This, on a lighter note:
My daughter wants to learn cake-decorating as a hobby, to which end I purchased a book on the subject and various tools of the trade for her birthday last fall. I can make a mean cake, but fall a bit short on icings, so I figured we could learn together and bond in the kitchen, a time-honored tradition of women all over the world. We have discovered that we are in agreement on some very basic facts, to wit: this is harder than it looks, it’s nice to have another person present to blame the failures on, and someone else should clean the kitchen afterwards.
We made a lovely chocolate cake with chocolate icing and glaze (which we snobbishly prefer to pronounce in the French as “glah-zeh”) for Thanksgiving. The recipe for the glaze from her cookbook – written by a Brit, who kindly explains that what she calls “white vegetable fat” is what Americans call “shortening” – is given for a large quantity so that some may be frozen and saved for the next project. All the recipes are written this way, as it turns out; you will have extra of everything. I did not realize this in time. We had dumped our ingredients into the bowl and although it did appear to be a TAD too much for the size bowl we used, we grabbed up the electric mixer and turned that bad boy on. Fancy chocolate glah-zeh all over the counters, cupboards, hell, even the ceiling was involved. Hmm. Well, pour it over the cake, glah-zeh is runny, but will set. Naturally, the vast quantity of icing ran over the cake, the cake stand, the counter and now the floor was involved. THEN we read a bit in the intro of the book about the super-sizing of the recipes. However, this cake was saved in the end by the valiant efforts of my daughter armed with a spatula to scoop away the excess glah-zeh.
Our next effort was to be a lovely little cake covered in fondant and decorated to look like a gift-wrapped present, which my daughter was going to give a friend for a birthday surprise. You can slap me on the ass and call me Betsy, but I really didn’t know what fondant was. It is, for the uninformed, the “professional” icing that is rolled out and smoothed over the cake, creating a “perfect background superbly suited to handle painted-on decor, flowers, or other iced decorations.” It tastes like what you’d expect after reading the recipe – gag – since it’s made of almost 100% powdered sugar. Having cleverly read the recipe BEFORE shopping this time, I had on hand all the ingredients: since we were instructed to double this particular recipe for the cake we were making, this involved 14 cups of powdered sugar among other things. You’d think that would stop me right there. How do you handle 14 cups of powdered sugar? But that didn’t faze me, no sirreebob.
The first step in creating this mythical delectation is to dissolve some plain gelatin in water over a double boiler. Do not let the gelatin boil, but bring it almost to the boiling point, stirring constantly, until dissolved. Hot Knox smells like what it is : horse’s hooves. GGGRRROOOSSSSSS. So I stir and gag until I finally realize I’m all alone in the kitchen. Where’s my bonding buddy? She needs to participate in all the action. So I holler out for her to come take a turn stirring and while I’m waiting for her, I start to mutter in my best Cockney accent (inspired by the smell), “Boil, boil, toil and trouble! Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” [here I start making up verses because I’ve forgotten the lines]. “Eye of newt, bat most foul, leg of lamb dead a fortnight…” From behind me, I hear my 14-year-old daughter intone in HER best Cockney accent, “Shit of cow…”
Maybe I’m just not a good mother, but I thought that was funny.
We rolled around laughing and she got pretty goofy, no doubt egged on by the fact that I had let the “shit” lie – har, har, get it? – saying things like, “What in the hell are we feeding my friends anyway? What IS this stuff, Mom?” and “You can’t SMELL it when you watch the Food Channel..”
We suffered over this fondant, finally figuring out that the recipe had not called for enough water; clouds of powdered sugar rising over the cupboards. 14 cups is, quite frankly, a lot. We rolled it out three different times, since it kept sticking to the counter. We draped it “gently” over the cake, whereupon it “gently” slid down, leaving gaping holes in the fondant which we – not so gently by now, I assure you – tried to patch back together.
“Okay. See, Mom. I. Hate. This. Cake.”
“No, no, it’ll look better when we spray on the color. For real.”
Spray-on food coloring, who knew they made such a thing? Shake it up, aim and spray. Easy.
“Okay. Mom. That smells like paint. It STINKS. What’s IN this stuff?” The smell apparently comes from the third ingredient listed: propane. I am not making that up. My daughter does a pantomime of walking into a room, holding an imaginary cake. “Here, Abby. I made you this…whoops, look at that, it fell RIGHT into the trashcan. Oh, drat! Oh, curses!”
In the end, we pulled the fondant off the cake, covered it in chocolate glah-zeh and ate it ourselves, deciding it wasn’t fit to be seen in public.
In some landfill somewhere is a monstrous lump of fondant, sprayed blue, evolving and growing and who knows? – perhaps dreaming within itself of the day when it can arise and run for president, perhaps on the Green ticket, and bring hope to displaced food products everywhere.