I made this cake nearly two months ago. At that time, I was barely admitting to myself that I had a problem. After Margot was born, things were hard, but they didn’t feel any harder than I thought they should be. Newborns are newborns. They take a lot out of you. But they mostly sleep and eat and that’s manageable. Mila went through some challenges of her own, but she pretty much took having a new little sister in stride. Yes, I was tired, but I was (mostly) happy.
Except then suddenly I wasn’t. It took about three months for things to start falling apart, and another month or so for me to recognize just how bad it was. I had little interest in things I used to love, including my kids and my husband. I complained all the time. I felt claustrophobic if I held the girls too long or if Mila touched me at all while I was feeding Margot. I had little control over my temper and would get irrationally angry at things. I yelled a lot. That was how I knew I had a problem; I never used to yell.
I had joked about late-onset postpartum depression and how maybe that was why I was such a grump all of a sudden, but one afternoon I knew it wasn’t a joke anymore. After feeding her, I put Margot down on the floor and she immediately began crying, so I started yelling at her, which of course only scared her and made her cry harder. Mila started yelling for us to be quiet, so I yelled at her, and she started crying too. Suddenly it dawned on me that I wanted to smack my two-year-old upside the head and throw the baby across the room and run away screaming…because they wanted me to be happy and snuggle with them. I was horrified at myself.
I locked myself in the bathroom and just stared at my haggard face in the mirror. Mila was crying outside the bathroom door, “Knock knock! Come in, Mama! Don’t be grumpy!” and all I could do was pray that I would calm down enough to take care of my little family. I was heartbroken that I was failing them so badly but I couldn’t even cry about it.
Fortunately, God answers prayers. It only took a minute or two for me to regain control of myself. The girls were fine, but I knew something needed to change.
When I explained my situation and all of my symptoms, my doctor gave me a few options. For now, we’re addressing my hormone imbalance in the hopes that it will help regulate my mood. So far my prescription seems to be helping. I actually want to play with my kids and spend time with my husband and take care of everything I’ve been neglecting. I still visit crazy town more often than I would like, but I’m much happier than I was.
I brought my fancy-pants camera to photograph this cake, but the battery was dead. Rather than leave it undocumented, I snapped some shots with my iPhone. They’re not as pretty as I’d have liked, but they’ll do.
I also knew this cake was going to topple off the cake plate. It kept sliding around when I moved it and it was awfully heavy…it was only a matter of time. When it landed upside down on my mother-in-law’s tablecloth, I laughed. We salvaged what we could and ate it anyway. It was delicious.
I guess what I’m saying is that I knew I was falling, that I was missing something, that it was only a matter of time before I needed someone to help me get it together. I am the cake. Or the camera. Or me. I don’t even know…this metaphor is weird and doesn’t really work. But if I was that splatted cake, I’ve since been scooped up into some semblance of my former self. It’s going to take a while–and possibly more medication and/or lifestyle changes–for me to feel normal again.
I’m working on it.
Vanilla Vanilla Cake
adapted very slightly from love & olive oil
3 3/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups plus 1/3 cup buttermilk
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.
Combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together. Add the butter and 1 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. With a hand mixer on low speed, blend briefly; then raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
In a smaller bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, and the remaining 1/3 cup buttermilk until well blended. Pour one-third of the egg mixture into the cake batter at a time, folding it in completely after each addition. There will be 9 cups of batter; our 3 cups batter into each pan.
Bake for 26 to 28 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Turn the layers out onto wire racks by placing a rack on top of a pan, inverting it, and lifting off the pan. Peel off the paper liners and let cool completely.
Super Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
adapted very slightly from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson
6 egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small cubes
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla bean paste
1 vanilla bean (split lengthwise and scrape out the insides)
1/8 teaspoon salt
In the clean bowl of a hand mixer, whisk together egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar by hand. Place bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and continue to whisk until the mixture reaches approximately 130 degrees F on a candy thermometer. (It will be very gloppy to start but will become more fluid as it heats up.)
Move the bowl to the stand mixer and, using the whisk attachment, whip the mixture on medium-high for 3-4 minutes until it is thick and glossy and holds stiff peaks (like meringue). Turn the mixer down to medium-low
for another minute or two until the bowl is just cool to the touch. Kick the mixer back up to medium-high and add the butter one piece at a time. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. At some point, it will start to look curdled. THIS IS NORMAL. Keep mixing. Once all the butter has been added and the frosting is smooth and creamy,
blend in the vanilla and salt.
Frost cooled cake and serve. Try not to flip it over on accident, but if you do, it’ll still be delicious. I know because I ate almost half of the thing by myself after it had been scooped back up.