Welcome back to Crush Cakes. When you sit around breathlessly swooning over your crushes nonstop like me, well…we are worldly people here, you know what happens next. I make cakes expressing my feelings for them, and then sit back and wait for my destiny to be fulfilled. It all makes perfect sense.
In 2007, I was deeply into LiveJournal. Without divulging too much about the Broadway communities I was part of, let’s just winkingly say that for someone living in isolated little New Zealand I had an awfully comprehensive knowledge of the different riffs that any given Elphaba might have done at the end of “Defying Gravity” in any given performance of Wicked in New York, London, or the national tours. (Side note: I was also part of a Livejournal group that published gently-to-aggressively snarky recaps of Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High books. What a time to be alive.)
When I wasn’t crying over Idina Menzel’s existence, my voracious consumption of all things Broadway led me to a new show called In the Heights. A glowing, exciting, filled-with-love show. And here began my crush on Lin-Manuel Miranda, its creator, writer, and star. To clarify: do I want to make out with him? Well, no. But would I like to stare into his enormous eyes, deep and brown like the soft floor of a forest after an autumn rainfall — like a bowl of brownie batter made from scratch, not a boxed mix — those eyes which glint like a rockpool when the tide has just rushed in, brown like a small, warm puppy dog curling up to sleep — and have him maybe hug me and tell me I’m doing okay? Perhaps conveying this information in a freestyle rap that incorporates in-jokes that we’ve amassed during our rich, mutually rewarding friendship? Yes, yes I wo–
[Ed. note: Here the author fell into a frenzy of superlatives increasingly difficult to understand.]
Anyway. You are very likely to know Lin-Manuel Miranda, rightfully so, from his massively successful Pulitzer- and Grammy-winning musical Hamilton, currently running on Broadway. I myself am forever walking into rooms all “I’m John Laurens in the place to be!” — but I discovered him through his first musical, and I strenuously recommend you explore it if you haven’t already. Want to cry and only have a minute to spare? Watch him rap his acceptance speech for the 2007 Tony award for Best Original Score for In the Heights. I watched it three times in a row while taking photos of this crush cake and I teared up every time; I then got tearful looking at these photos I took of it playing on my laptop. (By this point I may not be a sturdy benchmark for what a normal range of human emotions is, but I stand by my point.) Oh, but you want to cry and also have some time on your hands? Watch “Chasing Broadway Dreams,” the PBS Great Performances mini-documentary on In the Heights, which includes interviews with members of the original Broadway cast about their journey with the show and what it means to them. And of course, if you want to feel shivers like lemonade bubbles rising up your spine? Listen to literally anything from or related to Hamilton.
I was given some tiny caketins for my recent birthday and liked the idea of using them to make a layer cake that looked deceptively towering, a tiny cake with the ambition of a much larger one. This idea eventually became the cake I made and reverently dedicated to Miranda. Both of his musicals started off rather small and scrappy and ended up enormous — he wrote what would become In the Heights while a sophomore in college, and Hamilton started off as a mixtape. Look at him now.
This small-yet-tall cake is tinted with the taste of espresso, in reference to the coffee that Miranda’s character Usnavi sells at his bodega in In the Heights; the brown sugar creme fraiche frosting references nothing, but is incredibly delicious; and the honeycomb on top is mere affectation, but helps the cake reach even higher and its golden sparkle represents the million awards Lin will indubitably win.
Small Coffee Brown Sugar Honeycomb Layer Cake
(The honeycomb can be omitted or made separately for fun snacking purposes.)
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
½ cup water
½ cup plain flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
Set your oven to 180 C/350 F and line two 4in/10cm springform caketins with baking paper. If you don’t have access to tiny cake tins, you could try using two large shallow tin cans (e.g., tuna cans) that have been cleaned thoroughly.
In a medium-sized saucepan, gently melt the butter with the espresso powder and water. Remove from the heat and briskly stir in the remaining ingredients. Divide the cake batter evenly between the two tins, and bake for around 35 minutes — you’d think it wouldn’t take that long, but damn it, it does.
Once they’re springy on top, remove them from the oven. Run a knife around the outside of each cake and carefully unclip the caketins. Allow them to cool, and trim the top off with a serrated knife if they’ve risen too much to layer up.
50g soft butter
100g creme fraiche
½ cup soft brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon honey
Mix all the icing ingredients together with a wooden spoon or your tool of choice until fluffy and thick. Add a little more creme fraiche to soften it up if it’s too stiff. Mascarpone or cream cheese would be a good substitute here.
1 cup sugar
1 heaped tablespoon honey
A pinch of salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
In a large pan, allow the sugar and honey to slowly come to boil, stirring occasionally. Once it’s bubbling briskly, remove it from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda and salt. It will bubble up hugely and turn paler and gold-coloured. Spatula it out onto a sheet of baking paper, and allow it to cool completely before breaking into pieces.
Place one of the cakes on your serving plate of choice. Spread a large dollop of icing thickly on top of it, before placing the second cake squarely on it. Dollop more icing on top of the second cake and smooth it out with the side of a knife or some tool more specifically for this purpose. Again, with the side of the knife, run it around the sides of the cakes to smooth out the filling and use any remaining icing to plaster any gaps. Take pieces of the honeycomb and arrange on top however you please.
This man won Tony awards at the age of 28. On any YouTube video featuring him, the comments will be teeming with people bellowing “Linnamon bun!” He has performed for the Obamas at the White House. He is one Oscar away from achieving an EGOT. He just won a Pulitzer prize. He surprised his wife with a song at their wedding and the video went viral. He also just seems really nice.
This cake? It is but a tiny, delicious token of my huge affection for him. I suggest you make it and halve it with someone you’re trying to get to listen to the Hamilton cast recording. If they don’t show the proper enthusiasm, you have my permission to soundly whisk the cake away from them and consume it by yourself. Perhaps while ruminating on his enormous eyes, like the softest brown yarn to be knitted into a cosy sweater, like the sun shining through dark glass, like a bespoke mahogany chest, like staring into a freshly brewed coffee that you’re clasping with gloved hands on an icy morning when you’re up too early but then you catch that espresso fragrance and you feel like everything is going to be fine.