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Let 'em eat cake

Posted Thursday, June 28, 2007, at 4:10 PM

In the eyes of my 3-year-old, my cake decorating skill is unequaled. He's sure Food Network will be calling any day, now.

For his third birthday (actually, any day would have been fine. It's just that I said 'yes' when his birthday rolled around) he wanted a Lightning McQueen cake. Sure, I thought. One quick phone call and I'll arrange it. A perfectly decorated cake would be waiting at the bakery at the designated time.

Then I made my first mistake. I didn't make that call. Instead, I mentioned the idea to my friend.

"You know," suggested my friend, you can get cake pans actually shaped like that car.

I shook my head. Don't get me wrong, I can whip up some fantastically tasty cuisine -- if you can get past the way it looks. Let's just say judges would probably fork over a negative score in the presentation category.

After a bit of persuasion on the part of my friend, Mistake No. 2 occurred. With the birthday boy tagging along, I spotted the cake pan in the store. So did he.

So I told myself, "Look. It has complete instructions. You can do this."

I bought the pan. I bought the cake mix. I bought powdered sugar for the frosting and I bought food coloring. I held up the checkout line while my friend went back to get the cake decorating bags and tips.

Determined and confident that I was prepared and capable of pulling off this new culinary feat, I went home. My husband met me at the door.

"What is that!" he asked, knowing full well what it was and probably wondering if the smoke detectors in the house were in good working order.

I told him of my plan and he smiled, shook his head, and walked into the living room. He's seen me try and fail at such efforts before.

"I can do this," I said, smiling. "I know I can."

My older son patted me on the back and said, "Keep telling yourself that. I've got some money if you want me to go to the store later."

"What for?"

"You know" he said, nodding his head knowingly toward the cake pan.

I brandished the pan over his head and he made a quick exit from the kitchen, joining his father in the living room.

I went straight to work, carefully greasing and flouring the pan, preparing the batter. I even pre-heated the oven, which I never do but I'm told it's important when you're trying to make food that looks as good as it tastes.

"This isn't so hard," I told myself as it baked. It baked. It cooled. I flipped it over. Half of it fell easily from the pan. The other half clung to the pan like a monkey on a branch hanging over a nest of crocodiles. "I can save this," I thought. No, I couldn't. The remainder came out in several pieces. Another cake would have to be baked. Older son was delighted. He got to eat the warm, delicious, fresh cake. He prefers it without frosting, anyway.

"It tastes great," he said with a wink.

I was already working on cake No. 2. More shortening. More flour. Another batch of batter. This time, I cooked it longer, waiting until it pulled visibly away from the sides a little more than the previous one had. This time, the cake fell, almost whole, from the pan. Only Lightning's little headlight stuck stubbornly to the pan's surface.

OK. I could cover that up with frosting.

The pan came with a recipe for buttercream frosting, which I prepared according to directions. I placed it in the decorating bag, and pressed some through the tip attached. It oozed slowly into an unrecognizable glob. Too thin, I surmised, so I added more powdered sugar until it was nearly too thick to stir.

That worked better. I mixed colors. I dotted on hundreds of little stars. I ran out of red frosting, so Lightning's paint job became a bit modified. Anyhow, a sinkful of dishes and about three hours later, I was finished. Lightning wasn't flat on the bottom, so there was a bit of uncovered cake around the edges I couldn't get to. Later, my friend told me that you're supposed to frost the sides, down to the plate first. Hmm. Good to know.

The next day was the big day. My husband said, "Looks pretty good." My daughter eyed it suspiciously and wondered if I'd actually done it myself, but seemed impressed that I had. The birthday boy couldn't wait to eat it. It was the best third birthday cake he'd ever had.

Next year, he wants a Thomas the Tank Engine cake. We'll see. How 'bout a "Blondie the blank, flat, slightly lumpy white-frosted Box?" cake? I'm pretty sure I could do that. Yeah. No problem.



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Lynn Wade
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Exploring the obvious and the not so obvious in search of the oh, so elusive "something to do' that's all around us.
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