Baking suits me. It’s precise work, where deviating from the recipe is rarely encouraged. My anal, authority respecting personality does well moving from step to step, never once dreaming of substitutions, deviations, or reinterpretations. Consequently, I have always considered myself an above average baker (recipe follower) and have thought so since I was 11 years old and successfully made cheesecakes for a dinner party my parents hosted. I am thinking the last 25 years were just luck.
Today is Nico’s birthday, and we decided months ago that we would celebrate his 2nd birthday quietly at home with dinner and cake. I decided on an egg free chocolate cake this morning to accommodate Mikey’s allergy, and headed off to the store in the pouring rain for the ingredients. Everything I needed was on sale, and despite the heavy rain I arrived home with a spring in my step, eager to bake Nico a cake.
The Mister left to pick up Mikey from school, and I started in on the cake. I thought I would first prep everything, but it all went so quickly and smoothly that I ended up making the cake in record time. At one point, in a terrible moment of dime store novel foreshadowing, I actually thought to myself, I can’t believe how well everything is going. This might be my smoothest baking experience, yet.
I’m so stupid it’s almost cute.
After lunch I started on the frosting. Again, reluctant to deviate, I decided to make the frosting suggested in the egg free cake recipe. Mikey and Nicholas decided to help me, which meant I was relegated to approximately 3 cubic inches of counter space and surrounded by little persons. I had enough room to rest two fingertips from each hand directly in front of the mixer while the rest of the kitchen was a cacophony of mixing cups, crackers, spoons, Hot Wheels cars, actual ingredients for the frosting, and sticky fingers.
Making the frosting didn’t go as badly as one would expect. I quickly settled a land skirmish between the boys involving the right to stand on a chair by threatening to kick them both out of the kitchen and feed them raw parsnips. Mikey did a remarkable job measuring and adding to the mixing bowl 6 tablespoons of cocoa powder, and Nicholas tried to put his fingers in the mixer only once. I considered it a success. That is, of course, until I turned on the mixer.
Perhaps it’s the humidity in the air from all the rain, or maybe I had a problem with the recipe, but the frosting curdled almost immediately and never smoothed out. I let it mix for a while like I’ve learned from other recipes, but the heat from the mixer only melted the butter–something I wasn’t expecting given how cold it can get in a kitchen without insulation. The boys and the Mister thought that despite it’s questionable appearance the frosting tasted great. I felt their desperation to eat chocolate and fat from a bowl dulled their taste buds because a normal person couldn’t muscle their way past that broken texture and find anything palatable. I decided right then to find another recipe online and try again.
I found one that appeared to have the requisite insane amounts of fat, chocolate, and chemicals to guarantee success (Ovaltine? Really?) and set off to the store to buy new ingredients. When I left for the store the sun was out. When I got home it was hailing. Foreshadowing, indeed.
By this point Nico was in bed napping and only Mikey joined me at the counter. You would think this would have allowed me more room to work, but the chaos left behind by the first batch of frosting took up any extra room baking without Nico would have afforded me. I already warned Mikey that his main job would be to stand there and watch quietly. He took that to mean babble incessantly about the various ingredients.
I will quickly interject here and recommend that you never taste blended butter and cocoa, no matter how closely it resembles a dark chocolate truffle, unless you are partial to the taste of fresh asphalt. Also, cocoa powder will burn your eyes if it shoots out of your mixer like a cloud of smoke.
Mikey was trying to sell me on letting him measure and pour the vanilla extract while I grabbed the milk off the counter. I was reading the recipe and dashing Mikey’s dreams of vanilla pouring when I gave the milk carton a good shake for no better reason than I always shake the milk before opening. Except this time I forgot that minutes earlier I had already opened the milk to pour Mikey a glass of milk I knew he would never drink. (He didn’t.) I remembered the milk carton was open about the same time the arc of milk hit the ceiling.
Because he is four years old, Mikey quickly brought to my attention that I had spilled some milk. I thanked him for the observation as I rung out the curtains in the sink and told him his new job was to stand still without saying another word.
I moved on to the heavy cream, which the recipe called for 1 cup. I carefully measured out two cups before realizing my mistake. Thankful that at least this time dairy wasn’t dripping from the ceiling, I said f**k it and poured the extra cup back into the container, vowing to worry about cross contamination another day. I turned on the mixer and was pleased to note this looked much more like frosting, that is until it didn’t.
What was smooth, dark, and glossy quickly turned curdled, murky, and lifeless. It was like watching the evolution of my hairline in the bowl of a kitchenaid. The finished product was something close to thin, curdled pudding. It wouldn’t even stay on my frosting spatula. I suppose I could have added more cocoa or powdered sugar, but by this time I was ready to spackle the cake and call it a day.
So I started frosting the cake. And it went as well as one could expect when trying to frost a cake with soup. Luckily, there was enough ‘soup’ to feed an army so I just kept piling it on, hoping there was a law of physics somewhere that states chocolate particles will stick together when stacked in obscene quantities. Things were actually looking like a strong mediocre (which at this point was my goal) when the cake started to weep like a religious phenomenon. I finished the cake up quickly and put it in the refrigerator in hopes of stiffening up the frosting. Not five minutes later I changed my mind, scared that the frosting would get too cold and start to collect condensation.
Mikey was standing next to me in flagrant violation of the ‘no moving, speaking, or breathing’ rule I imposed 10 minutes earlier. I reached in to grab the cake, not realizing I was wearing a sweatshirt with long, awkward sleeves. Sleeves that I immediately dug into 4 inches of frosting like a backhoe in slow motion. In equally slow motion I screamed, Noooooooooooooooo! and pulled my arms out and away from the cake.
Except it must not have been slow motion because my sleeves flung chocolate as far as the eye could see. And I’m not sure, but I think I must have blacked out and in that time gone back into the refrigerator to reload because it seemed like my sleeves were discharging chocolate like .50 caliber machine guns. The floor, walls, cabinets and refrigerator interior were all hit with chocolate shrapnel.
Minutes later it was over. I stood there spent, cocoa smoke curling from the cuffs of my sweatshirt. Mikey observed that the frosting had turned the milk on the ceiling into chocolate milk. I strenuously advised that he go watch TV in the other room.
Dejected, tired, and wet, I opened the refrigerator and surveyed the damage to the cake. Remarkably, it appeared unscathed. I had piled on so much frosting that whatever my sleeves scooped out was quickly replaced by a mudslide of more frosting. By defying the laws of physics, I had created a self frosting cake. If I wasn’t so exhausted I would patent my technique.
Along with today’s birthday cake, I had planed on making a large batch of comforting soup made with homemade chicken stock, organic vegetables, and warm cornbread made from scratch. We ordered pizza instead.