How Buttercream Built Me Up

It is a complete & total honor to share this as the first contributing piece on BETTERISH. Meet Kristen. I've known Kristen since we were giddy high school musical theatre tweens at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts where we attended high school. From Chorus Line auditions to cooking the wildest sprinkled infused concoctions....we've come a long way.  Enjoy (and salivate) over this piece that proves not only finding resiliency within recipes, but also that there are way more ingredients than just the basics going into these cakes, cookies and crumbles. -emidobz 


Photo by: Louise Palmberg

Photo by: Louise Palmberg

Ten years ago, I moved upstate and met a boy. That boy took me to a party. This party had a theme that changed every hour on the hour; guests were told to change outfits to match the decade while the music changed to match the decade. There was cake to celebrate a birthday. A five tier cake, that consisted of buttercream and multiple layers of varying spongecake. The night ended at the ‘90s, with three girls laughing hysterically in a bathtub, helping each other brush teeth and tucking the drunkest of us into bed. 

This party, and that cake, is forever engrained in my memory. It was the first time that I met Alyssa Hardy and Holly King, two women I owe all of my baking success to. Alyssa and Holly liked to throw dinner parties for no reason. Everything was always delicious and well thought out. There were hours of menu planning. There were giddy trips to the store in search of grained mustards and accompanying Granny Smith apples. There were stops at Holly’s bakery to get ingredients for sweets. There was always a group of 10 of us, gathering together in one of our apartments on a random Wednesday night to do nothing but eat, enjoy each other, play cards and play music, savor every small moment of community in a town where there were five stop lights and little to do. I usually sat in awe of Holly and Alyssa, with their cool demeanors, whipping up meals to feed these beautiful people and creating a magical enclave that still to this day has yet to be replicated.

When I moved to Brooklyn, I started baking on my own, poorly, calling Alyssa and Holly constantly for recipes, panicked over why my meringues weren’t rising. I invited anyone over so that I could dirty my unusually large Greenpoint kitchen and recreate that sacred space. I quickly realized that while I was average at cooking, I had an unusual patience and knack for baking. I gave myself a goal of baking weekly. Each session began the same: I chose a record to listen to, chose an apron, spread out my ingredients, put away my phone, mixed, matched, waited until the timer rang, pulling out sometimes disasters, sometimes little slices of perfection. I got better quickly. Friends started requesting specific cakes or cookies. I began to have a reputation of trying to outdo Martha Stewart.

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 Baking and hosting is now my ultimate self-care. Really what comes after the baking is my favorite part: the reveal. Whether it’s a birthday, an engagement, a break-up, a vent session, I’m usually in tow with something to cut into. Because really what’s better than feeding those you love and seeing them light up with joy from that first bite? It makes me dizzy with gratitude for those around me, makes me burst with overwhelming thanks.

It makes me think back to family dinners on Sunday nights at my grandparents. My Italian family is clamoring over each other, passing meatballs around, taking thirds. 

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My grandmother is at the head of the table, smiling contently, asking if everything was just right too many times to count. Baking is so personal to me in the sense that the first half of the project is about self-reflection, self-challenge, self-motivation and the latter half is about celebrating the fact that you and yours are able to be in the same space at the same time, bonded over sugar and spice cake, licking the sprinkles off every fork prong. 

Every year Alyssa hosts those famous birthday parties and each year we all return to be together for a weekend of endless brunch, endless dancing, endless foosball. And now I’m in charge of baking that very cake that that is responsible for ringing in another year. No matter where we are in our lives we’ll always have the buttercream. -Kristen

Kristen Chiucarello