Cake Is Better Frozen
In the summer of 2020, there were multiple cakes in my freezer. I know that sounds rather passive—consarnit, the cake elves must have sneaked in through the kitchen window again— but none of them were really of my doing. One was the remnants of a Carvel ice-cream cake a friend had brought for my husband's birthday and several of us sneaked off to the kitchen to festoon with rude little piped-icing drawings as per our group's tradition. Another was the lion's share of a grocery store sheet cake that just he and I nibbled at on my birthday, just several days later as COVID cases spiked around us and it felt dubious and delusional to celebrate much of anything—especially over a shared dessert. A couple weeks later, two separate Caroline's tins showed up, laden with the South Carolina bakery's signature seven-layer caramel cake—one standard, and one gluten-free. But I didn't have much of an appetite. They'd been sent as condolence cakes in memory of my mom who fell sick from COVID the day after my birthday. God, she loved frozen cake. Pepperidge Farm Frozen Coconut Layer Cake, to be specific, but no one knew that. Frozen cake is a solitary pleasure.
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Here's a great thing about frozen cake: It keeps. I don't technically know for how long, and maybe I'm just being a gross weirdo with an overattachment to leftovers. But in my dim, grief-fogged notions, a married couple might eat a bit of frozen wedding cake on their one-year anniversary, and it's seen as a sweet ritual rather than a sign of an unhealthy hoarding of emotionally-laden leftovers, so I went with that.
Not that a frozen cake is going to last an entire calendar year in my house. I make work of it, not unlike Melinda Mae, the heroine of Shel Silverstein's poem of the same name, who as a small girl sets out to eat an entire whale out of sheer bloodymindedness. It takes her 89 years to accomplish the task, but she gets there. A frozen cake is a goal where the reward is the task itself. The great thing about eating a frozen cake—which by the way, you eat while it's still frozen—is that it lends itself to incremental pleasure, anywhere from days to months. A thickly-iced cake freezes solid in a way that makes it easy to shave off just a whisper-thin slice and, sure, you can have another if you so desire and another after that. But I find a slim slice—maybe a quarter-inch thick—generally sates whatever my brain is screaming out for, especially if it's got multiple layers. If it freezes just so, and it inevitably does, a slice of frozen cake contains such textural pleasures, turning the icing into an ersatz ice cream, and gentle ice crystals crunching ever just so with each nibble of the solid sponge. The chill muffles the sugar shock a room temperature portion might normally unleash upon your senses—ideal when it's 2 a.m. and you're too damned exhausted to sleep, but still stressed or sad or restless to be awake and eating cake.
I don't usually eat frozen cake in front of people. Not out of any shame or worry of judgment, but just because it's my private joy, or sometimes solace. I never actually saw my mother do it either. I'd gone off to college by the time she found this ritual, and her reasons for it were her own. I'd go back to visit and see that Pepperidge Farm box in the freezer, and I never dreamed of touching it. We never talked about it, but something in me knew. Sometimes, especially in the wee, small, dark, weird, lonely hours, it's up to you to celebrate yourself.