Johannes Vermeer was one of the most prolific painters of the Dutch Golden Age, and if the number of children his wife gave birth to is any indication (15!), probably also one of the most romantic.
This Valentine’s Day, bake a sweet honey cake for your loved one(s) and take a closer look at Vermeer’s intimate interior painting, The Love Letter. The work, completed circa 1669-70 shows one of Vermeer’s most familiar subjects: a masterfully-lit and executed interior scene showing everyday life. Here, we see the wealthy woman of the household sitting in a chair (wearing the same clothing as this work featuring the same props and/or model). She is holding a lute and reading a love letter, while her maid looks over her shoulder. She is probably reading it aloud, and Vermeer captures the moment where she and her maid make eye contact. Instead of analyzing Tinder profiles or comparing mutual friends on Facebook, Vermeer’s subjects would have probably analyzed actual handwritten letters for hidden romantic clues – how old fashioned! 🙂
At first glance of this painting, its difficult to tell that this woman is reading a love letter. It could just as easily be a letter from her grandma. Throughout the seventeenth century, prosperous foreign trade and war with Spain kept lots of Dutch men outside of the Netherlands for extended periods of time. Love letters became the norm for separated lovers and paintings with this theme became a popular subject for artists and their wealthy clients.
We know that this is definitely an amorous note because of a few subtle clues dropped throughout the picture. Two paintings hang on the wall behind the women. The top picture is a landscape scene with a solitary figure shown longing for a loved one. The lower picture is a seascape; the sea is a common metaphor for love. Another clue is the basket of clothing that stands next to the women. It could show that household chores had been ignored lately due to the wealthy woman’s romantic distraction.
This cake is my kind of distraction. It’s sweet, rich, spiced and moist. I’m making it for Valentine’s Day this year, but this cake would be perfect for any occasion. Or weekday!
4 large eggs
1 cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup strong black coffee, at room temperature
½ cup orange juice
¼ cup whiskey
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup honey
Preheat the oven to 350°F and thoroughly grease a 12-15 cup bundt pan.
To make the batter:
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, mix together the eggs, oil, coffee, orange juice, whiskey and vanilla extract. Add in the sugars and mix for a 1 to 2 minutes on medium speed. In a separate medium sized bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the honey and mix until fully incorporated, about 30 more seconds.
Pour the batter into the greased bundt pan. Position the pan over a heavy baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes. Lower the heat to 325°F and bake another 25 minutes. Let cool in pan for 30 minutes, and then turn over onto a wire rack. Let the cake cool for at least 2 hours before serving.
Recipe adapted from The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, 12 servings
Featured art: Johannes Vermeer, The Love Letter, c. 1669-1670, oil on canvas