Ask any Angeleno, and you'll probably hear that the biggest headache (second to the traffic) is meeting people. But it looks like Audrey Shulman, a development coordinator for an unscripted television production company and an avid baker, may have found a solution to finding fellow singles in SoCal -- "cakebarring." The twentysomething discovered that if she brought a sharable baked good to a local bar, suitors would quickly congregate. Since then, she's built an entire blog around her adventures -- think of it as "Sex and the City" meets "Cake Boss" -- where she chronicles the men she has met and the cakes she has baked.
We interviewed Shulman, who is coming up on her one-year anniversary (she vowed to go to a different bar with a different cake once a week starting Jan. 5, 2013), and we learned which cake nearly landed her a boyfriend, and the worst pickup line she's heard thus far.
How was this blog, Sitting in Bars With Cake, born?
The idea for the blog happened when my best friend suggested it as a joke after I accidentally baited a bunch of boys with her birthday cake. We were at Edendale celebrating with our friends back in the summer of 2012, and I was cutting and serving a cherry cake I had made for her. I suddenly realized that all of the guys around us were eyeing me, and eyeing my cake. I started offering them pieces, and by the end of the night, I had talked to more guys in an hour than I had all year. It was like romantic-comedy gold, starring the cake as the very unexpected ice breaker. My best friend joked as we were leaving that all I needed to do to find a boyfriend was sit in bars with cake. The rest of the year went by and I was still single, so she pushed me to actually do it and write a blog about it. Come January 2013, I set out with the intention of doing one cake per week. It seemed like a manageable goal, but I fell behind in the spring when I started dating someone. Once things didn't work out, I was baking one or two cakes a week to catch up so I could still try to have 50 recipes completed by the end of this year.
Where are you finding recipes for the different cakes?
I find my cake recipes all over the place, depending on what I have on hand or what I feel like making. For example, if I have sweet potatoes, I'll make a sweet potato casserole cake. My first cake was from Deb Perelman's "The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook" (a gingerbread apple upside-down cake), and I'm about to make a carrot cake from a fellow sugar monster's blog, Sally's Baking Addiction. I've used recipes from Amy Sedaris' "I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence" and the Cake Mix Doctor's cookbooks, but I would say that most of my recipes come from online and other resources. I should mention that my grandmother's coconut cake recipe got me a marriage proposal in July.
Which cake has been the most successful thus far?
Technically, the most successful cake I made this year was also the worst cake I've made all year. I baked up a pretty tasteless banana cake in March, and ended up dating a guy, who ate a piece, for almost two months. I guess there's something to be said for the fact that he asked for my phone number after eating such underwhelming cake, but then again, he wasn't really a dessert person. The recipe isn't even worth providing -- it was that bad.
Which cake has been the most delicious thus far?
Almost every cake I make seems better than the last, but I would say that my favorite cake has been a Greek yogurt cake from the Food Gal Blog. I made it for my friend Alex for her birthday in July, which we took cakebarring at Sassafras Saloon in Hollywood. It tasted like pancakes, and I added sesame-seed-covered almonds and apricot jam for the top and middle layer. [See the recipe at the bottom of this post.]
Can you tell us which bars you have visited?
My only rule for the project is that I bake a different cake each week and go to a different bar -- although I occasionally go to the same place twice, depending on who I'm with and where the night takes us. I've been to St. Nick's, Golden Road Brewing, Mohawk Bend, Bigfoot Lodge, Crown and Anchor, Bar 107, the Surly Goat, the Happy Ending, Lola's, 1642, Bar Lubitsch, One-Eyed Gypsy, Villain's Tavern, Good Luck Bar, Thirsty Crow, Edendale, Sassafras, HMS Bounty, SPiN LA at the Standard Hotel, Oldfield's Liquor Room, the Pikey, the Red Door, Hinano Cafe, Hemingway's Lounge, the Phoenix, the Woods, the Brickyard Pub, the 3rd Stop, Wellesbourne and Basement Tavern. I also went to Yellow Jacket Social Club in Austin, Texas, Dusty Fry in Oklahoma, a wedding in Wisconsin, No. 308 in Nashville, and tried cakebarring at the Hollywood Bowl and a food truck on Venice Boulevard. My favorite bar is the Pikey, hands-down.
Were you an avid baker before this project?
I've always loved to bake birthday cakes for my friends, but I'd never used it for baiting boys before. I grew up baking simple things like brownies and cookies and watching my mom make more complicated things like pralines and chocolate-covered cherries for the holidays. (I finally started making pralines myself last year.) I do make vegan pumpkin cookies year-round, even though I'm definitely not vegan.
Tell us about your most recent cakebarring trip.
Two girlfriends and I went to Basement Tavern in Santa Monica, which is a really awesome little speakeasy place underneath the Victorian. We found a table, ordered drinks and started eating the cake I had made (Amy Sedaris' Lady Baltimore recipe). On my way to find the bathroom, I met a friendly guy visiting from San Francisco for the Huskies game, and talked him into coming back to our table for some cake. (He managed to eat a piece while holding two beers!) He was more than happy to go recruit the rest of his friends to come enjoy our cake with us too. One of the guys was a professional athlete, one was a financial analyst and one was in sales. I didn't even get any of their names, but I did tell them about the blog. They seemed to think it was fun (although the Huskies fan did pretend to be mad).
Do you have any funny pickup line stories?
The best pickup line would probably be about my nose. My friends and I went cakebarring in Austin in May, and an older guy came over to me to ask if I was Jewish. I said technically no (as my mom isn't), and he told me he couldn't help but notice my nose. I asked him if he was a plastic surgeon.
Is there someone in the food industry you admire?
I really admire Deb Perelman, who runs the Smitten Kitchen blog and whose cookbook I own. She comes across as so relatable and witty in her writing while describing the fabulous food she makes, which I think can be tricky. She's a great writer.
With 2014 on the horizon, do you plan on continuing the project?
I'd love to keep the project going next year, maybe with a new spin. Sitting in Parks With Cake. Sitting in Bowling Alleys With Cake. I'm not dating anyone, so we'll see if I bait someone before the end of the year. Someone I met cakebarring told me L.A. is a horrible place for dating, as the predominant emotion in this city is desperation. I thought this was pretty hysterical, although after offering cake to hundreds of people this year, I wouldn't really agree. L.A. is full of sweet and creative guys, and I've been lucky enough to meet a bunch of them. I just haven't connected with the right person yet. I have 10 cakes left to go.
Greek Yogurt Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
1/4 cup honey
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Walnuts for garnish (optional)
Sour cherries in syrup for garnish (optional)
Extra Greek yogurt for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Butter and flour a 9-by-2-inch springform pan.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Stir together the yogurt and honey in a small bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated. Beat in vanilla extract.
Add flour mixture to the butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the yogurt mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and invert the cake, lift off the pan bottom and let the cake cool completely.
Slice the cake and serve plain, sprinkled with sugar, or with the topping of your choice, such as walnuts or cherries.