(Soundbite of song, "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd Have Baked a Cake")
Ms. EILEEN BARTON (Singer): (Singing) If I knew you were comin', I'd have baked a cake, baked a cake, and baked a cake. If I knew...
JACKI LYDEN, host:
This July Fourth weekend, the United States has a new constitution - a cake constitution.
Mr. WARREN BROWN (Owner, Cake Love): We the people who love cake, in order to bake a more perfect dessert, reestablish the standard that true cake is baked from scratch, ensure the use of natural ingredients, provide for the common consumption of dessert in moderation, promote comfort foods, and secure the blessings of sharing dessert with friends and foe, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United Cakes of America.
LYDEN: That's lawyer-turned-baker Warren Brown. In 2002, he gave up his career practicing law and opened Cake Love, a Washington, D.C. bakery guaranteed to tempt the senses.
Mr. BROWN: People like dessert and cake so much that you can go crazy with different flavors and they're going to taste it, you know. I mean, you bring a cake into the room and everyone's going to be happy.
(Soundbite of song, "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake")
Ms. BARTON: (Singing) But it really doesn't matter. Grab a chair and fill your platter and dig, dig, dig right in. If I knew you were coming I'd have...
LYDEN: Since, Warren Brown has opened six more bakeries in the D.C. area and has just released his second cookbook, "The United Cakes of America." The book is a culinary tour, full of delectable gateau for every state in the country.
I visited his Cake Love bakery at National Harbor on the Potomac River. While there, he showed me how to make his favorite dessert, Black Walnut Torte.
Mr. BROWN: What we're doing is just whipping our egg whites on high speed. When they get a really nice volume, not quite stiff peak, but a little bit more - a little bit up there, we'll slowly drizzle in the sugar. And then we're going to whip it until it really holds and becomes a little tighter. Then we'll add in our walnuts.
This cake is a inspired from family vacations to Arkansas that Warren Brown took as a child, as well as the black walnuts that grow in Arkansas.
Mr. BROWN: It's an unusual cake because its got this meringue on top. And then the butter cake, youve got to slice that. It's a little bit in extra handling. And then the sour cream filing that is more like a custard than anything. So it's untraditional, unconventional.
LYDEN: As the Black Walnut Torte was baking, I sat down with Warren and asked him how he decided on the really not very traditional and sometimes outright unconventional recipes in his book, "The United Cakes of America."
Mr. BROWN: I recognize that this is my take on it and this is me saying, hey, this is how I think cakes are across the country. Sometimes it's choosing a cake that represents something about the state that people know. Cherry trifle, so I use the cherry blossoms as really my inspiration. So sometimes it's a little bit of a loose interpretation I'll take. But others are very true to the state.
One of the cakes to me that was really special and neat is the Tennessee stack cake. The cake part, the bread part is really almost like a cookie. Almost like a Molasses cookie that you roll out and it's a dough. Bake it and it's real stiff. You could play Frisbee with it. And then the apples are dried apples that you reconstitute and then they go between the layers. It's just two components going on but you want to make it as tall as possible. Bake it and then wrap it up and store in the fridge for at least a day, and everything just kind of comes together.
And it tastes really good. And I was really just fascinated to learn about different people and different populations around the country and what they bake as a tradition.
LYDEN: So what if you haven't baked for a long time and now weve wetted people's appetite and they want to get your book or bake a cake...
Mr. BROWN: Yeah.
LYDEN: ...any pieces of advice? We talked about how to whip a meringue. But if people are anxious about basic tasks, whether it be that or softening butter or sifting flower, I mean, anything you might add?
Mr. BROWN: Yeah, nice tips and hints. One of the ways that I try to stay just nimble with stuff is baking scones. I like it 'cause I rub the butter into the flour with my hands.
Mr. BROWN: And it's hard, it's not easy, but it's really a good way to stay in touch with the ingredients. There's a recipe for scones in here, even though its a cake book because I just love them. I needed to get that in there. But you got to weigh the flour. And I really recommend you weigh it with a scale instead of scooping and leveling. You'll just get an accurate read of how much flour you need for the recipe. Can't emphasize it enough.
LYDEN: And how do you think the cake itself compares to the trend for small finger food types of delicacies, pastries that we want to take away? I mean, well, you yourself sell...
Mr. BROWN: A lot of cupcakes.
Mr. BROWN: Yeah. Yean.
Mr. BROWN: We sell a lot of cupcakes. And I think that cupcakes are great, but cake is too, you know. Cakes never going to go away. And its a great way for people to have a dessert sometimes that's really mobile so you can take it, you know, on a picnic and stuff. And sometimes it's sitting there in the center of the room. So I think that cake still has a place and it always will.
LYDEN: Its been a wonderful conversation. I'm really thinking about the Black Walnut Torte. Do you think we could possibly have a slice together?
Mr. BROWN: Absolutely. I want some, too. I do. Sometimes I adjust the sides a little bit with confectioners' sugar and then I go to the party. You know?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BROWN: I want to...
LYDEN: And youre the most popular man there.
Mr. BROWN: Well, you know, it's like I love baking and I love cooking, and I dont want to spend it forever in the kitchen. You know, I want to sit down too and have some fun.
Mr. BROWN: So, you know, I like to keep it as simple as possible, especially when it's a holiday. Oh, dude.
Mr. BROWN: Yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BROWN: Yeah. This is it.
LYDEN: You know, its a whole dessert.
Mr. BROWN: It's a different experience.
LYDEN: Youve got the nut crunch.
Mr. BROWN: Mm-hmm.
LYDEN: And then the sourness of the filling - the tangy of the filling.
Mr. BROWN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Happy 4th of July.
LYDEN: This is magnificent.
Mr. BROWN: Thank you.
(Soundbite of music, "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd Have Baked a Cake")
LYDEN: And you can see some of the cakes Warren Brown selected for "The State" in a photo gallery on our website, NPR.org.
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