The Sweet Life
// By Bevin Wallace
After moving to Jackson Hole with her family on a whim, Lindsey Johnson felt unconnected and lonely—until, with inspiration from Wyoming’s natural beauty, she started combining the solace she got from baking with her love of making art.
A California beach kid, Johnson was raised in the surf culture of San Clemente, and she has been in love with art her entire life. “I was always sketching on anything I could get my hands on, whether it was rocks at the beach or drawing in the sand,” she says. After going to school for art and design, she worked in residential interior design for over 10 years. She found herself in Wyoming after her husband was hired by a client to build a home in the Snake River Sporting Club.
Instead of temporarily relocating for the job, the family, including three young sons, moved to the valley in 2016. Johnson admits she struggled with her new life at first. “I’m this beach kid and I’m looking outside and I have six feet of snow in my yard,” she says. “Plus, my kids were little and I was just tired.” Also, she didn’t feel she had the connections to restart her design business. “I kind of lost myself, you know.”
So, she did what one does: she comforted herself with food. Being the daughter and granddaughter of scratch bakers, she felt connected to home and family when she baked. But her cakes, many of which were from favorite family recipes, weren’t turning out as she expected, which sent her on a purpose-filled journey to master high-altitude baking. “I just kept doing it and doing it. And things started turning out,” she says. “All of a sudden, my dry cakes were tasting amazing. And I was keeping track of all these things I was doing. I was like, wow, I’m kind of inventing recipes. Even though I’ve known these recipes, I’m reinventing them and now they’re mine. I was getting excited, like, I’m actually creating something.”
It’s really fun to be able to be creative and spread joy and art to other people through desserts.
The result of this was a blog, A Lady in the Wild West. “At first, it was just supposed to be a baking blog,” Johnson says. “It was a creative outlet for me because I had left my career. It was never meant to be a business.” But her beautiful cakes and cookies caught the attention of social media. Johnson now has a full-fledged business with a popular Instagram account (@ladyinthewildwest) and a full docket of weddings each summer. Her first book, Wild Sugar: Artful Confections by Lady in the Wild West, is coming out in the spring of 2024. “It’s all been a blur,” she says.
Johnson now lives and works on a 20-acre “hobby farm” in Star Valley with her family, 11 chickens, six goats, three pigs, a cow, and a dog. While she continues to work on balancing the demands of her art, business, family, and farm, she loves her adventurous and creative life, for which she gives credit to the place she now calls home: “I don’t think this would’ve ever become my life if I hadn’t moved to Jackson. Living here and having such a close relationship with nature really did awaken this whole part of myself and my soul and kind of made all this happen for me. I know that’s cheesy, but it really is true.”
Bourbon Banana Cake
Makes 1 (4-layer) 6-inch cake
3 large very ripe, fork-mashed bananas
3 cups plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour, spooned and measured
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup minus 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1/4 cup high-quality bourbon whiskey, such as Wyoming Whiskey
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter four 6-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Dust pans generously with flour, knocking out the excess. Set aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).
With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stop to scrape down the bowl. Add the vanilla bean extract. Mix until combined.
Add the mashed bananas. Mix until combined. Scrape down the bowl.
With the mixer on low speed, add half of the dry ingredients, followed by half of the buttermilk. Mix for about 20 seconds, scraping down the bowl if needed. Repeat with the remaining dry ingredients, followed by the remaining buttermilk, scraping down the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the bourbon. Mix for about 30 seconds until combined. Do not overmix. Pour the batter evenly among the pans.
Bake on the center rack for about 25–27 minutes, or until a center tester comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for 10 minutes before turning over onto a wire rack. Allow them to cool completely before frosting.
Bourbon Cream Cheese Buttercream
Frosts 1 (4-layer) 6-inch cake
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
8-oz. block cream cheese,at room temperature
5 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2–3 tsp. high-quality bourbon whiskey, such as Wyoming Whiskey
pinch of kosher salt
In the bowl of an electric mixer, on medium-high speed, cream together the butter and the cream cheese until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the confectioners’ sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing for about 30 seconds after each addition. Add the bourbon to taste, and a pinch of salt. Mix until combined. On medium speed, mix for 3 minutes until light and fluffy.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups turbinado sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1/2 cup high-quality bourbon whiskey, such as Wyoming Whiskey
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla bean paste
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the sugar and stir to combine. Raise the heat to medium-high and continue stirring for one minute. Carefully pour in the heavy cream, salt, and bourbon. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir constantly for 8–10 minutes until the mixture begins to come together and pulls away from the sides. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla bean paste. Pour the butterscotch into a heat-safe container and allow it to cool to room temperature.
The butterscotch thickens as it cools. If needed, reheat to bring back a pourable consistency.
Place a flat-bottomed cooled cake layer on a serving platter or cake stand. Cover the top with a generous layer of bourbon buttercream. Add a spoonful of room temperature (not warm) butterscotch, leaving a 1-inch border around the cake edges (you don’t want the butterscotch leaking out of the sides). Place the second cake layer, flat side facing up, on top of the frosted first layer. Fill the gaps between the cake layers with buttercream. Repeat the steps with the buttercream and butterscotch. Fill the gaps between the cake layers with buttercream. Place the final cake layer flat side facing up. Cover the top and sides of the cake with a thin coat of buttercream to lock in the crumbs, scraping off the excess for a semi-naked finish.
Chill the cake for 20 minutes before adding a butterscotch drip.
To add a butterscotch drip, reheat the remaining butterscotch for about 10 seconds. Stir. Allow the butterscotch to cool slightly, but make sure it’s a pourable consistency. You want it slightly warmer than room temperature. Using a large spoon, pour the butterscotch over the top of the chilled cake, pushing it gently to the edges, allowing it to drip down over the sides.
This recipe is created for high-altitude (6,000–7,000 feet elevation) baking. Lindsey likes Wyoming Whiskey for its warm notes of vanilla, caramel, browned butter, and toffee. JH