Blog Making a Life

A Kitchen Disaster

Grandma with her dog, Monte

It was the anniversary of when my mother-in-law came to live with us. When reminded of the fact, she said, “Do you feel as good about it as I do?” To which, of course, the answer was, “Yes.” And since happy celebrations call for a cake, and my mother-in-law likes any cake as long as it is chocolate, I set out butter to soften while I turned to the making of breakfast. I was delighted with my early start because the sun was out and it promised to be a beautiful day. I was eager to soak up some sun on this early, spring-like day.

The chocolate cake was to be frosted with Seven Minute Frosting, a cooked frosting containing mostly sugar and egg whites. Years ago I read that you could add half of a cup of chocolate chips to the frosting, at the last minute, and the chips would melt, still leaving you with a light, fluffy frosting…only it would be chocolate! Prior experience with this method taught me that the frosting broke down a little bit after the chocolate chips were added, but it hadn’t been a problem. I had frosted several cakes with this luscious frosting.

Then a few years ago I changed the brand of chocolate chips I was using in favor of better ingredients, producing a better chocolate. But the change wreaked havoc with the frosting, drastically changing its consistency. I had vowed that never again would I add chocolate chips to the frosting.

But that was then, and this was now. Remembering my past success, slackened my resolve. I reasoned that perhaps I hadn’t measured ingredients properly, or maybe I hadn’t assembled it carefully enough. Surely, I could do better now. In fact, I wouldn’t use chocolate chips at all. Instead I would cut up part of a Belgium chocolate bar. Through carefully measuring and process, the cake would be covered with lovely chocolate fluff.

My patience was tried while I checked the clock every few minutes as I stood over the stove holding the hand mixer over the double boiler containing the fluffy white frosting. Time dragged by as the frosting had reached full volume long before the full seven minutes ticked by, but I had remained firm…I would make no mistakes. When the time came the chopped chocolate was added to the frosting and beat just enough for the little pieces to melt. Now to frost the cake.

Two round chocolate layers, were quickly sliced in half to create four thin layers. First layer on the cake plate was topped with my chocolate frosting, it was a little less voluminous than what I had pictured, but it was there. The next cake layer was added, along with more frosting, then another layer.

Hmm, spreading the frosting on top of this layer, was more difficult than I had anticipated. Though I was carefully spreading the frosting, the layers were sliding. I would finish putting this together very quickly. The top layer was added, topped by more frosting. And now, quick, it was time to frost the sides. But the layers were slipping to the side. While frosting one side, I attempted to push the layers back up to a straightened posture…then quickly moved around to the next side to repeat the process. But that side now looked like it’s layers were terraced. Oh dear, that meant one thing, the other side needed pushed back up. In fact, this process had to be kept up…on all sides. How many sides does a round cake have, anyway?

The frosting was so thin that it wouldn’t hold up to the cake properly and was squeezing out the sides. Turning the cake around again, looked like some huge growth was on the side of this mound, for mound was now a better description for what sat in front of me.

This was horrible, and I realized that it was not going to work. I couldn’t serve this. This did not look like a celebratory cake that said, “I love you,” unless the baker was less than 10 years old or had never made a layer cake before. Neither of these categories could I qualify for, so this cake would have to go. My daughter said, “But don’t get rid of it because we’d still like to eat it.”  So I scraped up the cake and put it into a big bowl, announcing that I was never again going to add chocolate to that frosting. And this time, I really meant it!

Looking at the disaster in the bowl, my thoughts turned to one of my sons who had spent a day and a half in the hot attic installing electrical wires. Crawling on his belly and in other precarious positions, breathing in insulation, was not pleasurable. He was delighted to declare the job done, and he threw away his insulation filled pants that were worn and torn through the process, continuing to itch from insulation even after his shower. The next day he was doing some reading and he make the discovery that wasn’t too pleasant. The way the wires were installed was not “to code”! Always very cautious, he knew that what he had done was safe, but still, it wasn’t to code. The miserable job was not done after all! His heart sank. Internet searches and further discussion proved that the work ahead could be remedied more quickly than first thought, but it would still mean more misery ahead in the attic.

I realized that we both had a mess to fix. Mine was much more quickly remedied. And perhaps this mound of a cake could bring a little cheer to the wiring occasion at hand. I picked up a BIG serving fork and asked my son if he could fix my mess too. A smile spread out on his face as the fork plunged into the cake while he asked what happened. Others eagerly joined him in laughter and in taking a few bites.

Then it was back to the mixing bowl…graciously washed along with all of the other utensils I needed by one of my daughters who was eager to see me outside enjoying the sun. A new cake was baked and frosted with a beautiful WHITE, chocolateless, fluffy frosting. The four layers did not slide out of position. This time chopped pieces of Belgium chocolate were used to garnish the top of the cake and more chocolate was melted to garnish the outer edge and sides of the cake.

Set on the center of the table, one of my sons observed it on passing by and commented, that it was beautiful. I suggested it was better than the first, and he said, “Well, it looks better than the other one.” For truly, the first one, though a mess, tasted delicious. A few hours later, it was delightful to over hear one of my daughters say to her siblings, “Have you seen Mama’s cake? I can’t wait to eat it.”

It was a cake to be proud of…at my age and with my cake baking experience. And I think my mother-in-law could see that it said, “I love you.”

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1 Comment

  1. This is such a beautiful depiction of dealing with setbacks in a positive way.

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