Cake by Akhil Joondeph

c/o Akhil Joondeph, Assistant Features Editor

Cake is the classic celebration food. It’s sweet, decadent, visually appealing, and generally well-liked. It seems as if almost every family has some sort of signature cake, either one they ritually purchase at their chosen bakery or store, or, if they are truly ambitious, they bake themselves. My family is of the former variety, and for most of my life, we had a standard cake, the closest dessert to perfection in our eyes or our bellies: chocolate cake with mocha cream cheese frosting from our beloved local bakery, the Prolific Oven in Palo Alto, California.

Every birthday, anniversary, and milestone was accompanied by a slice of this cake. As a cramped, 4-inch cylinder, barely able to supply eight slices, the moist and rich chocolate sponge layered with stripes of coffee-saturated cream cheese and decorated with spiked spirals of frosting worked its way into the lives of our friends and family members.

Two years ago, the bakery announced it would shut its doors forever, and it should come as no surprise that my family was devastated. What else could possibly have the power to bring generations of Srinivasans and Joondephs together at the same crowded dinner table? The cake’s demise created a void, one that could only be filled by fragmented memories of its delectable flavor. Today, we gather around the table and recall those beautiful moments together.

When I was 9, many leading dieticians began to publicly demonize sugar. My father embraced this rhetoric and cut almost all sugar out of his diet. As members of a family of three, it was difficult for my mom and I to have a separate meal plan entirely, and so we went along with his judgment and embraced an almost entirely sugar-free (and excitement-free) life. Only when my father was absent could I savor the poison that I enjoyed so much, occasionally managing to sneak a piece of leftover chocolate mocha cake from the freezer. The frosting would be frozen solid, and the sponge more like a brick, but the adrenaline rush of stealing a treasured family treat and enjoying a virtually illegal substance in my household made the quest worthwhile every time.

When I was 10, I was on my way to perform in San Francisco when I heard of my grandfather’s passing. I tried to ignore it as long as possible to focus on my choreography. Compartmentalizing my sadness shut me down emotionally, and I couldn’t properly grieve, not that day nor for a long time afterward. I remember very little from that day, except returning home with a knot in my stomach. I remember laughing at my mom, perhaps in a feeble attempt to remain happy or uplift my family during a time of grief. I remember the slices of cake eaten in silence, providing comfort that none of our words or actions could.

When I was 11, my parents celebrated 20 years together, a testament to the power of love and compromise. A table layered with multiple gargantuan sheet cakes, vaguely reminiscent of a top-secret research facility’s campus from above, was the pièce de résistance at their anniversary party. As decades of friends came together to mark this milestone, the cake that has been in our family lore and celebrations for almost as long was there to celebrate alongside us. 

The comforting sourness of cream cheese frosting often greeted me after grueling dance performances. The heavy layers of chocolate sponge helped calm my nerves and put me to sleep the nights before my first days of middle and high school. When I say that this cake was a permanent fixture in every major moment of my life, I truly mean it.

Even today, a chocolate mocha cake from 2019 sits, untouched, in my grandmother’s freezer.

None of us are sure when or why she bought it. But after the closing of the bakery, it turned into an heirloom of sorts. Perhaps it remains there not because we will ever eat it, but as a reminder of the power that this cake had over our lives. Not only is it nostalgic, but it carries the weight of a thousand laughs. Maybe it’s so hard to consume the last of this cake because we are so attached to its existence. It was the ideal best friend we all yearn for, someone who could comfort us in pain, bring us joy when we were suffering, party alongside us, and amplify our celebrations.

Goodbyes are hard, and this cake was family. In all honesty, it still is. From its icy abode, it continues to watch over us, in grief, in joy, and in celebration. 

Akhil Joondeph can be reached at

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