Cakes are my culinary Waterloo

One of the many talents I do not have is that of baking and decorating cakes. Even though I was a Home Economics Education major. Even though I took an adult-ed. class in cake decorating. It just didn’t take. I have deficient “understanding cake” genes.

My made-from-scratch cakes always seem to be a little heavy, even if follow directions to the letter. Not wanting to put all the time and and resources into something that doesn’t taste good, I am happy to let Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines do the work. šŸ™‚ My favorite combination is devil’s food chocolate cake and chocolate fudge icing. Just in case you ever need to know that.

Even with boxed mixes, and mixing the exact time the instructions say, my cakes come out a little wonky. Last night we were having a fellowship after church (and when Baptists fellowship, there is food. :)) Last week was one of the busiest weeks ever, and I did not have the time or energy to come up with a really nifty dessert. I keep a box of brownie mix on hand for just such an occasion. I was putting the ingredients together while talking with my oldest son when I noticed the instructions to mix on low speed for 30 seconds, then on high for two minutes. “Wait,” I thought, “you don’t mix brownies that way.” I turned the box over — and saw I had a cake mix instead of a brownie mix. I looked through my cupboard, but there was no brownie mix in sight. Oh well, I thought, it doesn’t have to be fancy. I also had a container of dark chocolate fudge icing (and I had picked that up accidentally — I don’t usually like dark chocolate. Here was a chance to use it up!) It doesn’t matter how it looks – if you serve chocolate at a Baptist fellowship, it will get eaten.

Well, my 13×9 cake came out looking like a gently sloping hill in the middle with a valley all around the edges, and the outermost edges curled over like sea waves. How does it do that? How do you prevent that? (I really want to know!) I put frosting on it, and as I tried to spread it over, it kept peeling off the outermost layer of crust and mixing crumbs into the icing (someone with a similar problem must’ve been the person who invented crumb cake). I finally got it all together, and thankfully when I dropped it off on the dessert able, no one was there to link me to the cake in question, so I maintained my anonymity. After church we talked to a few people and then got into the line for the dessert table. When I got to my cake, 3/4 of it was gone, but it looked like a toddler had gotten her hands into it — cake and icing was all jumbled up. It looked like it had fallen to pieces as someone tried to cut it. But after the fellowship when I went to retrieve my pan, it was empty. And that, of course, is the measure of success at a Baptist fellowship. šŸ™‚

If the cake itself is a disaster, the decorating is worse. Here is one sad early attempt:


They were supposed to look like little muppets. I had seen the idea in a magazine. I think the idea was to bake cupcakes, put one upside down on top of another one (and probably glue it with frosting), cut out a little wedge for the mouth, then put little dollops of white with a mini chocolate chip in the middle for eyes. It looked so cute and easy in the magazine. How could it go wrong? Somehow it did, and they ended up looking like swamp monster babies left out in the rain. Unfortunately this was for Jeremy’s second birthday, and though he didn’t care, we had invited friends over. There was no back-up plan, so I served this spectacle. They were very kind about it.

Even store-bought icing in those little tubes doesn’t work for me. I’ve had my writing “run” using that stuff, and once when using one of the pouch-like frostings, it seemed like it was awfully thick and hard while I was trying to squeeze it out — and then it burst a hole in the side of the pouch, squeezing out in uncontrolled ways that I couldn’t use for writing. I have pictures of a couple of those kinds of cakes just to commemorate the birthday (and one particular birthday I wouldn’t even let anyone take pictures of the cake!) But I won’t humiliate myself by posting those.

Why am I telling you this? I don’t know. Maybe someone needs a laugh. šŸ™‚

When the kids were little we bought those candy cake decorations you buy in stores. I devised a few alternate methods, like this with M&Ms:


(If you have any any other alternate ideas, I’m all ears!)

There have been times I’ve shed a few tears in frustration over my lack of ability in this area. But ultimately I decided just to accept it. We generally only have cake at birthdays, which is only 5 times a year. My kids don’t care what it looks like as long as it tastes good (the advantage to having all guys!) If we’re inviting anyone over for the birthday in question, I’ll order a cake from the grocery store bakery. If I send cupcakes for one of my children’s birthdays to school, it will just be frosted simply with some sprinkles on top. When we have our annual cake contest at church, if I enter at all, I’ll serve to make others look good. šŸ™‚ And I’ll concentrate my culinary efforts where I do have success, like cookies!

22 thoughts on “Cakes are my culinary Waterloo

  1. Too funny and yes, thank you for the laugh. I liked your muppets though and your m & m decorations. Because of my sons food allergies, I have to make his birthday cakes (without wheat, eggs or milk) and I am also not a cake baker or decorator. Just not my thing. I usually use the icing to cover the fact that my cakes sink in the middle. Everyones piece has a big glob of icing as it gets closer to the middle. I should probably take a class, but I don’t think they have allergen free baking 101. Sounds like everyone liked your cake at church anyway. I always keep a box of cake mix on hand too…just in case.

  2. Barbara, sorry, but I did enjoy reading this. Thanks for the laugh! I was not at the fellowship last night, but now I know to look for your cakes at future ones! Don’t feel too bad, though. I feel like I am losing my cooking touch these days. With working full-time now, I wonder what in the world I used to cook, and when I do cook, it seems I am all thumbs – I spill things, cook things over, forget to put lids on crockpots(!), forget to turn the oven on, etc. It’s awful! Thankfully, the family is pretty forgiving. Have a great week!

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  8. šŸ™‚ I remember seeing those little green cupcakes in another post. I still think they’re cute!

    One of my favorite cookbooks is ‘The Cake Mix Doctor.’ I don’t try to make cakes from scratch anymore!

  9. Barbara, this post makes me feel so much better! I love to bake but I, too, can’t seem to make a decent cake to save my life. I have recently decided to blame it on my pans šŸ˜‰ My cakes always rise too high in the middle. Or I try making a thin cake in a jelly roll pan that I want to fill with frosting or ice cream and roll it up, but the pan kind of warps when it gets hot in the oven, making the batter slip all to one side, so one half of the cake is high and the other is burned. My husband always requests a cake for his birthday that his mom used to make; you make two layer cakes, split each one of the layers in half horizontally using dental floss, put whipped cream between two layers and chocolate frosting between another. Well you can imagine, for someone who starts out with two warped layers, how consistently terrible this turns out. My family has taken to calling it “the ugly cake.” And the last year or two, I have managed to weasel out of making the ugly cake because I just couldn’t face it one more time! OK, sorry to vent, but like I said, I am really relieved to discover I’m not the only one with this sad cake problem. If you come up with any solutions I’d love to hear them. And my best decorating tip is just to get a jar of multicolored sprinkles and cover up that puppy as thoroughly as possible, so no one will notice all the warping and the crumbs sticking out of the frosting :0

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  14. I’m so glad you included the link to this on my Flashback post. What funny stories! I think everyone has at least one thing that stumps them in the kitchen. Mine is drop cookies–you know, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, all the “ordinary” kind? Mine always flatten impossibly and run into one another. Oh well!

  15. OH BARBARA! I totally get this. My MIL makes cakes…for weddings and anything. I, however, do not, though I refuse to buy one. She has told me that homemade cakes frost easier, but I still struggle just to spread it.

    I like your little Kermit Swamp Monsters.

    This will be our first year with THREE birthdays within a week. I intend to make cupcakes and freeze them…bc there is NO way I am making (let alone eating) three cakes in that week of birthdays. I will also talk them into ANYTHING but cake for school, bc I can make cookies so much better than cake!

    Your green gravy really made me laugh. Thanks for sharing your own kitchen bloopers!

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