I started my dessert-making adventure five years ago. I remember vividly waking up on a Saturday, having nothing else to do and deciding to bake a cake. As a naive 13 year-old, I thought to myself, “How hard can it be?” I thought the perfect place to start would be to make a triple-layer red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting– boy was I wrong.
There was one small hitch: my annoyingly neat mother would never let me take out all her pots and pans, and use up all the ingredients for what she called, “a little experiment.” It was hopeless trying to convince her that baking was my calling. Instead, I waited for her to leave for the hair dresser to fulfill my destiny.
It takes her one hour to drive there and back, and two hours to get her hair and nails done. Thus, I didn’t have time to waste– I had to move fast. I skimmed through the ingredient list: flour, baking soda, sugar, oli … OIL?! Could that be right? “Oil is what we use for cooking”, I thought to myself, “definitely not baking!” So, I–an expert in the culinary arts– made the executive decision to half the amount of oil that the recipe called for. This was mistake number one. I kept going down the list and pulling the ingredients out: eggs, vanilla extract, red food coloring… we didn’t have any, but I had found orange food coloring and cranberry extract which I thought could work –this was mistake number two.
With my ingredients in hand, I moved on to step two. I decided that the instructions were simply suggestions and I could take some creative license. The oven was still foreign to me, so I decided that I would skip the whole “pre-heating” thing. The next step was to assemble the cake. The recipe itself divided that step into 5 sections: mixing the dry ingredients, mixing the wet ingredients, putting them together, greasing the pan, and dividing the batch evenly. I, on the other hand, choose to merge all the steps together.
As I poured the ingredients into a medium size bowl, the kitchen counter became covered with sugar and flour. The mess was growing, but that did not stop me. I was in the zone. After pouring in the cocoa powder I looked closely at my batter- the color didn’t seem right. It was too dark. In order to fix that, I could have doubled the amount of food coloring, but in my case, I doubled the cranberry extract. After doubling it once, I was still unsatisfied with the color, so I kept adding more and more until the batter was nearing fuchsia.
I had remembered my grandmother saying that whenever the recipe calls for butter “dobbleit,” thus, even though the recipe didn’t call for butter, I added it in anyways. The issue was, the butter was frozen solid. After failing to incorporate the frozen blocks into the batter by hand, I decided I would place the batter and the butter inside a mixer and let it “do its thing” for a few minutes … and then a few more … and just a few more. After the batter was a milky consistency, I decided it was ready to pop it into the oven. I couldn’t find three uniform tins, so I decided to just use one large tin and cut up the cake after.
After buttering the tin, flouring it, and throwing in the batter, it was time that I faced my oven fears. I slowly turned the dial whilst pressing down on the gas button until I saw the flame. “PHEW”, I thought to myself, “the only thing that could possibly stand in the way of me making the perfect cake, I successfully overcame!”
I did not set a timer, I decided I would just open the oven every few minutes to check on my cake. In the meantime, I began working on the frosting. I thought it was extremely weird to use cream cheese in dessert, so I changed the ratio of cream cheese to sugar, halving the former and doubling the latter. The recipe called for heavy cream, I opened the fridge and knew that if it wasn’t in my eyesight then we must not have it; no point looking any further. I then mixed in the other half of the butter I had used earlier, which at that point was softer and easier to work with. Scared, I tasted it– it was sweet, but looking into the fridge, I saw that I didn’t have enough cream cheese to start over.
I then checked on the cake. I decided it was ready to leave the oven. Although I was not ready to admit it then, I knew deep down I had failed. For starters the cake was bright pink, not velvety red. To make matters worse, the center had sunk, and I had lost half the batter to the sides. It was no longer going to be a triple-layered cake, but maybe I could still salvage it.
I didn’t read the part in the instructions that said to let the cake cool, and so as heat rose from my not-so-red red velvet cake, I took it out of its mold. It was a crumble fiasco, but that didn’t stop me from turning it on its side and slicing it though.
I stared at my crumbly lopsided pink blobs. I was able to move past its appearance and texture, convincing myself that the taste would make up for it. I poured on the frosting. I was met with another unexpected hurdle– there wasn’t enough frosting to cover up all the cakes imperfections. I looked at the clock: five o’clock– my mother would be home soon. I quickly finished frosting and covered the cake.
At the time, although I was disappointed with the appearance of the cake (see image below), I was at least proud of my cleaning. However, at exactly 5:35 pm my mother walked in the kitchen and proved me wrong. She had never been so furious. In the midst of all the mess, I had not tried the cake.
The next day my parents told me I could take the cake to my grandmother’s house and we could all try it there. When dessert was served, I brought out my cake. My brutally honest family told me straight up they were not going to eat that. Although I was bummed, I couldn’t blame them seeing as I didn’t even want to try it. However, my extremely brave dad decided he would take the plunge. After the first bite, his words were something along the lines of, “You have other talents…”
Many would think that after this disastrous failure I would put baking behind me. However, I took that day as a lesson. I learnt that the recipie’s instructions are not merely suggestions, to never to make up quantities, and to never change up the ingredients. But, the most important lesson I learned was to always look interested when my mother told me how to properly scrub down a kitchen counter, or the bathroom floor, or change the lightbulbs, or the importance of always starting your day by making your bed…