“I hate cake,” said Chef Jason Hedin of Chicago’s Hubbard Inn [https://www.hubbardinn.com/]. “I don’t like butter cream, or marzipan, or any of that stuff that looks great but tastes terrible. I think it goes back to our childhood, when we’d go to a birthday party and the mom would have bought some awful sheet cake. No wonder many of us don’t like cake.”
I don’t like cake. On my birthday, I ask for key lime pie, not cake. Still, Hedin made one of the best cakes I’ve ever had.
Oak Parker Ernest Hemingway was the inspiration for parts of Hedin’s menu. At Hubbard Inn, we started with oysters, about which Hemingway wrote one of his most memorable passages:
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” [“A Moveable Feast”]
Instead of white wine, I had a daiquiri, about which the great man wrote:
“This frozen daiquiri, so well beaten as it is, looks like the sea where the wave falls away from the bow of a ship when she is doing thirty knots.” [“Islands in the Stream”]
We had some entrees, like a lacquered duck, that represented, Hedin told us, “the more European side of Hemingway.” We almost took a pass on dessert until he convinced us we should try it, and I’m so glad we did.
The Basque cake at Hubbard Inn, Hedin told us, is the culmination of different recipes he’s made over the years, explaining, “I’ve got a nontraditional take on it by placing a layer of vanilla pastry cream and chocolate ganache between the layers of cake, and finishing the top layer with cinnamon sugar and lemon zest. It’s garnished with a simple vanilla Chantilly.”
Chantilly is a lightly whipped cream that provides the kind of lightness unobtainable with the more common, and sometimes sickeningly lardy tasting butter cream, which Hedin says “leaves your mouth coated so you can’t really taste anything.”
The Basque cake, of course, though unmentioned in the works of Hemingway, reflects the Oak Park author’s Spanish connection. The Basque country comes up in several of the author’s works, most notably in “The Sun Also Rises.”
“Most cake is boring,” says Hedin; his Basque cake is not.