Cake decorating in the parking lot… But of course.

Well, it’s been just about 4 months, and the pain and humiliation have dulled enough for me to tell you all this horrible story.

One day, a friend from work asked me to make a cupcake cake for her granddaughter’s first birthday. It seemed like an easy enough request. So I baked, I frosted, and I photographed:

pink cupcake cakeThe next day, I got up and loaded everything in the car. It promised to be a long day; after the 45 minute drive to drop off the cupcake cake, I was headed up north to Wisconsin for my college roomie’s bridal shower. Along with the cake for my coworker, I had 75 individually bagged cookies to bring to the shower. (It was a busy night of baking the evening before and I now realize I never even took a photo of the flower cookies for the shower. Some of them are pictured here in this photo I took to remind myself “Goodness I’ve baked a lot of things today:”)

IMG_5313I drove away from the house with a spring in my step and a song in my voice. The cake sat securely next to me while the cookies were spread out across the backseat.

As I drove, I noticed that the cake was wobbling to and fro a bit. Nothing abnormal, and to be honest, I was secure in the cake’s internal structure. Three layers of cake made up the green base. Three other layers of cake were then set on a cake board, which was then placed on top of the green layers. With five thick straws holding up the pink section, and a wooden dowel rod going through both layers, I thought it had more than enough support.

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About 20 minutes into the drive, a small crack appeared in the side of the green frosting. I momentarily freaked out, but, remembering the cake was for a friend, I knew she wouldn’t mind if I popped into her kitchen and used a spatula to fix that little crack.

Ten minutes later, and the crack had grown. Hugely. I began to drive with one hand holding onto the base, trying to keep it as perfectly horizontal as possible and trying to minimize bumps.

Suddenly, I felt something on my hand, Something heavy. Something that felt like frosting. Glancing quickly at the cake, I let out a high-pitched shriek as I fumbled between driving, catching the cake, and righting my newly arrhythmic heartbeat. The top half of the cake, the pink half, was literally sliding forward. I managed to pull the car over with my left hand just as I caught the top of the cake with my right hand, stopping it just before it fell clear off the bottom part. I sat there in stunned silence, my hand halfway shoved between the two sections of cake. Slowly, I lifted up the pink half of the cake, and the disaster beneath cannot adequately be described in words:

IMG_5343I wish I could say that I scrunched up that cake to make it look worse for the picture, but unfortunately, I did not. It literally fell apart.

I got out of the car, still holding the (intact) pink half of the cupcake, and had no idea what to do. So naturally, I called my mom. And though she is excellent at providing emotional support, she was unable to provide assistance to her daughter who was standing sobbing in the Mariano’s parking lot on a drizzly Sunday morning with half a cake in one hand and the other half spread across her front seat.

I tried to collect myself. I removed the cake base with the messy green bits and put it on the floor of my car, and then set the pink half into the large circular pan. I stood there in the parking lot, using approximately ninety thousand Starbucks napkins that I have amassed over the years (I KNEW they’d come in handy some day!) to wipe off the buttercream that coated my entire arm. Between sniffles, I devised a plan.

I took my tear-stained face into Mariano’s. “Can I help you?” said a concerned worker. “I just need, um, plastic cutlery, and some paper towels. And water. And a plastic bag,” I answered with a hiccup. The gentleman showed me to the aisle and then, I assumed, went back to call the authorities.

I took the supplies back to my parking space and squatted next to the car. Handful by handful, I tossed chunks of cake and green buttercream into the plastic bag. I dampened some paper towels and then attempted to wipe off the frosting around the edge of the cake base. Wetting fondant is not a good idea because it causes it to get sticky and it also leaves a sheen, but it was better than leaving the green everywhere, I thought.

Once the base was sort of presentable, I put the top of the cake on the base. I stood up then and placed the cake onto the trunk of the car. (I can’t frost in a squat.) Initially embarrassed with the glances of Sunday morning shoppers, I now stared at them haughtily, my chin up and my hand tightly gripping my plastic spoon-spatula, eyes just daring them to make a comment: “What? You looking at ME? Haven’t you ever seen someone decorate a cake on the trunk of a car with a crappy plastic spoon before? Geez. Keep shopping, folks, nothing to see here.”

IMG_5345Adding to the overall stress was the fact that, of course, I had promised to bring this cake over by a certain time, and not only would I now be late for that, but I was risking being late for the bridal shower. Which I had the party favors for.

