Milestone Monday: Birthday Cake Disaster
I failed Home-Ec in junior high. Well, didn’t fail, but I did get a D on a lot of my projects.
My first week on the air as the morning anchor in Omaha, Nebraska, we had a cooking segment. My scripts caught on fire. On live TV. I didn’t realize the stove top was that hot.
So it’s no surprise that I have never been very good at most domestic things, especially sewing or baking. Give me a vacuum and some rags though, and I’ll blow you away. I actually enjoy sweeping my floors. My obsessive behavior of picking up crumbs–that made me so loony I had to seek professional help–still gives me great pleasure. (But not obsessive. There’s a difference. Sometimes I challenge myself to look at the same crumb for days in a row. I smile when I walk past it knowing I’m the boss of it and not vice versa. Yes, I anthropomorphize crumbs.)
So why oh why did I think it was a good idea to bake a cake for Fia’s birthday? Honestly, I wanted to do it with her. I thought we’d have fun writing things on it and placing the candles just so. I wasn’t thinking about how it would taste or what it would look like. That’s part of not being domestic. Those things don’t cross your mind.
It did, though, when we were 30 minutes out from people arriving, and Phil walks in the kitchen. The whole place, along with Fi and me, are covered in cake crumbs (chant chant…they’re not the boss of you, they’re not the boss of you…) and chocolate frosting. None of the snacks were prepared. I hadn’t showered and even if I had, I’d need another one.
“The cake looks like it’s brain-damaged,” Phil says, aghast. His mom is known for making these super-elaborate birthday cakes. Trucks, buildings with pillars…anything her kids were obsessed with at the time of their birthday, she’d make into a cake. I see pictures of them every time I’m at their house. I am always in awe. And curious of how hard it can really be. You know they say men marry their mothers…um, except my husband.
“How did I marry the anti-Martha Stewart?” he asks, looking around at the disaster. “And remind me again, why didn’t we just buy a cake?”
He thinks I was being cheap, but honestly, I really wanted to do this with Fia. And we had fun, though I’m not sure it was worth it. We could have had just as much fun watering the lawn…and not ruining it.
Here’s where everything went awry. I didn’t realize when you have two round cakes, you put them together by first cutting off the tops to make them flat. Or put the rounded side on the bottom of the plate.
I popped them out of their pans, and iced both tops, which were the rounded ones. Like two little hills. When I went to “glue” them together, there were these huge gaps. It was like two weeble wobbles trying to hump each other, but not being able to reach because their stomachs got in the way. Does that make sense?
Phil told me right then and there that he would go to the grocery store and buy a cake. But I refused.
“No, I just need two more containers of frosting and I can fill it all in.”
“Jill, there is no way you can fill all that in with frosting without sugar poisoning everyone. You could fill it in with Reddi-Whip though.”
“I’m not using Reddi-Whip,” I said indignantly. “That stuff is so fake tasting.”
“And a cake out of the box is what??? Gourmet????”
He had a point.
“Fine, get the Reddi-Whip, but also get me frosting.”
When he left, I decided that if I could somehow get the flat bottoms to go together, then I could pull this off. So I started flipping the cakes onto plates to try and get the flat side face up. If you can envision at all what I’m saying, you know it didn’t work. Because then both flat tops were facing up on plates and I couldn’t plop one on top of the other from a plate. So I slid it. Yes, I grabbed a cookie tray and used two spatulas and slid it on top. Fia was at the counter watching me wide-eyed as the cake began to break apart.
“Fia, mama can do this. I know I can,” I said, sweat dripping from my brow.
Silence. Even she had her doubts.
Somehow I managed to get the flat sides together and only lost about 1/3 of the top. When Phil came home, I grabbed the frosting and used it as glue to piece it together. Then I coated an entire other layer on and handed Fia the gel icing things.
“Go to town, honey. This is your cake. Happy Birthday!”
She looked at Phil, who was standing there armed with Reddi-Whip. “I’m not putting that on the cake,” I said. He sighed. “Okay, I have to get out of here. I can’t watch anymore.”
Fia took the reigns and began to squirt. About 30 seconds later she was done. Our project was complete. 30 seconds of semi-fun, a deeply defective cake, and a giant mess.
We had a few of her friends and parents over. I poured the champagne nice and full. I told them the story so they had zero expectations. But I will admit, I was honestly embarrassed when the cake came out. I didn’t even eat it. Fia only licked the frosting. And most people just took a bite or two.
Oh well, I tried. Next year I’ll buy a cake and just stick to cleaning.
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