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Caking Baking 101

Ilina figured she could make a lovely cake. Guess again.

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Ilina Ewen
Ilina Ewen

The first time I ever baked a cake was for my friend's thirtieth birthday. I was hosting a surprise party and thought I could whip up a special cake with ease. I used a boxed cake mix. I mean, that's what everyone did, right?

The only cake pan I owned was a 9 x 13 pan. So much for frosting and decorating a lovely layer cake. I fussed over that cake, determined to make it special for my friend's birthday. The cake, after all, was to be the centerpiece of the table. I was a decent cook so I was confident the evening's spread was going to be pretty good. The table was set, candles aglow around the house, Brown Eyed Girl played on the stereo (This was 12 years ago, mind you.).

I put the cake on the table.
Guests gasped.

Oohing and aahing ensued.

My cake was atrocious.

Because my pan size was too big for the amount of batter I made, the cake was more a dense brownie than a fluffy cake. I had no frosting prowess or patience so bits of crumbs floated about in the frosting. In order to salvage the disaster I set forth decorating. I covered the cake in cinnamon candies, sprinkles, licorice strings, candy hearts, and what-nots. It looked as if one of Willy Wonka's oompa loompas barfed on my cake.

It tasted worse than it looked.

Even after I plied my guests with alcohol.

I didn't bake a cake again for many years. In fact, my friends begged me not to.

Lessons learned:

  • Proper equipment matters.
  • Boxed mix is neither easier nor better than anything from scratch (I've learned this recently.).
  • Don't take shortcuts when the directions say to let the cake cool completely before frosting.
  • Cake decorating is akin to applying make up; too much can be ghastly.
  • Bakeries exist for a reason.

Fast forward 12 years.

My baby boy is about to turn five. I've turned a corner and learned a lot over the years. Crazy food coloring creeps me out (Has anyone's kid had weird blue poop after eating black frosting? 'Nuff said.). While I love frosting, the shortening-laden phony stuff doesn't cut it. I'll be baking my son a homemade cake. Or maybe cupcakes. It won't be fancy. It's won't be a Ninja theme. It won't be the most convenient option.

But I'll bake him a tasty cake from scratch that will elicit oohs and aahs nonetheless. I'm thinking a double dose of chocolate. And if it stinks, I can always run to the bakery.

Ilina is the Raleigh mom of two who writes about food here every Wednesday. You can always find her on her blog Dirt & Noise.

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