Dr. Seuss' character The Lorax on top of a cake

Image caption: The Lorax won first place in the Best In Show category

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

Tasty tomes

The great bookish bake-off

More bakers than ever compete in the Sheridan Libraries' annual Edible Book Festival featuring baked goods inspired by literature

Consider it a case of life imitating art … inspired by a book.

It took courage for Candyce Golden to lug a five-tier cake to the Glass Pavilion under Tuesday morning's stormy skies. But there it sits: a towering study in buttercream icing over white cake and raspberry preserves. "It was a little crazy and I was starting to wonder if I was going to make it," says Golden, a grants and contracts specialist for the Department of Physics and Astronomy. "I had three floods to get through which closed roads."

Video credit: Aubrey Morse / Johns Hopkins University

That Golden's sweet offering wasn't alone, and that cakes, cookies, pies, and other edibles spilled across the room could mean only one thing: Another Read It & Eat It was underway, the Sheridan Libraries' annual Edible Book Festival where students, faculty, and staff create sweet or savory baked good inspired by books. Sponsored by the Winston Tabb Special Collections Research Center, it was first held in 2014 with only 15 entries. This year, nearly 50 tome-based treats were on hand. (It was canceled by COVID in 2020 and held virtually the next two years before returning to the Homewood campus in 2023.) "We wanted to do something fun and engaging to bring the Hopkins community together and showcase the books people cherish," says Librarian Heidi Herr, the driving force behind the event.

Golden's literary inspiration was John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage. "It was my grandfather's favorite book," she says. Her towering entry, which she courageously managed to bring in, was a recreation of John and Jackie's wedding cake. As usual for this eclectic festival, titles subject to culinary celebration ranged from the sublime to the silly: How to Eat Fried Worms to Hamlet to Slaughterhouse Five to Snoopy. And there was fun with puns as well, such as The Count of Monte Crusto and Don Quiche-ote.

Kim Le's *Don Quiche-ote* cake featured savory spinning windmill blades

Image caption: Kim Le's Don Quiche-ote cake featured savory spinning windmill blades

Image credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

The wet weather was also causing problems for junior public heath major Cassandra Peterson, who along with fellow undergrad bakers Julianna Smith and Eliza Stokes, created an elaborate multi-tiered edible homage to Dr. Suess's The Lorax. The problem was with the cotton candy trees decorating the piece. "It's the humidity, which just makes them shrivel up," Peterson says as she adds more pink fluff atop her tree trunks made from cookies. The trio had other setbacks: The fondant they ordered online to fashion various decorative critters (including the orange namesake atop the dessert) was stolen off their porch so they had to learn how to make their own. What was their goal for the finished dessert? "Honestly, we were just going for something whimsical," Peterson says. Mission accomplished. And what they also got was Best in Show honors. The list of winners and runners up in six different categories can be found here.

Kim Le can't blame the weather for her challenges. The senior business analyst and student engagement coordinator for the Office of the Provost made her own life difficult with her entry Don Quiche-ote. It features three windmills made of stacked spinach/onion/gruyere quiches topped with spinning windmill blades fashioned from bread and turned by cheese cracker cranks. "Every part of it is edible, which is an added challenge that I assigned to myself," Le says. "It's also hard to standardize bread. I don't have a 3D printer for this."

A white whale-shaped cake with red filling

Image caption:Moby Dick: Ahab’s Revenge won first place in the Best Literary category

Image credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

While the literary inspirations behind many of the edible offerings aren't always immediately clear, a large white cake shaped like a whale is, of course, a no-brainer. Library Specialist Holly Tominack's Ahab's Revenge is a nod to Melville's storied classic, but there's more than initially meets the eye in this sugary sea mammal. This whale is designed not just to be eaten but, huh, butchered as well. Beneath the white exterior, a layer of red-dyed rice-Krispie treats peels back to reveal yellow custard "blubber."

"Moby Dick is very graphic," Tominack says. "There are several chapters that graphically explain the hunting and slaughtering of whales." Her display includes signage proclaiming that whales are "wonderful creatures and they should be honored and protected" while pointing out that this particular white giant destroyed Ahab's ship and ate his leg.

The disemboweled whale cake was rather grisly looking (even more so for being on the designated vegan table) but that didn't deter the army of fork-wielding attendees from gobbling it up. Ahab got his revenge and Tominack won first place for Best Literary Theme.