Ancient History

Descriptions of a Poorly-Turned Out Chocolate Cake Made for a Great Kid

Yesterday was Ryley’s 15th birthday. As he’s grown older, his tastes have simplified from outlandish cartoon-inspired cake toppers to this year’s request: A simple chocolate cake. He briefly mentioned having a Colorado Driver’s Permit-shaped cake, but I gave him a shocked look and he quickly understood it would exceed my skill set. Plus, it’s not street legal. I’d like to see a police officer’s face when Ryley is pulled over with a cake in his lap. It was easily decided chocolate cake with chocolate frosting would be awesome.

I’ve made some cakes I’m rather proud of. I’ve had some duds. But I never thought a chocolate cake would almost make me cry. I think the only reason I didn’t weep was because as I frosted it, I amused myself with metaphors.

The frosting was adobe, glue, spackle, gilding, cement, mud, sludge, paste. Usually, the job of frosting is to complement the cake, be a platform for decorations, and to add textural interest. Yesterday, it’s job was to hold the cake together, like casing holds random pig parts seasoned with oregano in the shape of an Italian sausage.

The cake was dirt. It was the compact of dark brown eyeshadow of a salty veteran Vegas showgirl. It was the cowpie of a aged heifer.

But they tasted okay. Of course, I sampled the frosting for quality purposes. As a spackle, it was spectacular-tasting. The cake was good, too. I took a few of the chunks left behind in the pans and gobbled them angrily. The rest, I pressed into two 9-inch hockey pucks.

I positioned the ugly cake on my grey stand, looking like a Floridian sinkhole, minus the gators and Mickey Mouse.

Sigh. Do you know how hard it is to frost lumps of cake crumbs and gaping holes?

My husband called after receiving a very unhappy text from me regarding the aberration. So, Ryley’s other cake was born at the Target bakery, purchased by my husband after work. When you don’t order a cake, you are stuck with what they have. He called and gave me the rundown of what was available on a Wednesday evening: Florals, Denver Broncos, and whimsical winter themes.

Guess who was presented with 24 cupcakes pressed together to make a googly-eyed earmuff-wearing penguin?

When Ryley saw it, he laughed and wondered what was wrong with the cake I made. I showed it to him and he shrugged. Looked okay?

I saw disaster, he saw sugar baked in honor of him turning 15. I wanted to present him with something he’ll always remember and turned out producing something I’d rather forget. I wanted to make something as great as him. When I bake cakes for my kids on their birthdays, I hope to show them they inspire me. I love to make them smile, grant wishes, create memories.

I will forever strive to make a cake that matches how I feel about them, which might sound weird. There is no such cake on earth, though. God with sous-chef angels could make such a cake, but he hasn’t manifested in my kitchen wearing his “Bow to the Cook” apron.

I wrote “Ryley” in 4th-grade cursive on the penguin’s belly and “15” on the frosting feet. But I put the candles on the ugly cake. Ryley blew them out, except for one, in a mighty smiling blast. When we began to serve the cakes, he asked for the chocolate cake. I sliced a wedge that had a hole in it. My husband added two scoops of cookie dough ice cream. Ryley dove into it, declaring it so rich, so good, OMG, thank you mom.

The little ones chose the cupcakes because it was a rare chance to eat earmuffs. But everyone over Beatrix’s age wanted the cake I made. After I served them, I considered the penguin. I considered the chocolate cake. Ryley is a trustworthy kid. His opinion carries weight. I sawed off a wedge, asked for vanilla ice cream, and sat.

It was delicious. I could think of all kinds of metaphors and descriptions for things that are not pretty to look at—a disaster on the outside, but exceptional on the inside. You know, those glories reserved for inspirational posters hung in principal’s offices. But I was kinda busy swooning.

The screw-ups and shortcomings we all know and hate and love can hide pure, noble aspirations. It would have been a massive shame to toss that cake, as I considered doing. I would have eaten a penguin foot, probably the “5”, and been okay. Ryley wasn’t the only one who got gifts on his birthday.

15 Candles

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