I’m not a good cake baker and I know it. But every once in a while I get inspired to bake a beauty. Why not bake a cake for my son’s 45th birthday? I had visions of how wonderful it would look and, even better, taste. A caramel cake to top all caramel cakes! He and his family are coming in on Thanksgiving night and I wanted this glorious cake–that I had baked!–to crown the evening.
So–I hunted up a recipe that sounded possible for me, none of your soft-ball stage icing or cake that took all day to put together! I gathered materials. I set eggs out to come to room temperature. I measured the milk and had it ready. I sifted the flour and resifted the flour so my cake would be light as a feather. I was amazed at how soon I was ready to put batter in pans. The recipe said pans, not how many. I stood in indecision. I have three pans. Three layers would show off that delicious caramel icing better than two. I made three layers. Mistake number one. I put the layers in the oven and set the timer only a couple minutes short of what the recipe said, since three layers would be thinner. Mistake number two. The timing should have been shorter than that!
The layers came out a little bit crispy around the edges. I wasn’t too worried. Until, with phone under my chin as I worked, I tried to pry the layers out of the pans. One came out perfectly, the next tore all to pieces, and the third was kind of ugly.
I didn’t give up. That may be mistake number three, time will tell.
The icing turned out wonderfully. I was encouraged. But after icing those three puny little layers, piecing the fallen apart one together like a puzzle and wedging it between the better ones, I stood back and knew this was no glorious cake. This was a puny, pitiful cake! What to do? Make another one and add it to the first one.
This time I set the timer for only fifteen of the prescribed twenty-four minutes. Mistake number three (or four!). The layers were nice and soft but showed they were done when I gave them the toothpick test. But taking them out of the pans was a disaster. One came out pretty well, the other two in tender crumby pieces. Again, I did not give up. Mistake number five? I made icing batch number two and diligently worked patching that poor cake to make it stay together. It was sort of like forcing relatives to be nice to each other when they good and well don’t want to be.
I had enough icing to go over the top but not the ugly sides. With pecans for garnish the top really looked nice. The whole thing looked like a combination of the leaning tower of Pisa, a condemned house, and a beautiful crown!
By now it was 9:00 at night. Near to my bedtime. My body felt as if I’d been in a fight all day. My feet were screaming for relief. My brain was shutting down. But I couldn’t give up. When Charles came through the kitchen looking wistful I told him I’d invested too much in this project to give up on it. The only thing left to do was make icing batch number three!
By now I knew the icing recipe by heart but I also had been reminded of how disastrous it can be to be too hasty or, heaven forbid, too cocky, so I carefully went by the directions. The icing was perfect.
Beginning to think of the cake now as a living thing, I lovingly pasted that icing all the way around it. I went around it three times with spatula and icing, creating a masterpiece. It truly began to bloom! Only I know how it’s pieced together inside. If it shows up all those mistakes when we cut slices, I think I will have to laugh. It is the only way out.
I wonder if I’ve learned my lesson. That I should simply buy a cake if I want one. And stick to baking pies. But somehow I think that line my mother used to quote is going to come back again one day and I’ll be at it again. Her quote is, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”