March birthday month started out with a fizzle. My attempt to bake a spectacular cake for Declan did not come out as I envisioned. I was rushed and feeling like I wasn't going to pull it all together in time: the cake, the bowling party, the presents. I put the pressure of the happiness of my child in the forefront of my mind instead of living in the joy of the moment. The frosting I made was a bit too runny and the top of the cake was slightly lopsided. I spread the crumb coat on the dilapidated cake and went to bed hoping that my fairy godmother would arrive in the middle of the night to fix the mess I created.
The next morning, I slept through my alarm. Instead of hauling my tired body out of bed at 4:30am as planned, I somehow managed to get up an hour later. Barely enough time to down at least two cups of black coffee in order to fulfill all my morning tasks including getting the decorations on the cake before leaving for work. I tried to focus on the task but my frustration was already seeping through. I used the frosting that was still too loose, hoping that it would still work. I should have known better- I should have used a recipe. It would be great if I might learn from this experience but I probably won't even remember the next time I get out the powdered sugar.
I placed brightly colored jelly beans in a geometric pattern along the side of the cake and then watched them slowly travel down the soft frosting like skiiers on a mountain slope. By the time Declan got out of bed, I was trying to contain a tantrum over this epic birthday cake failure but when he saw the cake and looked truly happy about it, I decided I had to keep my feelings of inadequacy in check.
As each piece of candy threatened to tumble off the cake, I crossed my fingers and prayed that the whole thing would somehow hold together instead of ending up in an avalanche of sugary mess. I did not share these thoughts with Declan as we jumped in the car and got to school just on time. But the entire way there, I thought about that cake and my failure to produce an outstanding piece of pastry art. As I continued to stew about my crappy cake performance, Declan snapped me out of it with a hug.
"I'm so excited about my birthday!" he yelled as he ran down the hallway to his classroom. He could have cared less about my personal cake drama.
Perfection is my nemesis. Not that any cake I have ever made or ever will make be perfect. But maybe close? Probably not. Later that day, I thought of all the birthday cakes I tried to create over the years. Each time the recipient was so pleased, so happy-even when the Barbie cake looked more like Cinderella in rags than a gorgeous princess and the time my hands were permanently dyed red for three days after my foray into making Spiderman cupcakes. I realize that my failure is really in my own head. After I covered Declan's cake with bright blue peeps and candles, no one else noticed that it was lopsided. All that was left to do was make a wish, blow out the candles and slice it up. When the party ended, there wasn't a crumb left. No longer any evidence of my lack of decorating skill. So I will keep trying. Ava's birthday is in three weeks and I'm sure her request will have me shooting again for unattainable birthday cake perfection.
For a delicious tasting birthday cake, use this recipe. The decorating is up to your own ability.
From the back of the Hershey's Cocoa can:
Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake
(makes two 9" round cakes)
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup Hershey's Cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup boiling water
*1 tablespoon instant coffee
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9" round cake pans. Combine all dry ingredients. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour into pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove pans to wire racks. Cool completely.
*This is my addition to the cake recipe. The coffee enhances the chocolate flavor.
I should have used this frosting recipe from Joy of Cooking:
Quick White Icing
(makes about 1 cup*)
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup softened butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3-4 tablespoons milk
Cream together powdered sugar and butter. add salt, vanilla and milk. Beat until smooth. Add more milk if frosting is too thick, more powdered sugar if frosting is too thin.
* Double this recipe to frost 2 layers of cake.