Emily Dickinson’s Cocoanut Cake
baked by Drew Robison
The concept for my book was to bake the edible frame of a small book containing Emily Dickinson’s recipe for Cocoanut Cake and some poems. I chose three poems related to hunger and loaves to bring the reader’s attention to the physically dense nature of her poem’s spiritual themes. Conceptually, the book merges Dickinson’s art (poems) and craft (renowned baking skills). The cake is heavy and dense, so it serves as an appropriate reflection of the tone in her writing.
The concept was challenging because it required me to prepare and bake more cakes than I have done so in my life. It was also challenging because each loaf was slightly different, even though the book inserts were the same. As a result, cutting out and fitting the insert required a unique strategy for each cake (Where do I put it? How deep do I carve it?). I also was challenged to successfully lay out each accordion fold book on a single sheet of paper using InDesign. Grids and a little bit of math go a long way to design a book this small.
The craftsmen of the book can be seen by the unique cake frame (simple, yet delicious), the attention to typography and graphic design in the book, and the folding/unfolding effect of the accordion fold. Scoring the folds and pressing the paper made the accordion nice and crisp. I thought it was interesting that the directions told me to “fold” the coconut into the cake, which I like because the reader “unfolds” the poems.
I had several successes and failures in constructing the book. Thankfully I borrowed an electric mixer to whip the butter and combine the ingredients. This made doing batches of four much quicker and easier during the baking process. Baking and carving the cakes was a success, even though it took about 6 hours. Also, I reduced the size of the book to a 2.5 x 2.5 square, which looks great centered inside the rectangular loaf. All poems were borrowed from the same edition of her Collected Poems for consistency in spelling and format.
My main failure was during the duplex printing – there is a small cut line that can be seen on the back of the pages. The cover is also slightly crooked. It’s not really noticeable, but it resulted from the paper feeding into the paper awkwardly. I also purchased too many ingredients, which I thought I had carefully planned out.
I wasn’t thrilled with the accordion fold at first (I thought, this is so basic!), but I’ve grown to appreciate it more and more (see: Anne Carson’s Nox). The accordion fold needs a home – something like a box to contain it. Otherwise, it wants to stretch out and be read. The baked frame allows the accordion to sit neatly inside something. I thought I have creatively explored how the accordion can be nested inside something organic/temporary. Meredith suggested I use wax paper to further secure it, but it didn’t want to sit right. Instead, I added some paper between the cake and around the book itself, so that less crumbs would fall out each time you open/close the book. Each of her poems is inside a fold, so that the form of the book is easily readable. Reading about hunger and loaves is tied to the reader (ideally) eating some of the cake. On the other hand, the week-old hard cakes serve as a sturdy object themselves.
Graphically, I included a small outline of a loaf on the cover and colophon, as well as a drawings of the ingredients on the copyright page. I thought these simple line drawings linked with the simplicity of the book form. I chose fonts that look good at a small size – Dante has become my preferred serif font for small poems.
The book is called “Emily Dickinson’s Cocoanut Cake,” baked by Drew Robison. I chose this name because it includes her original spelling of coconut, lending her character and authenticity to the book. The colophon also says baked at 325F for 1 hour, to reflect the book’s structure. The book also focuses on the fact that the cake uses her recipe.
If I were to make this book over again, I would like to figure out how to bake the book INSIDE of the cake, so that the reader must tear apart the cake into crumbles to read it. I would also like to make a book of her recipes, instead of her poems. This would be cool if each book/recipe fit inside the break/cake it describes. Overall, I’m really happy with the finished product.