Bake Like a Literary Hero With 3 Recipes From Emily Dickinson

Amherst College, Flickr // Public Domain
Amherst College, Flickr // Public Domain / Amherst College, Flickr // Public Domain

Poetry wasn’t Emily Dickinson’s only talent. She was also an incredibly talented baker who boasted that hers was the only bread her father would deign to eat. Writer Emily Temple gathered some of the poetry legend’s personal recipes at Lit Hub, and they’re some of the more delicious-sounding historical recipes we’ve come across. At least, as long as you’re willing to crack 19 eggs into a single cake.

Many of Dickinson’s papers are held at Amherst College and Harvard University, and there are handwritten recipes mixed in with the poetry drafts and letters. Unfortunately for us, Emily was a talented enough baker that for many recipes she didn’t need to write down instructions (or even the full quantity of certain ingredients), so 21st-century amateur bakers will just have to muddle through on their own.


Amherst College

Who is Kate? We don’t know. But she seems to have had good taste in breakfast pastries.


1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 ct. yeast
1/2 nutmeg
2 cups milk


Amherst College

She didn’t write the directions for these coconut cookies down, but Dickinson did write a poem. The recipe currently held at Amherst College, labeled as "Mrs. Carmichael's," shares a page with a copy of her poem “The Things that never can come back, are several.” Dickinson seems to have liked coconut quite a bit—she also has a coconut cake recipe in her papers. (In this particular recipe, she may be using the dash marks in the image above as ditto marks to indicate pounds, but it's unclear, since she used dashes quite liberally in her other recipes.)

1 pound sugar
1/2 — butter
1/2 — flour
6 eggs
1 grated coconut


Houghton Library, Harvard University

In 2016, several Harvard librarians took home a prize at the Association of Research Libraries’s first film festival for their video about trying to make Emily Dickinson’s famous black cake. The monstrous recipe ended up making a full 20 pounds of batter. Before you try this one, just know: Like a fruitcake, this cake requires three months of aging in a brandy-soaked cloth before it’s ready to eat.


2 pounds flour
2 sugar
2 butter
19 eggs
5 pounds raisins
1½ currants
1½ citron
1/2 pint brandy
1/2 molasses
2 nutmegs
5 teaspoons cloves—mace—cinnamon
2 teaspoons soda

Houghton Library, Harvard University


Beat butter and sugar together
Add eggs without beating and beat the mixture again
Bake 2½ or three hours, in cake pans, or 5 to 6 hours in milk pan, if full

See more Dickinson recipes at Lit Hub.