Saturday, February 12, 2011

Heart Shaped Cakes and a Fear of Frosting

Two years ago I tried to make a heart cake for Valentine's Day.  I thought it would be relatively easy and not too messy, but still tons of fun for the kids.  I began armed with a boxed cake mix, a can of frosting, and some heart shaped sprinkles. Everything went smoothly until it came time to apply the frosting. In a matter of minutes my beautiful, moist, heart-shaped cake turned into a big blob of frosting and crumbs.  Fortunately, my kids didn't care what the end product looked like.  They raved about how delicious it was and how much fun it was to make.  I was not as satisfied.  After a little research, I learned that cakes made from scratch are more dense than cakes made from mixes, which makes them less likely to dissintigrate when they come into contact with a novice froster.  I also learned that frosting made from scratch is thinner than the kind sold in a can and is, therefore, easier to spread without ripping the cake to shreds.  Who knew? 

I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and that failed heart cake made me swear off cakes for good.  Until now.  I'm usually not one of those people who spouts a bunch of nonsense about facing and conquering your fears before jumping off a tall bridge with only a big rubber band attached to my ankles.  I'm pretty sure that fear is what keeps us alive a lot of times.  But this is a cake for crying out loud!  It is time I conquered my cake decorating fears once and for all!  Besides, my kids need to work with some recipes that require a bit of precision and a gentle touch.  Measuring and folding help to develop fine motor skills and my kids could definately use the practice.

Several years ago I learned that baked goods made with buttermilk are much more forgiving than their counterparts.  (Thanks Mom!)  So we will be using a recipe for buttermilk cake out of my Joy of Cooking cookbook.  Lately I've been determined to get my daughter, Abby, to work on her reading.  It drives me crazy that she doesn't believe that she can read when I know that she can.  So, with the patience of Job and the iron will of the Hulk, I began by having her read the title of the recipe: Buttermilk Layer Cake.  She started out a little intimidated by the number of letters in buttermilk, but once she got past that monster word, she read the last two with confidence.  Whew!  That was easier than I thought.  The next thing that I want to start teaching her is how to read measurments, and then how to translate those into the various sized cups and spoons I have in my drawer.  We definately need work in this area.  She read 1 1/2 teaspoons as "11 and 2, so 13 teaspoons".  I'm thrilled that her math skills are intact, but that much baking powder would have produced an inedible cake!  It took about 10 minutes to assemble all of the dry ingredients.  I had visions of my kitchen being covered in a fine white powder, but she managed to measure everything without flinging any of it across the room. 

Although Abby was engrossed with the beginning process of making this cake, she lost interest after the dry ingredients and flitted away to play with her Barbies.  I think she found the reading and math lessons a little too much like work and not enough like play.  My 3 year old son, Eli, was happy to take her place.  This changing of the guards isn't as easy as you might think.  Abby is a 6 year old girl who can happily and quietly play with Pet Shops and Polly Pockets for hours.  Eli is a 3 year old boy who not only has the attention span of a gnat, but whose movements seem like a cross between an elephant and a hummingbird.  In order to accomodate that attention span, I need to mentally switch gears in the time it takes to change out their stools.  The key to working with little boys is to always have a task for them.  As long as they are doing something, they are able to be somewhat still and focused.  So, I get Eli started unwrapping butter sticks.  Not only is he busy, but he is working on developing those fine motor skills.  As soon as he is done, I have him throw the butter in the mixer and get him going on cracking eggs.  Oddly enough, most kids are able to crack an egg on a counter top without smashing it to smitherines at a pretty young age.  It's the separating of the shell from the insides that presents problems.  I'm not yet ready to work on this particular skill with my son.

Once the mixer is going, it's easy to keep Eli focused by simply having him keep an eye on it.  He's actually very good at answering questions about color and consistancy.  "Is it the same color as the inside of a lemon yet?"  His excited voice answers back, "Yes, mom.  And it's getting bigger too!"  This would mean that the butter and sugar have creamed until fluffy and lighter in color.  The hardest time to keep his focus is when we are alternating adding the buttermilk and the dry ingredients.  At this point he can barely keep his wits about him as he is just waiting to lick the spoon.  Amazingly, Abby reappears at the very moment I'm ready to pour the batter into the cake pans.  She wants to lick the spoon too.  I had thought to do some instruction about the proper way to evenly separate the batter into two pans, but since I don't actually know how to do that other than by eyeballing it, I sent both kids off to entertain their younger brother.

Our hectic lives prevented us from finishing our project.  Both cakes are safely wrapped and waiting to be frosted tomorrow.  I can still feel a twinge of fear when I think of cutting these cakes into the shape of a heart and trying to gently encase them with frosting.  But, today was such a success that I'm able to push it down and move forward with confidence.  As a dear friend once told me, sometimes you just need to do well at something you don't find too difficult before you can tackle something that's a bit harder and a bit scarier.  You see, baking the cake was never the problem for me, it's frosting the cake that scares me.  And even if I end up destroying that cake tomorrow with my heavy handed frosting abilities, I'll probably give it another shot next year.  Although I'll probably look into covering it with whipped cream instead or butter cream!

No comments:

Post a Comment