Simple Cakes with Odette Williams


Odette Williams founded her namesake brand because she wanted a simple apron for her daughter but couldn’t find the right one, so she made it. Since then, her business has expanded to include a whole range of home products, and, as of this year, a cookbook. In Simple Cake, Odette shares 10 base cake recipes, 15 topping ideas, sweet family stories, and practical guides to everything from how to bake with kids to simple baking tips, all accompanied by gorgeous photos. We were so inspired by Simple Cake we decided to bake one of our own (the cinnamon spice cake—no surprise, it’s delicious!) and even got a chance to catch up with Odette to talk all things baking.

terrain: Hi Odette! Thanks so much for chatting with us about cake. Can you tell us how this sweet book came into being?

Odette: I’d had the idea for Simple Cake rattling around in my head for years. I’d never seen anything like it, and thought there was a need for it. Baking can be intimidating and I wanted to take any fear away by offering a tightly curated arsenal of mix and match recipes that don’t require any particular baking knowledge. On a personal note, it was the unexpected death of my dad that set Simple Cake in motion. While I was back in Sydney organizing the funeral with my family, I came across this old photo of my dad and me in the backyard when I was a kid. In it, we’re both trying to light the candles on a cake he had made me. The act of baking a cake for someone close to you and sharing it with them is a gesture full of love. My dad was no baker but all of the sudden I really wished I could thank him for the cake and say goodbye.

terrain: That’s such a beautiful motivation for creating this collection of recipes. Is there a more recent cake story that reminds you why the act of baking a cake can be such a powerful thing?

Odette: We recently moved from Brooklyn to San Francisco. It’s strange, hard, and exciting starting in a new city. Last weekend we invited over new friends for dinner and I decided to make my Meringue with the Triple Berry Compote and Whipped Cream for dessert. We were all standing around the kitchen as I served it up—we didn’t even make it back to the table! We all just gobbled it up enthusiastically right then and there. Their kids said it was the best meringue they had ever had and I knew I loved their kids immediately. It was wonderful to feel a connection to these new friends through something I’d baked from my book.

terrain: What does a “simple” cake mean to you?

Odette: A simple cake shouldn’t demand too much of you. It shouldn't be over complex in its flavor profile. They come together with a handful of ingredients that are most likely in your pantry or easily picked up at the corner store. You don’t need any fancy equipment: Two bowls and a whisk is all you need to pull off a lot of my cakes. The recipes can withstand a little household chaos. Simple cakes are at their best eaten still slightly warm with perhaps a dollop of whipped cream on the side.

terrain: What was the most challenging part of writing this cookbook?

Odette: I think all the recipe testing. For me to make it foolproof for the home baker I had to eliminate any possible pitfalls. I lost count of how many cakes I baked. It was insane. What I really loved about doing a cookbook is sharing a recipe and a story behind it, then coming up with a creative visual way to photograph the moment. I’m always trying to capture the moment or feeling and not just have it be about the beautiful styling.

terrain: One of the most unique (and fun!) parts about Simple Cakes is that it’s a sort of confectionary choose-your-own-adventure, with a Flavor Chart that helps you mix and match flavors of cakes and toppings. Can you give us a couple of your favorite combinations for some specific occasions?

Odette: First, I’ll kick off by saying I and a massive supporter of dusting a cake with confectioner’s sugar and calling it a day. If the cake base is a great recipe you don’t need to go crazy on the topping, but for a best friend’s birthday, I’d suggest the Lovely Lemon Yogurt Cake with a Citrus Syrup, for something like a kindergarten graduation, maybe my classic Very Vanilla Cupcake with Easy Creamy Icing. For Friendsgiving, I’d bring a bottle of raspberry curd to put on top of anything and if I’ve just had a bad day and want to eat half a cake myself, I’d go for the Milk and Honey Cake with Honey Whipped Cream.

terrain: One last question on that note. What was the last cake you made? What was the occasion?

Odette: The Coconut Cake in a loaf pan. No occasion. I just wanted that cake :)

Like learning more about creative people doing cool things? Read our conversation with Noma's David Zilber, Top Chef's Gail Simmons, and Top Chef's Hugh Acheson.

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