How to Cook a Shimmer: Cooking the Books with E. Catherine Tobler

This month, Cooking the Books is delighted to welcome guest cook E. Catherine Tobler. A Sturgeon Award finalist and a cupcake connoisseur, Tobler has Senior Editor at Shimmer Magazine.  Elise asked if we would like to know how a Shimmer is made, and we, of course, said yes.  (previous Cooking the Books collaborations with SF/F magazines include A. C. Wise presenting How To Brew a Bugzine.)

Shimmer Badgers hard at work.
Shimmer Badgers hard at work.

It is a well known fact that Shimmer cannot be found in the wild and does not grow on trees. Shimmer is only brought to fruition through a careful nurturing and monitoring process, which involves practices we are revealing here for the first time. Just as last year we bravely exposed the horrors of slush-reading badgers, we are now opening the door upon Shimmer’s very own badgers, and how they cook Shimmer.

(Please note that all badgers are supervised and wear hair nets while in the Shimmer kitchens. Their paws are washed in fresh spring waters after their hourly romps in the clover meadows. They are never unsupervised while stoking the Shimmer Ovens of Industry. Except that one time, which this article is not exploring.)

Thinking of those badgers who are not free range and do not have access to fluffy meadows, they begin with

  • 1 cup regret
  • 2 dashes of bitterness
  • Cover carefully with fresh saltwater tears. Simmer.

As their thoughts turn to the patriarchy, they toss that jar straight into the recycling bin and then badgers reach for ghosts, and your lover’s heart.

They julienne the ephemeral ghosts into confetti and — Wait. Ghost confetti leads to cake? Naturally it does.


My fondness for cake is well-known, so it is only proper that Beth and I conjure up a Shimmer cake. Something sweet with a boozy edge and hidden depths, much like an issue of Shimmer.

More hardworking Shimmer badgers.
More hardworking Shimmer badgers.

In all my cake explorations, the best basic cake recipe I’ve encountered comes from Deb at Smitten Kitchen. Like she says, it works every time. (I have adjusted the original milk measurement for this one because we’re also adding booze. Of course we are.)

  • 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons of cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt (I find Kosher is best)
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups of milk (whole or buttermilk)
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Up to 1 tablespoon of fresh, grated ginger
  • ½ cup bourbon or rum

Preheat your oven to 350. You can bake this cake as a 9×13 single layer sheet, or cupcakes (22-24 in number), or a 12-cup Bundt. I would not recommend traditional round cake layers for this. The most Shimmery way to build this cake is via Bundt pan, given what we mean to do to it in the end… For a 9×13 pan, or your Bundt, be sure to butter and flour the pan; cupcakes should use cupcake papers!

Sift your dry ingredients together and set aside. In a larger bowl, or the bowl to your standing mixer should you have one, beat your butter and sugar until super pale and fluffy. Add your vanilla, and then the eggs one at a time.

When you add your milk, it’s going to look curdled, but do not panic. Take a sip of your bourbon (or rum), and add ½ cup to the batter. Stir in your lemon zest and your ginger. The more ginger, the more zing; adjust accordingly! Beth says up to a tablespoon is “a good start.”

Add your dry ingredients to the wet in at least three batches, mixing until it’s all nicely blended. Inhale deeply. Doesn’t that smell fantastic? Pour into your prepared pans.

Bundt pan bake time: 40-45 minutes

9×13 sheet: 30-40 minutes

Cupcakes: 20 minutes

Your bake time may take longer, as it depends on your oven and your location! Just check at the lowest time first with a toothpick, and keep adding ten minutes as needed until your toothpick comes out clean.


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup bourbon or rum
  • Juice of your zested lemon or ¼ cup water

Put all the ingredients into a saucepan, and bring to a slow boil. Allow it to shimmer and sputter for 3-5 minutes, and be careful because it’s super hot. (And glorious. Can you taste the glory?)

In all instances, I want you to glaze the cake while the cake is still warm. If you made cupcakes, prick them all over with a toothpick; if you made a 9×13 sheet, prick it all over, too; if you made the Bundt cake, leave it as is: unpricked and in its pan.

Carefully pour the hot glaze over the cake. This is going to take a few passes, while the cake soaks up all that boozy goodness. Cupcakes or sheet cakes will be good to go whenever you want to eat them; the Bundt cake should be cooled for another 30 minutes in its pan, before you put a plate over it and flip it to remove it from the pan.

(You can also make the baby Bundt size cakes if you have that kind of pan; this will make about 9 of those cakes, which are perfectly sized for gifting. To badgers and humans alike.)

E. Catherine Tobler’s most recent book, Watermark, has just been published by Masque Books.  Shimmer Magazine publishes contemporary fantasy several times a year. No badgers were harmed in the production of this post.

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