One day I baked a cake
One day I baked a cake. Just one day. And I never did again. It was over 40 years ago.
Let me walk you through it…
I was in my mid-teens and decided I wanted to bake my very first cake – alone. I had watched my Mother and Grandmother baking and had assisted for years doing various chores related to cooking. But I was much younger then…enthusiastic about watching the matriarchs whip up apple pie, peach cobbler and other tasty desserts.
Around age 15, I realized (after listening to some of my friends) that I had no real cooking skills. Or baking skills. Or culinary skills whatsoever. I was on a new mission: I was going to start with a cake. My own (boxed) cake. Without Mom or Grandma or any of my family members’ help. I was going in that kitchen and I was gonna ‘lay my thang down.’ It was going to be the best cake ever.
So Mom and I went to the store and got all the ingredients. When we got home, Mom, knowing I wanted to do this all by myself, gave me a few simple directives:
“Make sure you have all your ingredients out before you start, “said Mom. “That way they’re right there and you can just go to mixing and baking.
“Read the instructions right off the box and do exactly what it says.”
Well if that’s all there is to it, I thought to myself, this is gonna be a huge success! If it’s one thing I knew to do, it was read.
I was all set: Eggs. Check. Water (perfectly proportioned). Check. Cake mix (easy…it’s in the box). Check. And so on.
I prepped the cake pan with the flour (just like I’d seen Mom do a hundred times before), turned the oven to 350 degrees, and started mixing my ingredients.
As I poured the perfectly proportioned water into the cake mix, I thought: that doesn’t look like Mom’s; must need more water. In goes another cup. And I’m mixing and mixing and mixing. Hmmm, I think it needs just a little more water. Perfect! Now let’s put this beautiful masterpiece in the oven. Two racks? I’ll just put it on the bottom one; it’s close to the fire…shouldn’t matter that much.
About an hour later, Mom said, “Are you checking on your cake? It should be done by now.”
I told her I had been and often. I had, in fact, been checking on that cake every ten minutes…but it would NOT get done!
“Press your finger lightly in the center and if it springs back up, you know it’s ready,” Mom told me.
Hmmm, seems simple enough. I follow her instructions. For real this time, to the letter. I pressed my finger in the center and it had a funny texture, like a gelatin. Needless to say: it did NOT spring up. Hmmm, must need more baking.
And so it went on…for nearly THREE. MORE. HOURS.
Eventually, Mom said, “Get that cake out that oven!”
So…finally back to actually following directions on the box, I let the cake cool down for about 20 minutes. It smelled soooo good! I was going to have folks talking about that cake for years to come. My family was going to boast about my cake at the next family picnic; I was going to start a little side hustle, taking orders and making money, all because of a simple box cake. I was so gifted.
That’s how it played out in my head but little of that actually happened. Of course it smelled delicious, permeating throughout the entire 3-story house – it had been in the oven for nearly FOUR HOURS! I had even diluted myself into thinking the gelatin-like substance wouldn’t really make that much of a difference as long as the flavor was there. (This was the night I discovered the importance of texture.)
I was so proud of my cake that I decided to serve it to each member of the family, slicing into 2-inch squares and delivering to them personally. I have to admit: I have never known such graciousness until that day. Every member of my household (and there were many) kindly accepted the gelatin-cake with a smile and a ‘thank you.’
…every member except one (because there’s one in every family).
As I approached my youngest brother, he picked up a slice and said, “Why is it so heavy?” I was dumbfounded. Understand this: this was the brother that was an expert at desserts. Not baking them, mind you, but eating them. He knew what was good and we all knew it. His was the opinion I’d waited for since the moment I decided to bake the cake. I knew if he liked it, I was ‘in like Flint.’
By now I’m thinking, What does he mean by that? And before I could process the moment, he uttered the words that are indelibly etched in my psyche, the words that have paralyzed me mentally and emotionally from ever baking another dessert…
“…and it’s so wet! What did you do – give it a bath?”
I was crushed. I felt like the Emperor with no clothes. My secret was out: I could not bake cake and I was not gifted after all.
That cake sat on top of the stove for three days until it eventually dried out due to the summer heat. No one ever complained or brought up the matter after that fiasco. They knew my delicate ego was bruised. (I thought that was thoughtful of them. I have a loving family.)
And that’s the tragic story of the box cake that barely was. I knew my future in the kitchen was over. It’s been 40+ years and I have NOT baked another cake.
I just don’t have three days to spare. (I’m a busy woman.)
If you want to follow a woman who truly has outstanding culinary skills, check out Sherri Williams’ (Logan) Facebook page. This 50+er has changed course in her vintage years, showing there’s always time to follow one’s dreams. A prize-winning culinary master, you will absolutely salivate over her dishes. She’s amazing…and just who I could have become if not for that stupid cake!