Guest Guru: Caroline Lubbers – Baking is my Organization Meditation

Baking is my Organization Meditation

By Caroline Lubbers of

Oh, Organization! We play a little game of cat and mouse, the two of us. Organization is my spirited toddler who is always one step ahead of me, out of reach and causing a little trouble. However, I will never stop chasing him. Somehow, I seem to stay the most organized when I am in constant pursuit of organization.

Let me explain…

I like to keep my life packed and if I ever get too close to being under control, I scheme up a new project to tip the load. I manage my own marketing consulting business, write a food blog, have a 2-year old, a dog and a new house. In the past months, I started my first-ever vegetable garden, took a family trip to Mexico, made plans for a trip abroad this summer, took on two new clients and ensured that my daughter had a homemade, sprinkle-topped four layer cake for her birthday.

The old me used to beat myself up if one of the 20 balls I am juggling dropped. The new mommy-me has come to feel proud that only 2-3 balls drop now and then in my pursuit to “have it all.” Running a business, being a mommy, growing my own vegetables, entertaining friends… I want it all. And, though I now firmly believe that you can’t have it all, all of the time, I am happier if I keep trying. And so, my juggling continues…

Naturally, I am cluttered. If you saw my desk or peeked in my cupboards, you would likely think I am a disaster. But, hiding under the piles is a binder system and in the kitchen is a lined pad to make lists and notes. A month later, the binder turns to sticky notes and the pad gives way to a chalkboard wall. By continually thinking about and trying to hone my organizational systems, I revisit my to-dos and somehow keep my head above water.

Baking is one of my favorite hobbies. I love food and sweets and strive for the best, most deliciously perfect baked goods. Achieving that requires exactness and organization. I tend to choose complex recipes so I get a chance to measure, sift, whisk, melt, beat, level, layer and frost. After all the ingredients and the recipe at hand are ready on the counter, I find my way into a baking trance.

Though I love teaching my toddler how to cook, I find true pleasure in working alone in the kitchen. There is no option when baking but to be organized. The best cakes and cookies require careful measuring cups, proper temperatures, even scoops and perfectly level cake layers. As I place the cookies on the cooling rack or apply the sprinkles atop a layer cake, I always find myself more relaxed than when I started. The scattered, multi-tasking me has taken a break while the meticulous, organized baker has meditated her way to another beautiful, delicious cake.

Below is the recipe for my standby Chocolate Birthday Cake. Other favorites are this wonderful yellow cake, carrot cake, banana cake with cream cheese frosting and red velvet cake. Happy Baking!

The Best Chocolate Birthday Cake

For the cake:
3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee

3 cups sugar

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)

2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

3 large eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

For the frosting:
½ lb. butter
8 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
½ cup cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 300°F and grease two round 9-inch pans. Line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Finely chop chocolate and combine in a bowl with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well.

Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well. Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

For the frosting, mix together room temperature butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together sugar and cocoa. Add the sugar to the butter mixture little by little until spreadable consistency. Refrigerating will firm up the frosting if needed.

Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove parchment paper and cool layers completely.

To assemble the cake, level both cake layers with a serrated knife. Place the first layer on your serving plate. Spread about ½-2/3 cup of frosting on the cake. Top with the second layer of cake. Spread a thin layer of frosting on the top and around the sides of the cake. If you have the time, put the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes. This will make a firmer surface to spread your final layer of frosting. Remove from the fridge and spread the rest of the frosting around the sides and on top. Add sprinkles, chopped nuts or decoration of your choice.

Chicagoan Caroline Lubbers runs her own marketing communications firm and, on the side, writes the food blog, Whipped (

For a slice of cake or a slice of life, visit Caroline Lubbers’ blog,