Odette Williams Shares Why a Simple Cake Can Have a Powerful Message
The expert shares the joy of baking with her delicious new book.
The premise of Odette Williams' new book, Simple Cake, is well, simple: 10 cakes, 15 toppings, and endless possibilities. But her message is something more powerful: Cake isn't just for birthdays. Instead, it can elevate the everyday. It's for any moments in life we might wish to celebrate or remember.
Growing up in Sydney, Australia, Williams developed the habit of making cake batter for an afternoon snack. "There was never anything sweet in the house. All that was around was vegemite," she said with a laugh. "I used to come home from school and make cake… I got crafty about scaling a recipe, since I didn't want to eat a whole one." Over the years, cake has borne witness to much more than her sweet tooth. "Cake's made me really happy," said Williams. "It's picked my spirits up when I've been low. It's put me out of my delirium when I've been with a newborn baby. I've transported it to a friend with a broken heart, or to a dinner party where it's served with something sparkling."
For Williams, cake has also played an important role in family bonding. "There's a photo in the front of the book of my dad and I," Williams said. "We're standing in the backyard, and my newly divorced father had made me a bunny cake from the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book. I never got to thank him for that." When Williams moved from Sydney to New York in 2006 for love, she carried the tradition into her new family. "[My husband] Nick had two girls. I'd say, choose a cake [from the Women's Weekly book] and I'll make it for you," she recalled. The couple has since had two children, and all four siblings have found their own place in the kitchen.
Of baking with kids, Williams recommends you "pour yourself a stiff drink" and think of the long game. "When your kids are young, they can melt down, they spill the good vanilla, they abandon you mid-bake," she said. "At first, they aren't necessarily helping, but they're watching. Then they move on to the next step where they want to crack an egg. Before you know it, the flick of a switch happens and all of a sudden they're able to read and follow a recipe. At the end of the day, you're teaching your kids this amazing skill. One day they'll cook for you, they'll be into food, and they'll have these memories."
She recommends you start with a bright and simple "everyday cake" that the whole family will love. Then move on to a "two bowls and a whisk" situation. She offers these tips for novice bakers: "Take that extra five minutes to grease and line your pan with parchment-it's your insurance, and it will save you so much heartache. Try to avoid the old-fashioned dip in the flour bag… If you don't have a scale, get a spoon and fluff the flour, and then put the measuring cup on the surface and spoon it in without compacting. Once it's filled, swipe with a knife, and it should be pretty close to 130 grams. Sift the flour with leavener and salt to get it as light and aerated as possible. And set your timers, because you will forget."
Above all, though, remember to enjoy the process and bake with love. "There's a visceral, emotional reason why we bake cakes," sad Williams. "These small gestures towards one another can really pick someone's spirits up and give us that simple happiness. That's what it's all about."