For about the last six months, Maia has been telling me almost daily what she would like her birthday cake to look like. I am not a hugely artistic person, but I can draw a little bit with frosting, and the kids get cakes with their favorite Yu-Gi-Oh! character or a unicorn on it.
"Mama," she would say, "for my birthday I want a ooey-gooey butter cake for the family party, and I want a white cake with chocolate frosting and a pink, you know, around the edges, and pink polka dots, for the party when my friends come over."
Seriously, it was almost daily. Until it got to the point where I asked her to stop telling me that unless she changed what she wanted, because it wasn't likely that I would forget what she did want.
On her birthday, I made the butter cake as requested, and because we had no birthday candles (NICE, MOM), I stuck a match in it for her to blow out. Which, yeah, is a little sad. But she didn't seem to mind.
Maia's birthday-party-for-friends was scheduled for Halloween day. The flu was raging around here in a major way last week, and on one day 20 percent of the students were absent from the elementary school. Figuring some kids would call in sick, we invited a few more than usual, and of course everyone was healthy. TEN KIDS were coming over for her party. TEN!
On Friday, I cleaned through one of the worse head colds I've had in a while. My last chore of the evening was to get her cake out of the oven and into the fridge for thorough chilling before I decorated it in the morning. Maia was malingering on the couch in a funk born of a Halloween party at school gaining possibly more attention than her on her birthday, and also battling a head cold. I got up to check the cake in the oven, opened the door, smelled it, and came back to the couch to sit with her, and I said, "Aaahhhh....doesn't that cake smell good?"
"Mama?" she said in a small voice. "Did you make a chocolate cake?"
"Yup," I replied.
"Because..." and here her voice got all Cindy Lou Who and her eyes had violet shadows because of the cold, "...because, Mama, I had wanted a white cake. With chocolate frosting."
Of course she had. Of course she had. I knew that. Obviously I knew that, because she had been telling me EVERY DAY for MONTHS. And I made a chocolate cake from scratch anyway. What the hell was I thinking?
"Is there any way" -- I spoke slowly, because I knew what the answer was going to be -- "that a chocolate cake would work? A chocolate cake, with white frosting?"
"Well," she said, honestly considering for a moment, "......no. I'd really, really like a white cake."
I got up early the next morning -- yes, the day of the party! -- to make a white cake with chocolate frosting. I put the chocolate cake in a Ziploc bag in the freezer for some other day. And I decided to save time and make the white cake out of a box.
I have an egg allergy, so if I want to eat some of my children's birthday cake, I have to make it from scratch without eggs (and there are good recipes to be had). But this was too much; I would sacrifice my cake-eating to convenience and make a cake from a box with eggs in it.
The problem is, either I completely forgot how tender a cake with eggs in it is, or cake-mix-makers assume you're going to be lazy and put it in a 9"x13" pan. I mixed up the mix and baked it and it smelled fantastic as I was finishing up the cleaning and game prep and the worrying. I got it out of the oven and cooled it thoroughly. I took one cake out of the 9" round pan, and put it flat side down on the cake plate and frosted the curved top. I took the other one out and put it curved side down on top of the other cake, which is what I learned from Mom and 4-H in order to make a nice, flat-topped cake.
But the cake began to break.
I'd never seen anything quite like it before. As I started to -- gently! -- frost the top cake, it uncannily broke into quarters, thusly:
What the? Here's a view from the top. I starting to panic a little bit here.I tried to prop it up with toothpicks, but it was so tender and moist it just slid back down again. Did it rise too high? Is this how eggy cakes act? Why was it doing this?
Get ready to say "oh no you di'n't" so I can say "HELL YES I DID": I decided to turn that bad boy over and put the misbehaving cake on the bottom where it couldn't cause any more damage. I scraped off the frosting I had already put on, then flipped the whole thing. The new top cake started the break a little bit too, but some extensive and fervent swearing on my part put a stop to that in a hurry:
This, I knew now, was going to be an ugly cake. It was already and ugly cake and it wasn't going to get much better. I stuck it in the fridge, where I felt like it was lurking at me every time I opened the door:
After the chocolate frosting had cooled and set a bit, it was time to "decorate" the cake. I put "decorate" in quotes because there is nothing I could do to make that cake look good except maybe attach $100 bills to it with pink frosting. So I gamely put the "pink, you know" around the edge and polka dots all over it, and decided a giant lucky 7 down the middle would be just the thing to cover the gaping rift down the cake's prime meridian.
It was not my proudest cake moment. But it was covered with frosting and that was good enough for the kids.