together, the butter was fully melted, I had plenty of fresh lemon extract, and I let my mixer run for an extra minute to make sure all of the ingredients were blended well together. I slid the new cake into the oven, hopeful the changes would yield a better result.

And it did! As you can see from the photo, the cake is definitely yellower and has a much more even texture compared to the first attempt. It passed the taste test too. It was delicious!

The Lemon Bar Cake Bake is a heavier density cake that reminds me of a pound cake, but the flavor was like a big lemon party (to quote one of my colleagues). My son and I both loved the lemon icing that coated the cake with a sweet lemonade essence. No question that the second effort was much, much better than the first.

[Dr. Dana: I too enjoyed a piece of the second cake attempt. MUCH better flavor, better texture, no lumps, and the glaze was super yum!]

Lesson learned: trust the recipe and do what it tells you to do. Clearly Pop Pop knows best!

Fudge, Part Deux

Today, Katie is broadcasting from our official blog test kitchen (which wow, looks remarkably like her own kitchen!). She’s tackling her old culinary frenemy…that cursed confection, sneaky sweet, diabolical dessert otherwise known as…FUDGE. Take it away, Katie!


It’s hard to believe it has been nearly six years since I tried and spectacularly failed at making Monsieur Bon-Bon’s Secret “Fooj” from the book Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang by Ian Fleming. Six years! C’est impossible! But after six years, dear blog readers, it’s finally time. Let’s trying making fudge again.

I found a recipe in a charming book titled Peeny Butter Fudge, written by Toni Morrison, Slade Morrison,and illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Simon & Schuster, 2009 – read here by Sankofa Read Aloud). There’s nothing better than spending the afternoon with Nana. She adds love and extra excitement to play time, story time, even nap time! But the best part is helping Nana make her yummy, delicious fudge before Mom comes home.

With just five ingredients and clearer directions than the “fooj” recipe, my confidence was high. I carefully followed the instructions exactly as they were written. When it came time to let the milk/sugar/chocolate mixture boil for five minutes, I set a timer and pulled out my candy thermometer (purchased when I attempted to make acid drops from Harry Potter). I remember reading that fudge must reach a certain temperature to solidify and have the correct texture, so I watched the thermometer closely. I also admit I was a bit nervous when the mixture needed to boil for longer than five minutes before it made a tadpole shape when dropped into a glass of cold water.

While the pot was taking its cold-water bath in the kitchen sink, a series of unfortunate events drew my attention away from the task at hand. The pot must have rested in the sink for too long because when I tried to add the peanut butter, the fudge was hard. Absolutely rock hard. I frantically tried putting the mixture back on the stove to see if it would soften up as I mixed in the peanut butter, but the result was a colossal, clumpy mess. Fudge failure, yet again.

I wasn’t about to give up on Nana and her peanut butter fudge, so I started over from scratch. Armed with the knowledge from both of my failures, I focused wholly and completely on the fudge and finding the sweet spot of victory. And somehow, against all odds, I did it. I made fudge!

Peeny Butter Fudge is delightfully rich and provides the perfect flavor mixture of chocolate and peanut butter, which is one of my favorite dessert combinations. I provided samples for my teen son and his neighborhood friends to try, and all of them said “this is so good!” My son also said it tastes exactly like the filling in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Collectively we give Peeny Butter Fudge our official seal of tastiness approval.

There’s an art to making fudge. You must balance a fine line between delicious success and disastrous failure. I’m very grateful my third attempt was a charm. And though I still consider myself an amateur fudge maker, I’m definitely planning on making Nana’s fudge again.

Bringing Literature to Life

By day, Bryton Taylor is a social media coordinator in Australia. But outside the office, she is a veritable genius of literary-themed recipes, parties, and crafts! She began blogging about her amazing creative work in 2008, and now readers can browse her extensive range of original recipes and party how-tos, including Harry Potter, The Hobbit, The Great Gatsby, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Rabbit! Katie caught up with Bryt to chat about her adventures in bringing books to life…


Your website, In Literature, began when you shared the recipe and story about your second effort at making the Mad Hatter’s Unbirthday Cake. What changes did you make after the first attempt didn’t go so well? And was your Easter party a success despite the first cake sliding off its plate?

