15 November 2010
The Efficient Baker
The assignment: a first-birthday cake for forty guests, suitable for adults but still smashable by the guest of honor, using Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar as inspiration. Piece of cake (I crack myself up).
Spice cake with caramel frosting appealed to the mom, because she's cool like that. A Saturday afternoon party? The efficient baker knows the smart thing to do is complete the shopping Friday afternoon and bake the layers Friday evening, giving them plenty of time to chill (makes frosting that much easier). You know what else is nice on a Friday evening? Hanging out at Leaning Tower of Pizza with your boyfriend. Two margaritas later, those who know Going40 know that two margaritas = alcohol poisoning. No shopping, certainly no baking. No problem; we've pulled off tighter schedules than this.
So, Saturday morning means an early wake-up call, to the store post-haste, cake in the oven by 8am. But such pretty snow! Much better to sleep in and take a blustery walk down to the coffee shop, reading in the cozy warm window seat. By 9:30am, definitely time to head to the store.
Spice cakes are easy: let the milk and vinegar make sweet 'n sour love for a few minutes while you mix the rest of the ingredients together. Mix everything on high speed using your still-working handheld mixer (foreshadowing) because your stand mixer broke during The Time of Calamity last winter. Two 12-inch pans require a double batch, for those of you playing at home.
While the layers are baking, make the caramel frosting. Caramel frosting should win the Nobel peace prize. Seriously. Spread it around a battle field; soldiers will drop their weapons and start licking the ground. Place a bowl between a warring couple in divorce mediation; five minutes later they're smearing it all over each other, their petty troubles forgotten. Want a lazy coworker to finish a project? Set some caramel frosting just out of reach: job done right, and fast.
The layers have popped out of the pan beautifully, because that's how we roll. While they cool, it's time to make the beautiful cake decidedly more kid-friendly. Out come less elevated ingredients for decorative icing (NEVER eat the colored frosting).
Colors not found in nature. Even more insidiously, the trusty handheld workhorse of a hand-mixer breaks in the last seconds of whipping the frosting. I am now a prolific home bake with no. mixer. of. any. kind. I may as well live in Australia (inside joke for an Aussie-living cook who doesn't understand they sell appliances there, and that at this point in her nascent lovelife that boyfriend will buy her a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g.). On the upside, it's only noon. NOON! Easy. Except that it's time to drive in the wint'ry grossness to Roseville for a music gig. Super fun. But all goes well, and home by 2:30. Plenty of time to somehow stack and frost a big cake and pipe it in a pleasing manner (even though there's no real plan formed in Going40's brain for that). The party's not until 4.
And somehow, for the eight millionth time in my life, I deliver a cake to its intended with minutes to spare. The best moment is handing it over to the friends who are, without exception, grateful, complimentary, and relieved that it doesn't look like total crap. I am always sweating bullets: will the frosting slide? Is the cake dry? Why didn't I add _______ to the filling? And so on. But I'm also neurotic.
Time to enjoy the day! This part I missed, because instead of cleaning up the disaster of a kitchen (one of my cake-baking specialities) and heading to the party, I have a boyfriend who a) owns a house with lots of sidewalks; b) broke his arm, an affliction rendering him useless in many key ways; and c) I totally forgot to break up with before the first big snowstorm of the season. Off I go to shovel. In the meantime, the kid ate a lot of cake. Whenever I bring another child to sugar addiction, an angel earns its wings.
Happy first birthday, Anna. Here's to many more delicious (it totally was) cakes in your future.
Posted by Scott Rohr
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