The One About the Cake
August 22, 2006

I think my exact words were, "I'll make the damn cake."

I was helping MFC* plan her sister's** baby shower, and there was talk of buying an expensive, made by a wedding cake person type of cake. Having at one time been the official "baker of cakes" for my friend's birthdays, I figured this would not be a daunting task. However, making a cake for 6 people differs slightly from baking a cake for 25-30 people. And which recipe was I going to use? The mom-to-be requested chocolate, and my favored cake recipe of the moment is for yellow cake. What about frosting? Cream cheese? Buttercream? Gradually, a plan fell in to place.

About a week before the shower, I ordered an edible cake decoration photo thing from ebay. You order the shape you want, e-mail a picture, and they send you back and edible sheet to stick on your cake. The info on this decoration said that buttercream frosting worked best. That solved the frosting question. Also, it needed to be light in color so the picture was visible. This narrowed down flavors of icing (vanilla, or possibly almond). A couple days later, my mum came through with a chocolate cake recipe she had used in the past that was a big hit. The recipe was for a round layer cake, but we figured it wouldn't be a problem to put the whole recipe in a 9x13" cake pan. If I made a recipe and a half of cake, that should be plenty. And I'd cut the cake in half to make it a double layer, and maybe even add filling. Eveything was going to be fine.

Friday night, grocery list in hand, I went shopping for everything I'd need for cake. I went home, dusted off the Kitchen Aid, and started reading the first steps of the recipe, "Grease pans with shortening." I suppose I could have used butter, but it tends to burn. I didn't want to get in the car again, so I decided to walk down the block to the liquor store, crossing my fingers that they'd have Crisco. Have I mentioned how much I love my corner liquor store? I walked back home, Crisco in hand, thinking how great it is to live walking distance from a well stocked corner store.

I finally get cake #1 in the oven, and 23 minutes later, it was done. I pulled it out of the oven and it looked good. Ten minutes later, after it had cooled, things weren't looking quite as good. It was not the beautifully tall chocolately cake that I had pulled out of the oven. It had deflated to half the height it had been. Had I cut this thing in half to make a layer cake, the layers MIGHT have been half an inch tall. I was going to have to make 3 whole recipes of this cake. Two recipes to make one full size layer cake, and one recipe to make a half size layer cake (I would cut it in half and stack the pieces). I checked the butter situation, and another trip to the store was in order.

At this point, making twice as much cake as I thought was not my only problem. The decoration I had ordered for the cake had not arrived. It was the night before the shower, and I had nothing to decorate the cake with. While I was at the store buying more butter, I picked up some tubes of frosting. If the decoration didn't show up in Saturday's mail, I was going to have to do it myself.

Late Friday night, I had all 3 cakes done. I would frost in the morning. I had to leave the house at noon, and by 11:30am, I was frosting the full size cake. The decoration had still not arrived. To say I was a little bit stressed was an understatement. I set to work drawing a bee on the cake (the shower had a bee theme). Have you ever used that frosting in a tube? I hadn't, and I quickly discovered that it's hard to work with. I was putting all my strength into getting that forsting out of it's tube, and it felt like I was pouring molasses through a hole the size of pin prick. I managed to get the bee shape on, and then started mixing the tube frosting with the leftover buttercream to thin it out. I had planned on writing "Congrats!" on the cake, but it wasn't going to happen, so I improvised, using a "bee trail". I put the cakes in the car, and headed over to the shower.

I was worried that the cake wasn't going to taste good. I had tried some pieces from the edge of the half size cake, and they tasted okay, but not spectacular. I could end up serving 25-30 people the most bland chocolate cake ever. I became even more worried when it turned out that one of the guests was a pastry chef. When it came time to serve the cake, I hid in the kitchen. I could sneak out the front door, and nobody would notice. Turns out, I didn't have to. Everyone loved the cake, and even the pastry chef gave me kudos.

A photo of the cake is here.
This is what the edible image was supposed to look like.

* My Favorite Cousin
** My Other Favorite Cousin



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© Whitney Brandt-Hiatt: All writing, images, and photogrpahy are the property of Whitney Brandt-Hiatt unless otherwise noted.