I used a doll cake pan for better structure when I attempted the Unbirthday Cake for the second time. And I’m happy to say the party was a success! The Mad Tea Party decorations made up for the fact that the cake had a few issues. Paper lanterns were strung up above the table, where a toy mouse popped out of a teapot. Large bowls were transformed into oversized teacups which doubled as Easter baskets. Caterpillar shoes stuck out of the vines, where ‘This Way’, ‘Down’, and ‘That Way’ signs set the tone for fantastical madness! It was a great day in the end.

Delightful unbirthday cakes

Do you have a favorite genre of book when you are creating recipes or putting together a themed party?

I find I cover a variety of fiction genres – children’s, classics, young adult, fantasy, mystery. But my favourite books to cover tend to ones that we grew up with. It’s through these stories that we share nostalgic memories, triggering feelings of happiness. Creating recipes and parties around these books will hopefully give others a space to replay their memories, and possibly even make new memories.

Alice in Wonderland tea party

For parents or grandparents, it can be a way of extending the experience of reading with their kids, of creating new shared memories. Recreating Marilla’s raspberry cordial from Anne of Green Gables, Turkish Delight from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, even the tomato sandwich from Harriet the Spy, is a trip down memory lane.

Winnie the Pooh honey cakes

Break down your thought process when you are putting together a unique recipe from a fantasy or dystopian book, such as Elvish lembas bread from The Lord of the Rings or the Snookers and Snookers Birthday Cake from Dr. Seuss. How much research is involved when you are creating your recipes?

It’s so much fun taking an imaginary food description and bringing it to life. When I first started blogging, I gave my imagination free rein to visualize what the food might look like, how it would be presented, and so forth. I had a fabulous time conjuring up Wonka’s Marshmallow Pillow and Three-Course Dinner Gum!

Harry Potter jelly slugs!

Although creativity plays a key role, authenticity is equally important. I depend on research to develop a recipe that is as ‘real’ as possible for a food scene that we all share, particularly where personal memories are attached.

Above all else, I’m a literary food history detective. I look into what literary researchers have uncovered about the author’s inspiration and search within their descriptions for clues about the details. Old cookbooks are scoured along with food trends from either the author’s timeline or from where they drew inspiration. Once I have gathered all the pieces, I then add the essential magic ingredient – a dash of creativity to bring it to life.

What was your most challenging recipe to make or hardest craft to create?

The “Drink Me” potion from Alice in Wonderland was a challenge. The description goes, “it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast.” My first attempt was a total flop. I discovered that capturing and combining hot roast turkey and hot buttered toast is not an easy feat! It’s still on my to-do list of remakes. I’m continually working through my list of challenging recipes. For example, I’m still on the hunt for the elusive recipe for pickled limes from Little Women.

Alice in Wonderland “Drink Me” potion

What are your most popular posts?

Harry Potter continues to be a favourite, as I’ve created a number of recipes over the years. My copycat recipe for pumpkin juice through to a simple bottle of liquid luck helps people as they start planning their parties. And there are many classics: Ratty’s picnic from Wind in the Willows, Paddington’s marmalade, through to my interpretation of pop cakes from The Magic Faraway Tree.

Wind in the Willows picnic

Where in the world has been your favorite literary location to visit? And where are you hoping to go once travel restrictions are lifted?

I loved visiting Sleepy Hollow, New York in October 2019 along with exploring Kipling’s Vermont and hope to revisit once our world has found some sense of normal again. The east coast of the United States is just brimming with literary locations!

Treasure Island dinner party

How many titles do you currently have in your book collection?

It would take too long to count the number in my collection, but I can definitely say that I will always feel it’s not enough.

Peter Rabbit coat

Can you share any details about a project you are currently working on?

After over a decade of blogging, I’m actually spending this year revisiting and rewriting old posts. However, I’ve got my eye on more Roald Dahl. I still have more rooms to explore in Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Willy Wonka chocolate bar. Yesssssss!

I have to ask…what Hogwarts House did the Sorting Hat place you in?

I’m proudly a Hufflepuff. I’m happy to say those Hufflepuff interests, of nature, animals and Herbology, also make me well suited to live a life in Hobbiton.

Hobbiton seed trays


Images courtesy of Bryton Taylor