Once when I was a small child, I got to have cake before dinner. My parents and I were visiting relatives in Michigan. Since we didn’t make it out there more than once a year, there was always a year’s worth of birthdays to celebrate. There was too much cake to be eaten for dessert, so the grownups decided it should be served before dinner. I ate every triple chocolate morsel on my plate. Grandma secretly let me eat the sugar flowers on top of her slice. She remarked, “Now I probably shouldn’t be doing this,” just before handing me the floral confections. I remember this so vividly because cake before dinner had never happened before, and it hasn’t happened since. I couldn’t have been older than five.
Then when I was in kindergarten, my mom won my school’s bake sale raffle. The prize was the cake contest winner’s creation, which looked like a pool table. It was topped with gumballs and used wafer crackers to line the edges. The next year, determined to win the $15 cash prize, she created a heart-shaped layer cake with the top layer cocked to look like an open box of chocolates. She even stuck Whitman’s Sampler chocolates in the exposed bottom layer to give it the full effect. That year she won. I was so proud.
I was raised to be a cake fiend. I distinctly remember an incident when Halloween cupcakes were waiting to be consumed after lunch in a box on the kitchen countertop. I pulled up a stepstool when my mom wasn’t around and, in my young mind, very slickly skimmed some frosting off the tops, leaving the plastic skeleton decorations intact. Mom realized what I had done and punished me by withholding lunch, which was canned tomato soup. I hated tomato soup, so the tradeoff was worth it.
I got an Easy Bake Oven for my 6th birthday. It emerged from the box cracked on one side so my mom and I drove to the toy store to have it replaced immediately. With my birthday falling just after New Year’s, the store was still inundated with holiday returns. The lines were long. They didn’t have a replacement. “But it’s her birthday!” my mom pleaded with the sales associate, pointing at me. They didn’t have a special stash of Easy Bake Ovens exclusively for birthday girls in the back, so we left without one and I had to wait another week.
Imagine my disappointment when that first chemical-laden vanilla cake mix warmed, but didn’t bake under the glow of a 100-watt light bulb. I hear the modern Easy Bake Ovens contain a true heating element. Kids today will never understand how hard we had it. I tried making a pizza and some chocolate candies as well. They were all inedible. So is it any wonder that now, over twenty years later, I’m still working on improving my cake skills?
Cake is a special thing. Its simple, four-letter name is like poetry. Just like family, it’s a staple at birthdays, weddings, and holidays. And when someone goes to the trouble of baking one for you, it is no small gesture. So that’s why I’m spending 2012 elbow-deep in cake flour, because cake is one of the great loves of my life.