Creativity Magazine

On Failure & Cake

Posted on the 02 April 2013 by Wendyrw619 @WendyRaeW
the notorious cake

the notorious cake

As sometimes happens over here at our house, Easter got a little—ummm– complicated.   This year, we had the great good luck of Easter falling on the last Sunday of Spring Break, so there was a lot of time to plan for a big and elaborate celebration.  In other words, a complex, multi-part meal.  This year, it was to be Greek.  White fish in tomato and parsley, new potatoes with lemon and thyme, asparagus in phyllo, deviled eggs, Greek salad, homemade pita, spanakorizo.  And of course, there would be dessert.  Lots of dessert.

Saturday, the girls and I got up early.  We hard-boiled some eggs, blew out some others.  Then, we dyed about 50 of them, some with glitter, some wrapped in lace.  They were beautiful, it was fun, but we were starting to flag before it even hit 10 am.  But it was—after all—Holy Saturday, and we had some baking to do.  So, I ran that kitchen like a NASA launch site.  Ruby made the sugar cookie dough and chilled it.  Violet made the chocolate cupcake batter then baked them off.  I made three tiers of a lemon cake from scratch and put them in the oven just as the cupcakes came out.  By the time the cakes were baked and the cupcakes were frosted and decorated, it was 6:30 p.m., and everyone was exhausted.  Despite the fact that  I really, really wanted to press on to frost and fill the cake, everyone else in the family—including the dogs—were starting to give me a wide berth.  This is a sure sign that I have crossed the line between Easter-loving Mama and holiday-crazed maniac.  So, I flashed a tight smile and agreed to walk across the neighborhood for some lovely Mexican food.  A good time was had by all, even if I could not stop looking at my watch.

The next morning, I got up at 4:45 to make the raspberry filling, the lemon buttercream, and the “lemon glaze” for the cake.  It meant more zesting, but that was fine.  I made a cup of tea, prepped the ingredients, and enjoyed a little puttering time on my own.   In the meantime, Ruby came down to frost cookies, followed shortly by Violet, and the three of us were back in the kitchen, bumping shoulders and listening to loud covers from the Glee soundtrack.  Just to foreshadow a bit:  It all goes badly from here.  I made two rookie mistakes:  1. I picked a random recipe off the Internet despite the fact that I have many, many wonderful and trustworthy baking books right on my own shelves.  2.  I chose a recipe for a holiday that I had never tried before.  Both things I would have told my children never to do.

But, anyway, the cakes came out of the pan perfectly even and moist.  The filling, the stacking.  Fine.   But this “glaze,” a crumb coat that was thinner than tap water, did seem to be a bit odd.  It was to go underneath the buttercream.  Rookie mistake number 3: I followed the recipe like a sheep.  I am 46 years old.  I have made dozens of cakes.  I know the basic chemistry:  If you pour a mixing bowl of water over a cake, it gets wet.  Everything runs.  It makes a huge mess.  But, despite those very clear warning signals, I went ahead and tried to “glaze” the cake as directed by the recipe.

Shockingly, the cake, the filling, and the plate got soaked, and it all started to run together.  Raspberry filling started pouring off the cake, over the sides of the plate, and on to the counter.  This is the point in the Easter marathon where—how to put it delicately?—I lost it.  I used every swear word I know.  Some of them, multiple times.  I threw my spatula into the sink.

The girls just stared at me across the counter, saucer-eyed and shocked.  Ruby actually said to me:  Mama, Mama.  Take a deep breath.  (See, they are listening!)  I picked up the plate and was headed for the trash can, but Violet jumped into action.  She grabbed the butter cream and started spreading it on the cake.  Ruby mopped up the sides.  They took all the leftover decorations in the house—noodle nests, peeps, jelly beans—and covered the cake with eccentricity and style.  It was tilted and pink and quirky and delicious.  They laughed.  I laughed.  They told everyone who entered the house the story, and I expect a visit from child protective services anytime now.

But, here’s the thing.  The failure, the swearing, the salvation, will be what we remember from this Easter.   The rest of the meal was delicious, but comparatively dull.  We had a lovely, slow warm day with our family, and they loved the cake.  They adored its idiosyncrasies and professed its tenderness and rich flavor.

I have had other failures—many of them.  But some of them are just too big and painful to look in the eye.  They are either too raw or just plain humiliating.  But, the failed cake, the bad judgment, the repeated rejection of intuition and experience, those are things that aren’t so grave that I can’t examine them and learn from them.  I can remember not to make the same rookie mistakes, I can try to stay calm for a beat longer, I can bring the language down a notch.

But for this year, we will remember the swearing—and then the laughing—in the face of a river of lemon glaze and raspberry filling.  And we will carry the great cake failure forward into the family lore.   And forever now, I will be able to envision Ruby or Violet talking one of their kids off the ledge—No, no, we can fix the volcano.  It doesn’t matter that the paint turned out to be purple.  Take a deep breath.  We can cover it in jelly beans.


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