“The Edible Woman” Lemon Cake with Lemon Buttercream

by Cara Nicoletti on November 11, 2014


It seems like everyone has been talking about feminism lately. Let’s do a quick recap.

There was Beyonce at the VMAs declaring herself a feminist during her set. Then, there was Annie Lennox criticizing that declaration. There was Emma Watson’s “HeForShe” speech for the UN, and then the backlash of that speech. Roxane Gay wrote a New York Times Bestseller called Bad Feminist and expressed her disinterest in making feminism more palatable, and Jenny Slate said “Fuck yeah,” when asked if she was a feminist. Thinking people the world over shed a frustrated tear over the woefully misguided “Women Against Feminism” tumblr, and then tried to forget it existed.

The personal iCloud accounts of dozens of female celebrities got hacked and their private (nude) photos were leaked everywhere on the internet. Rag magazines rejoiced, splashing censored versions of the leaked pictures on every cover next to words like “ruined” and “shame,” despite the fact that these women had done nothing wrong. This lead to lots of discussions about consent and sex crimes and the female body as a commodity. Then Lena Dunham ran a campaign called “Women are Watching” for Planned Parenthood and wrote a memoir called Not That Kind of Girl and was being called things like “the feminist voice of a generation,” until people read the memoir and decided she was no longer worthy of that label (and then some).

Let’s recap this recap:
-Beyonce is a feminist
-Annie Lenox is a feminist and Beyonce is not
-Emma Watson is a feminist and so is Jennifer Lawrence
-unless you talk to Roxane Gay who is one and says they are not
-Tumblr is a terrifying place
-Jenny Slate is queen
-Lena Dunham is a feminist
-Lena Dunham is not a feminist and hates women (and then some)


It’s very very rare that I read a discussion about feminism in any form and feel angry or slighted –my dominant feeling is almost always gratefulness that the discussion is taking place at all. And then the other day I stumbled across a press bit about a new magazine called “Render” that is branding itself as a “Feminist Food & Culture Quarterly,” and I felt a new feeling. According to Render Magazine, “Food is a feminist issue.” The magazine is run by a group of people with degrees in feminism and gender and women’s and food studies, but only one of these people works in the food industry. In her bio, one woman says outright that she “doesn’t know much about food,” while another states that she is “bad at cooking but good at watching Chopped.” And yet, the magazine’s mission is “to empower women in the kitchen by representing women and their contributions to food culture.” As a woman who has worked for years, and still does, in the male-dominated food industry, this doesn’t sit right in my guts. Why do people who don’t work in food get to tell me that I am marginalized as a woman in the kitchen? Why do they get to empower and represent me? It feels a little bit like a person who has never ice-skated in their entire life showing up to the rink in a sparkly thousand-dollar skating costume and making a speech about the sport.


I do have the magazine to thank, though, for leading me back to Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman, after days on end of thinking about women and food. Published in 1969, The Edible Woman was the springboard for Atwood’s long writing career. It tells the story of a woman named Marian McAlpin, who after becoming engaged to a man named Peter, finds herself unable to eat. Shortly after the proposal, Marian sympathizes with a steak that Peter is eating, and after that is no longer able to eat meat or anything with “bone or tendon or fibre.” Her fear of meat blossoms into a fear of eggs and vegetables, and soon she is barely able to face eating anything at all. Marian realizes that her fear of food stems from the feeling that she is losing her identity and becoming detached from herself–that Peter is quite literally devouring her. In an attempt to remedy this, Marian bakes Peter a lemon cake in the shape of a woman and frosts it pink. She presents it to him saying “You’ve been trying to destroy me, haven’t you. You’ve been trying to assimilate me. But I’ve made you a substitute, something you’ll like much better. This is really what you wanted all along, isn’t it? I’ll get you a fork.” Understandably freaked out, Peter leaves, quickly, and Marian eats the entire cake herself. When her roommate, Ainsley, finds her stuffing her face with the woman-shaped cake she exclaims, “You’re rejecting your femininity!”

The book, which was published at the height of the women’s movement, was quickly labeled as a feminist manifesto, until Margaret Atwood chimed in and said, “Those who had heard of [The Edible Woman] reviewed the book as feminist… but my novel was not informed by it.”
Then, in 2009, Atwood stated in an interview, that The Handmaiden’s Tale, which has also long been thought of as a feminist tract, could be told “from a male point of view” and answered “no” to the question, “are you a feminist?”

