When we lived in Chicago, we were spoiled. Our dear friend Sarah faithfully provided us beautiful, delicious professional cakes on every birthday. She still works at the Lincoln Park staple for old fashioned desserts, Sweet Mandy B’s. Now that we live in Albuquerque, we have had to fend for ourselves. For Connor’s birthday in May, I ordered a dozen baseball cupcakes for his T-ball team but was astonished that I had to shell out big money for them like normal people without bakery connections. After that shock, I attempted to bake a cake myself for his actual birthday. His big present was a basketball hoop and ball since he had been using his little kickball for a never-ending NBA game. He even named his ball, “Bally” and probably put it in his will. I dedicated my entire Friday night to that project foregoing my usual exciting night life of painting the town red (aka handing out snacks to the downtrodden on the streets or watching “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” on the couch). Thanks to Pillsbury making it manageable, it turned out great!
After that encouraging victory, I got the idea that maybe I could do it again for my husband’s birthday yesterday. Mike’s favorite cake would probably be one with foie gras and shaved truffles but seeing that he maxed out on those in Paris two weeks ago, I decided to go with his usual flavor of choice, carrot cake. My present to him was going to be a delicious dinner using the squid ink pasta we brought back from Rome and a made-entirely-from-scratch carrot cake. It was going to be scrumptiously fantastic!
I dedicated the entire day to this ambitious project. Plus, my boys wanted to help me with the cake. I love having them help in the kitchen for so many reasons (see Kids Can Cook). However, at the rate they were grating each carrot, I thought we might have the needed 3 cups by Mike’s next birthday. Fortunately, two carrots each and one hour later, they decided pretending to be wrestling ninjas was much more fun.
I faithfully followed the recipe I had written down 15 years ago from a talented baking roommate in St. Louis. I have a feeling this recipe had not seen the light of day since that very moment. It was for a 3-layer cake but having only 2 pans I poured the batter twice and added extra baking time. I guess I didn’t add enough or my paranoid opening the oven door to check translated into two sunken cakes. No worries, I was not fully panicking…yet. I found cake-saving tips online and returned the cakes for more baking time. That might have raised one center a half a millimeter. Then I decided that I could always add more frosting or try cutting the cakes level. Frosting can help hide many things and who doesn’t like more frosting?!
Then after letting them cool slightly, I tried getting them out of their pans to begin planning the frosting repair work. Those bad boys were stuck. Although I had greased the pans, they were seriously stuck. PANIC.
What to do besides affirm that fact that I will never have a Pinterest account? My perfectionist side wanted to throw it all away and spend the boys’ inheritance on a last minute bakery-made dessert. However, it felt criminal to throw away cake! Never! I found biscuit cutters that have probably been as neglected as my cake recipes and found the 2 inches of non-ruined cake in the center. At least the birthday boy would get something that sort of resembled a carrot cake.
That still left a lot of ruined cake. I was able to make two even smaller mini-cakes for the boys and the rest became a pseudo-trifle dessert.
Fortunately, there was only one snafu with dinner. While getting fresh basil out to rinse for the caprese salad, I deafened the boys by my shrieks when a fat green worm fell out. There was a split second when I thought I might still use the basil because fresh is SO much better than dried. I thought a good rinsing could suffice until the boys pointed out what looked like worm poop everywhere. What’s up with your package of fresh basil, Trader Joe’s?! The cause of my cardiac arrest was also the source of the boys’ great pleasure until I flushed their new friend down the sink. Dried basil it is.
The ruined cake results were still graciously accepted by birthday boy. After all, it is the thought that counts. Or at least it usually is for those of us who often face disasters in spite of our best intentions. I have no doubt that Mike enjoyed both homemade cards from the boys. Ethan’s was an impressive 3-D pop-up city card telling Mike that he is the best dad in the world. Connor’s was a basic folded card with “Haqqy Birt day” and “I hoqe you have a grat Birthday.” Not perfect but no less heartfelt and appreciated. I learned not only to try to flour after greasing my pans, but to focus on the love behind my presents even when the presents themselves look like Pinterest rejects. I will keep that in mind next time I make that carrot cake recipe another 15 years from now.