Thursday was Nora's fourth birthday and in honor of the occasion I decided to bake a cake from scratch for the first time in my life. I've made cookies from scratch and I've made cakes from boxes but for some reason the prospect of making an entire cake from start to finish has always made me nervous. Also, there are bakeries! This is the northeast and you can buy an incredible cake at any of the various bakeries around town and I promise you, it will be a delicious cake. I couldn't promise myself that my cake would be delicious.
I'm one of those people who claims they don't like baking, although it's sort of an unfounded claim because I never do it. The science behind it does scare me, though. Unlike in cooking where if you add too much of this or that, your dish will simply taste too much like this or that, doing the same in baking could result in total failure.
But it was my daughter's birthday and I decided it was time to start expanding my skills. Plus, I was heartened by the commentary in the cookbook I'd chosen, Nigella Lawson's "How to Be a Domestic Goddess," in which the author writes:
"Cake baking has to be, however innocently, one of the great culinary scams: it implies effort, it implies domestic prowess; but believe me, it's easy...You know how to make a cake? You mix a few basic ingredients together, stick the mixture in a pan and bake it."
Yeah! Exactly! How hard could it be? I started out so positive Thursday morning, ready to make the Buttermilk Birthday Cake recipe in Lawson's book. Nora had left with J for school and Gabe was napping. I poured myself a second cup of coffee while I got everything ready. Child's play.
Except. After I'd successfully combined the dry ingredients (realizing halfway through that I didn't have a sifter and was supposed to), I went to crack one of the three eggs I needed to add to the butter and sugar mixture, and somehow it went - instead of into the bowl - all over the counter, a huge annoyance because we have almost no counter space. In fact, that's probably one of the reasons I dislike the idea of baking so much. No counter space for the multiple bowls and pans and raw eggs that go all over because I am a little bit clumsy.
I got it under control, but then began looking for a liquid measuring cup for the milk and realized that there were none to be found. You might think this is weird, but in a house where your husband is an amateur mixologist and also likes to do things like rescue a toad from the driveway, decide it is the new family pet and then then has to capture live bugs for it to eat (OH more to come), sometimes things like measuring cups disappear.
Luckily, I was saved by the cocktail hobby.
Saved, but no matter. I was feeling like maybe this whole thing was a bad idea. This was NOT "implied" effort!
I would finish it, sure, but I would not finish it happily. At that point I was feeling completely stressed.
I soldiered on. I don't want to imply that the experience was a complete disaster because there were definitely moments of satisfaction, like when I made the buttercream icing (the easiest task) and I decided to mix in some raspberries, and then in a moment of extraordinary willpower, I did not eat the whole bowl right then and there.
I love icing.
Most importantly, I finished. I made a cake! It turned out lumpy, very sugary and good.
And pink, which Nora loved.
I feel like having this under my belt means I can only go up from here. Maybe try a new recipe for some other event.
Or say, hey, I did that once, and never do it again. Which is sometimes the very best thing about finally trying something for the first time.