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Sugar and spice and all things cake

Cinderella’s fairy godmother uses the flick of a magic wand to create a carriage out of a pumpkin. Janie Travis uses the stir of a spatula to create a pumpkin out of cake.
Travis rotates “Number 63: Pumpkin Cake with Burnt Orange Buttercream” while it sits glistening in the sunlight atop a white ceramic cake stand.
“This time I was really excited about how the Crème Anglaise turned out,” Travis said. “The Crème Anglaise goes in the icing, and sometimes it’s really difficult to make because it has a caramel component to it.”
A 22-year-old senior with a double major in sociology and religion at the University of Mississippi, Travis still finds time to mix up some magic of her own by taking on a cake lover’s dream challenge: 99 cakes in one year.
Travis’s road to this cake-baking frenzy was paved with a love for baking that started in her childhood.
“I started baking when I was really young,” she said. “I have a picture of me and my sister when I was about 7. I was wearing one of my dad’s t-shirts like a dress. We were both holding silicone spatulas with brownie batter all over them, singing and baking.”
Her charisma in the kitchen continued through her high school years in Madison and into Covenant College in Chattanooga, Tenn. However, when dorm living came into the mix, Travis struggled to find a place to bake since she lacked a kitchen to use. It was not until her study abroad trip that she was able to revive her hobby.
“I took a cooking class while I was in Brussels and had some friends who loved to cook, too, so we baked a lot,” Travis said.
A difficult semester unfolded after her return to Chattanooga, but Travis found baking to be a means of stress management.
After baking a few cakes and chronicling them on her blog, she decided to turn this seemingly random baking session into something much more meaningful. Travis began this journey on April 8.
“Inspired by ‘Julie & Julia,’ I set out to bake 99 cakes in one year from ‘Rose’s Heavenly Cakes,’” Travis said.
Choosing the book was easy for Travis. After reading through “The Cake Bible” by Rose Levy Beranbaum, a food expert and baker, she could not get enough.
“She’s brilliant,” Travis said. “I thought it was fascinating. I read all of it in one night. I should probably be reading my real Bible that much.
“After I read that, I had a lot of respect for her and how much knowledge she had. So I went and bought ‘Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.’”
Travis has built up a library of stories during this process, including the construction of “Number 10: Zach’s La Bomba.” Staying true to form, this cake experience was nothing short of a blast.
“It took me two and a half days to make it,” Travis said. “You know, ‘la bomba’ means ‘bomb;’ it was shaped like a bomb. I had to use a homemade double boiler because it had to be glass and not steel. So, I put it over the pot and it just suction-cupped it in and the whole thing exploded. I thought it was hilarious that the bomb cake actually exploded.”
Travis has done wedding cakes and birthday cakes for customers but she does not sell the cakes she makes for this challenge. Because Travis tastes each cake in order to fully experience every cake in the “99 cake challenge,” she takes them to events with friends where everyone can try a piece or invite friends over to taste-test and enjoy the atmosphere.
Sarah Denney, a communication sciences and disorders senior and friend of Travis, is one of the lucky taste-testers. She has found her own personal favorite: “Number 59: Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake.”
“That was my favorite one to eat,” Denney said.
“The texture was perfect with the caramel drizzled on top.”
Aside from partaking in the taste testing, Denney has learned from her friendship with Travis.
“I really admire her for sticking to her goal and following through with it,” Denney said. “She’s so passionate about what she does, and you can see that when you read her blog or talk to her.”
One of her roommates, Elise Parker, a marketing communications senior from Madison, has been a huge supporter of the project.
“Janie is as sweet as the sugar she bakes with,” Parker said. “I love sitting at the counter and watching her bake. We have some of the best conversations while she’s doing it.”
Parker admits living with Travis has shown her a different approach to kitchen life.
“We probably do our dishes five times a week,” Parker said. “Janie loves a ‘loved’ kitchen with cake batter splattered on the walls and flour all over the floor. I never knew I was such a neat freak until I noticed small bits of flour sprinkled all over the floor.”
The next steps for Travis will include the creation of a new cornerstone blog called “Dancing in My Apron,” which will focus on the relationships built through food, as well as link to her current blog, “The Sugar Waltz.”
On top of that, Travis will keep an account of her anticipated cheese-making and upcoming cooking pursuits.
“I find that since I spend so much time baking, I don’t actually eat the right amounts of healthy food,” Travis said.
With 36 cakes to go, Travis has a wide support system, ranging from the followers on her blog to her taste-testing friends to her mother who financially supports this endeavor.
Although Travis is unsure if this is a soon-to-be career goal, she will always love the relationships made through this process the most.
“The more I cook and enjoy my creations with other people, I’ve started to realize what an important part of life it is to eat food with people,” she said.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about how relationships come about by sitting down and enjoying a slice of cake together celebrating those little moments in life that happen every day.
“That’s what I am trying to focus on in ‘Dancing in My Apron’ — relationships built through food. Dance while you’re preparing food because that’s life.”