Now for another quick recap: The Edible Woman is/not a feminist book, and Margaret Atwood, feminist voice of a generation, is not a feminist. For God’s sake, let’s eat some cake already.


Lemon Cake

3 cups unbleached cake flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups sugar
Zest of 3 lemons
¾ cups unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), soft, plus more for greasing cake pans
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup whole milk, room temperature

Pre-heat oven to 350F. Butter the bottom and sides of two 9×2” cake pans. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper, butter the paper, and dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

In another bowl, rub sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers to release the oils in the lemon rind. You’ll know it’s done with it’s really fragrant.


In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until it’s smooth and creamy. Add in lemon sugar and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy—about 3 minutes. Beat in lemon juice and vanilla until incorporated.
Beat in eggs one at a time until batter is smooth.
Lower the speed and alternate between adding the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt), and adding the milk. Mix until batter is smooth, being careful not to overmix.
Pour batter into prepared pans and bake in the center of the oven until a tester comes out clean—about 35-40 minutes.
Allow the cakes to cool slightly before running a knife around the edges and inverting them onto cooling racks.
Allow them to cool completely before frosting (I like to wrap mine and freeze them overnight to make for easier frosting).


Lemon Buttercream Frosting
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg yolk
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
zest and juice of 1 lemon

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the butter and egg yolk at medium-high speed until smooth and creamy. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the confectioner’s sugar until incorporated. Beat in the cream, vanilla, salt, lemon zest and juice. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and whip for 3 minutes until light and fluffy.

Once the cake has cooled completely, frost and serve.


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Leave a Comment

Nicola Miller Editor of The Millers Tale November 11, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Cara, it takes a cake baker and cook to slice through all the confusing BS. I might be no nearer a conclusion in my mind as to whom is what, where and why BUT like you, I appreciate the fact that discussion = on the agenda,

Great cake too. Something simple, devoid of every ingredient + the kitchen sink. Much needed, Thank you,


Cara Nicoletti November 11, 2014 at 3:49 pm

You’re not alone, Nicola, I’m no closer either!


Amy @ Thoroughly Nourished Life November 11, 2014 at 6:50 pm

The one place I don’t feel marginalised is in the kitchen! I work in a very male dominated industry (defence contracting) and in our 300+ strong workforce there are only about 10 women. At work I am very aware of how everything I do is judged with the parameters of my gender.
However, when I step into the kitchen I know I am the boss – and that sense of power in the kitchen was handed on to me from the strongest feminist I know: my Dad.
Who, coincidentally, will love this lemon cake. This man definitely doesn’t reject femininity, or a good slice of cake.


Gemma November 11, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Oh MY, that cake!!! I need it.


Charlotte November 12, 2014 at 9:17 am

This was a really great post and it was nice to see all of these various topical discussions being linked to the larger discussion. It’s funny to think that the word “feminism” is so loaded and, it’s about equality. Words like “sexism” or “racism” are outwardly negative and I am trying to think of a neutral equivalent to feminism and can’t seem to come up with one. Anyways, this was a great read – thanks for your thoughts and unique perspective as always!


Elizabeth Aquino November 13, 2014 at 8:33 am

Thank you for turning what I’ve always thought of as manufactured outrage into lemon cake with buttercream frosting. And for the record, I am a feminist.


Cara Nicoletti November 18, 2014 at 12:52 pm

I love you.


Tanya November 13, 2014 at 2:51 pm

I love your blog and how seamlessly you transform the cerebral world of books and ideology into cake.


M.K. November 14, 2014 at 12:05 am

Jenny Slate IS queen!

Speaking of food magazines with a female focus, what do you think of Cherry Bombe? I haven’t managed to get my hands on a copy yet, but so far I like the punny name, which is a good start. :•)



Emma {Emma's Little Kitchen} October 7, 2015 at 4:34 pm

I just heard your interview on the Splendid Table (a little behind on my podcasts…!), and I am absolutely in love with your blog. Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite writers. The scene with the cake in Edible Woman is such a powerful one, absolutely love this!!


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