Emily Dickinson’s Cocoanut Cake: Midterm Proposal

Recently, I’ve been interested in baking, and I also learned that Emily Dickinson was famous in town for her baking skills. I chose her as my author for this project because I’ve enjoyed her poetry for a long time and how her writing uses simple images or feelings to capture larger truths. Baking is also a relatively simple task that has profound possibilities and saves you from hunger.  I found some poems that use the concepts of hunger and bread because my project will be a “baked book.”


“I had been hungry, all the Years” (579)

“A little bread — a crust — a crumb —“ (159)

“God gave loaf to every bird” (53)

Overall Concept

The “baked book” uses Emily Dickinson’s recipe for Cocoanut Cake to create the edible frame of a small book with her recipe and some poems inside. I will bake the cakes and carve a rectangular insert (3” x 5”) on the top of each cake to insert the book. The book’s form will consist of an accordion fold with the pages/text printed onto the folds. The book will be glued to the bread (the part you don’t eat). The reader will open the cover the find the recipe and pull the book out (accordion-style) to read the poems.

The effect I’m trying to achieve is bringing together Dickinson’s complex intelligence with the simplicity of cake. I wanted to incorporate something edible into this project, because we often think of books as permanent objects, for the most part. It’s true that the pages will outlast the cake, but the ephemeralness of baking is part of its joy for me. It also takes preparation and quality ingredients to pull it off right, much like writing a poem. I want to use simple materials to create a book that’s seen as a culinary object.

My intent is that the reader slice off some of her cake and eat it while reading her poems. I’m using her original recipe (transcribed below) to bake the cake and as the opening page of the book. My hope is that the reader will pay more attention to the hunger-related imagery in the poems and reflect on what our hunger means. I also want to explore the “homemade book” effect by trying to construct as many of the ingredients on my own as possible.

Her Recipe

1 cup cocoanut

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoonful soda

1 teaspoonful cream of tartar

This makes one half the rule–


Proposed Materials (12 cakes)

12 cups of coconut $30

24 cups of flour $10

12 cups of sugar $3

6 cups of butter $5

6 cups of milk $5

24 eggs $10

18 teaspoons of baking powder (or baking soda + cream of tartar) $3

2 new small loaf pans $20

Paper (better homemade quality) + Glue $10

Approximate Total Cost: $96


Production Schedule

Design inside (cover, graphics, copyright, text, colophon)

Purchase materials

Feb. 25 – Test baking

March 3 and 4 – Bake

March 5 – Possibly more baking + write paper

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