Long before the modern cookbooks were published about fixing up cake mixes, my Great-Aunt Annie was famous for her Strawberry Layer Cake. It was my mom's favorite cake growing up and the centerpiece at my first birthday celebration. When I was old enough to actually request my own birthday cake, "Pink Cake" was at the top of my list.
The history of this family cake parallels the rise of ready-made cake mixes and convenience products' acceptance in the consumer world. Great-Aunt Annie didn't have time to bake cakes from scratch as her mom did before her. Working full-time in a hosiery mill in the '40s and '50s, she turned to box mixes for special occasions and added her own ingredients to make it hers. She kept the actual recipe secret for years until my mom begged for it in the late '60s -- since I requested the cake at every special occasion, beginning with my birthday in January and ending with Christmas in December.
Fast-forward to today. When I (a self-proclaimed "non-baker") bake this cake, it's considered an extra-special labor of love. Round layer cakes, even those that start from a box mix, are "fancy" and extravagant, even for me. Aunt Annie would probably be shocked, but maybe proud that her "cheat cake" is considered a special "baked at home" dessert and not cheating at all. So celebrate Valentine's Day this year with a cake that has said, "I love you" for almost 70 years.
• Alicia Ross has been creating fast recipes for families for nearly two decades. Write her at Kitchen Scoop, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, firstname.lastname@example.org. More at the Kitchen Scoop website, kitchenscoop.com.