When Sarah first contacted me about baking together—the Perfume Cake in particular—in the Fall of 2014, I had been planning a different cake project to kick off 2015. Her request drew me back into Caroline's book and planted the seed for the Victorian Cakes project.
Much of what there is to say about the initial experiment Sarah covered with aplomb in her Etsy piece, but I have been thinking about this particular cake quite a lot and thought it worth it to add a few notes of my own.
It was fun to try The Parlor Apothecary's Victorian Spirit blend, and I do think some of the reason it came out inedible is due to the quantity we added. Though it is the only cake I have ever thrown out—ever—I don't feel done with Perfume Cake yet.
I really do want to try it out with Violet since Caroline does mention that fragrant little bloom as the family favorite. That said, a natural Violet essence does not exist. I have thought about trying a few scant drops of synthetic Violet or even the liquor Crème de Violette, which would probably prove more palatable.
Violet aside, I recently had the chance to visit the home studio of Julianne Zaleta, the woman behind Herbal Alchemy (whose extracts Sarah mentions in the Etsy piece). Her space is dream-like, headily-scented, and an antique bottle lovers dream. As it was our first meeting and I didn't want to intrude, I found myself practically sitting on my hands to keep from photographing her entire place. We sipped seltzer water flavored with her own Peach essence out of delicate glasses and talked about cakes and perfumes and possible collaborative kitchen experimentation. I learned a lot in the little time I was there and really look forward to going back and tinkering more with fragrant baked goods!
Perfume Cake garners just a small mention in Victorian Cakes, it being a riff on Emily's Vanity Cake, but it certainly is a stand-out. More than any other recipe I have tried from the book so far, it thrillingly connects me and these experiments to those done by a group of sisters in a Chicago kitchen over 100 years ago.