When I eventually arrived at my friend’s house, she oohed and ahhed and graciously reminded me that it was “a smash cake for a one year old. Don’t even worry a bit.” And after showing her the pic of how I had helpfully pre-smashed the green layer for the kid, I went on my way.

“Technically,” the moral of the story is:
Do not taper the edge of a cake in so much. Especially if you’re using regular fluffy cake instead of firm pound cake.

However, the MUCH MORE IMPORTANT moral of the story is:
Only make cakes for kind people who are nice to you if you mess up.

Have you ever had a cake disaster? Or any disaster in the kitchen? Tell me about it in the comments below. It’ll help my self-esteem.

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What? You Don’t Iron Outside in -50ºF?

Like most Midwesterners, I spent the majority of the past week inside the house. The Polar Vortex had landed, and there was no escaping its icy tentacles.

I knew that something interesting was going on with the weather because our local weather-people had become increasingly impassioned with their predictions. The weather segments grew in length until the 10:00 news was mostly weather with a sprinkling of “other.” Though they attempted to conceal their excitement for the imminent danger, I could see the flicker in their eyes. A Polar Vortex, I assume, is probably like a weather-person’s Superbowl or Academy Awards- exciting, watched by everyone, and talked about around the watercooler the next day.

It was into this frostiness that I decided to insert myself, my ironing board, and my cake. Having been cancelled at work, I had a leisurely morning where I made a nice little round cake with some pretty blue and purple orchids. I managed to take a semi-acceptable photo of it while inside, but then I realized that I needed a long photo to serve as the “cover photo” on the home page of this blog (it has to be cropped to a certain pixel size). No matter what angle I tried, I could not get a photo that worked properly.

Screen shot 2014-01-23 at 7.20.37 PM(The problem is that the required size for the cover is extremely narrow, which makes the photographer have to back up quite far in order to fit the entire subject in the narrow area.)

I heaved a sigh. I can make and decorate a cake in less time than it takes me to photograph. I can probably fetch the hen that would lay the egg that I will mix in the batter in a quicker time. When I try to take a photo, I become obsessed with angles, lights, shadows, and the like. And the funny part is: the photos generally still look like they were taken by a ten-year-old with a plastic camera. To those of you with gorgeous photos of food on your blogs: how do you do that?

So I searched and searched the house, walking through room after room, looking for a surface that would provide a white background. I finally came back to the kitchen and gazed dejectedly out the window. And that’s when it hit me: I needed a white background, and nature had provided 12 inches right under my nose.

It takes someone really special to volunteer to go outside on a day when all people were directed to stay indoors. But never one to let Mother Nature interfere with a good photo, I grabbed supplies and bundled up. orchidsnow3

My first idea was to put the cake on a teal piece of fabric set atop a rubbermaid. Out I went, and immediately my nose hairs froze. Afraid to breathe, for I was sure they would all crack off, and they must be there for a reason and I didn’t want to lose them all at once, I tried to breathe through my mouth. As I inhaled, a spear of icy fire went down my windpipe. “The nose is better,” I grimaced, and resolved to take slow even breaths so as to minimize nose hair loss.

I carefully set the cake on the rubbermaid, and immediately, wind blew the fabric onto the cake. (“Ahh, the wind chill,” I nodded knowingly, “I should have guessed it would be windy out here.”) I moved the fabric back again but it blew back to cover the cake once more. So I took off the fabric and laid it in the snow. I shoved a spoon in each corner to hold the corners down. Immediately two edges blew up again and the spoons sank into the snow. (Side note: have you ever dug for two pieces of metal in a foot deep of snow in -50º? I don’t recommend it.)

orchidsnow1It seemed as if there was only one option left: time to grab the ironing board.

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Fabric pinned down, cake set atop, and…it didn’t work. I couldn’t get the angles right. And you know why? Because I couldn’t see anything. Why? Because my glasses looked like this:

orchidsnow2(That’s not regular fog- it was ice.)

Fingers frozen, vision lost, and nose hairs all but gone, I grabbed everything and hustled back inside. And wouldn’t you know it, as I was taking off the boots, the teal wall of the laundry room caught my eye. “Seriously?!” Muttering to myself, I set up the ironing board against the teal wall and snapped away.

Here’s the cropped, final version:

DSCN9361And the uncropped version:

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If I ever win the lottery, I’m hiring a photographer.