Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Birthday Cake Love

About a week ago I read Eggbeater's post about sinking cakes. Sinking is an adjective there, not a verb (though the image of a line of cakes being submerged in a bathtub amuses me). The post was full of useful information about why cakes' middles sink, and things to do to avoid this--all useful stuff. But what especially got me was the idea of having a relationship with a cake.

So that was running through my head last week as I baked Pavel's birthday cake. Pavel loves cakes of all kinds--fancy liquor-soaked layer cakes filled with nuts and dried fruits, rich chocolate cakes, pastry cream filled hazelnut tortes are some of his favorites. But he also is happy with a chocolate iced yellow cake. Which was a good thing this year, since his birthday caught us all in a bit of a time pinch.

But even though I was making the simplest of all yellow cakes (Flo Braker's 'Signature Yellow Cake' from her book Baking for all Occasions), I decided to work towards having a relationship with it. That meant taking it slow, and listening to the cake. It also meant coddling the cake a bit, and thinking about it ahead. Onto the counter went the butter, eggs, and milk to come to room temperature.

Flour was weighed and sifted. Pans were readied, the oven preheated, eggs separated. When it was time to put the cake together, I let the butter take its time to cream, and then let the sugar cascade slowly into the batter. The eggs followed, oh so carefully--4 tablespoons at a time, as per directions.

Once it was time to add the dry ingredients and the milk, I stepped it up a bit. Early in the relationship there's plenty of time to enjoy one another. Once the dry ingredients meet the wet, you've got to take advantage, and stay in charge.

After getting the cake safely into the oven, there was time for me to lick out the bowl (it might be Pavel's birthday, but hey, I was the baker) and set up the racks. Sadly, as in many a relationship, my eye wandered a bit. I forgot--just for a second--about my cake, and let it bake a couple minutes longer than I should have. That meant I was in no position to fault it for its homeliness. A little dowdy, it was, a bit misshapen. But who am I to talk?

In the best relationships, partners look past one anothers occasional foibles, loving the other for something a bit deeper. In this case, it was six layers of happiness. In the end, if I (or my husband!) can't forgive a birthday cake its imperfection, what chance do the two of us have?

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