Madison Thibodeau ’21, Editor in Chief

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on


1 cup butter

1/3 cup cocoa

1 cup water

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups sugar

2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

  1. Add butter to a saucepan on medium heat.
  2. Add the cocoa and water.
  3. Stir until everything is blended. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  4. Add the buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla. Mix well.
  5. Slowly pour the chocolate mixture into the buttermilk mixture.
  6. Add the sugar, flour, salt, and walnuts. Mix together and pour into cake pan.
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes.


The family kitchen is a place to find comfort. For many, it is a time for therapeutics. Whisking, mixing, and folding is meditative, a repetitive rhythm that sends out a soothing beat. There is escape in the concentration required for baking, the need for exact measurements and adherence to specific procedures. Make a Bolognese sauce and improvisation can lead to delicious results. Riff on a recipe for pie dough and outcomes can be murky.

Baking offers a win-win opportunity, filling the house with alluring aroma of turning basic ingredients into something perfectly browned and beautiful. Out of the oven, creative juices can kick in with attention to the presentation. Garnishes of fresh mint, edible flowers, and fruit can find their way to the plate or platter, arranged to suit the baker’s whim and eye for beauty.

By nature, I am peaceful and my steps are calculated so baking suits my personality well.  Baking requires full concentration as the baker measures and weighs ingredients. My shiny metal measuring cups and spoons nested neatly into one another. Ingredients arranged on the counter, neatly trimmed parchment paper, and a mixer standing proudly at the ready. Whisking and sifting soft flour with leavening agents creates a relaxing environment while my Kitchen Aid mixer hums in the background, blending butter and sugar. The smell of warm vanilla wafting in the air as it mixes with fresh eggs awaken all of my sense as I load my pastries into a warm oven. This is my happy place.


I love baking because it is reliable, predictable, and practical. Mix the right quantities of the right ingredients for the right amount of time at the right temperature and you will, inevitably, end up with something beautiful and delicious. And as you get better and know how certain ingredients work with other ingredients, you can mix things up and be creative. Plus, baking gives me an excuse to make a mess.

Baking is reliable. Except for the rare complete balls-up, the results are exactly what you expect. The end product almost always looks more or less like the picture. If you start out making a cake, you will end up with a cake at the end of the process.

Baking is the exact opposite of life. Life is unpredictable and unreliable and most of the time, you have no idea how you ended up with whatever it is you ended up with. The unpredictability of baking only ever comes to the forefront whenever something I have baked comes out a little pitifully flat or wrongly gooey. Sometimes I get it right. Other times I do not. It can be a little hit and miss. But corrections were invented for this exact thing.


It is incredibly satisfying, taking ingredients that do not amount to much on their own and combining them in such a way that you can create something extraordinary. And sharing your passion is possibly the best part – making another person happy by giving them a homemade goodie is a delightful feeling.

As an adult (and a huge fan of The Great British Baking Show), I have discovered the pleasure of baking bread and pies. I no longer crave only chocolate but love to create fruit desserts and seek out unique flavors. I particularly like to learn about baked goods from other countries or learn the history of those that are purely American: There are fascinating stories woven through our country’s baking history, like how what we ate changed during the wars when ingredients were scarce or how different regions favored certain flavors.


Some of my best memories involve the smell of baked goods emanating from the kitchen or coming home from school to discover cinnamon tarts my mother had rolled from extra pie dough and baked just for me. Handwritten recipes from my great grandmother and notes penciled in her old Betty Crocker cookbook are cherished keepsakes in my shelves. On summer trips to Maine, my aunt taught me how to properly pack brown sugar and level flour neatly for the best results. This might make my childhood sound idyllic – do not get any crazy ideas – but in baking I found comfort and deep satisfaction.

I began baking as a child, carefully following recipes for cookies, cake, and quick breads. In college, I continued to bake, mostly cake, with my family. We would have a stressful week and wind up in the kitchen, experimenting with a new recipe. I would spend hours reading about state-fair-winning cakes and take lengthy cake-decorating classes. I swapped recipes and fiendishly gathered supplies. Fast-forward to present day: My niece loves spending time creating things in the kitchen – I am lucky she share my love for baking.


            My beloved great grandmother, Grammy Churchill, was a good old-fashioned New English cook. She was stout, with a fluff of white, curly hair and flushed cheeks, and resembled Mrs. Claus. The knee-buckling aromatics of chocolate cake, molasses cookies, and custard pie permeated every corner of my great grandmother’s Maine home. The upholstery smelled like pastry. Baking was her true love.

I have this memory of watching my great grandmother toiling away in her kitchen as she made her famous chocolate cake. She would move around slowly, but the motions were so familiar to her that she could do it with her eyes closed. I remember hearing her whistle. But her age had caught up to her and made whistling harder, so it was not really whistling. It was more like she was softly blowing air as she mixed the batter and folded it just right. She always put walnuts in the batter, which I hated, but they were what made her chocolate cake so special. That cake was fantastic, especially fresh out of the oven. I would tear it open with my spoon, watching the steam rise out before quickly bringing it to my mouth.


Death was always something I heard about, but never experienced. I never thought it would be so hard to handle until I experienced the death of my great grandmother. I had grown up with both my mother and father’s moms, but neither of my grandfathers. One of my grandfathers was not even alive when I was born. The other lived in another state and passed away when I was a preteen. I even attended his funeral, but his death did not impact me the way my great grandmother’s did.

I was struggling to write anything meaningful besides this and I am committed to being honest with you – so here I am. I have to preface with how big of a deal it is that she is gone, because most people do not have super tight relationships with their grandparents. But she was my rock. She was truly one of my best friends. She was my number one advocate and support system. And I mean total, unconditional, “I will hide the body for you” type of support. That is rare. That is once-in-a-lifetime.

But one thing that brings me comfort is that I will get to carry on her work through my work. The same blood. The same bone. The same thoughts. I was molded and shaped by her, so my work will always be a reflection of her. I wonder if she remembers me. At least some part of her, wherever she is. I know I will never forget her.


            The loss is far enough behind me now that it takes more than one hand to count the anniversaries that have passed, but the date never goes away. It still sucks. It still brings up the bad memories and the pain. On the one hand, the pain gets a little easier each year, and on the other hand, more landmarks pass that she will never see, more memories fade, I get closer to having lived more years on this earth without her here than with her here.

For me, it is not just any food that brings back strong memories – it is those foods that I prepared or ate with my family when I was growing up. While I have had my fair share of tasty bake sale treats and bakery cakes, none really arouse such extreme emotions. There are so many foods that remind us of people in our lives we have lost – a great grandmother’s chocolate cake, a father’s chili, a mother’s apple pie, a friend’s chocolate chip cookies, whatever. I share this all just to say that baking is a great way to remember those we have lost – the foods they loved, the foods they made, and the foods we shared together. It can be a great memorial for a birthday, anniversary of a loss, holiday, or any other day because – simply – baking is family.


2 cups butter

1/4 cup cocoa

1/3 cup buttermilk

2 cups powdered sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  1. Add the butter to a saucepan.
  2. Add the buttermilk and cocoa and mix together.
  3. Pour the powdered sugar and vanilla extract into the pan. Mix well with a whisk until all of the lumps are gone.
  4. Top the cake.