I didn’t want to be the mum who couldn’t bake. The problem was, I couldn’t bake.
I have friends who can whip up bread dough or sponge batter in minutes. They are the kind of people who will never experience the panic of seeing an elderly relative pull up in the driveway unannounced on the day before the grocery shop. Once they have a bag of flour and a dozen eggs, they can make the most incredibly tasty things emerge from ovens in a jiffy. I’ve often visited and watched in awe as they poured, whisked and kneaded with ease, while managing to engage in adult conversation, tend to small kids and refill my coffee cup at the same time. This, people, is multi-tasking at its most sophisticated.
Beaten by Baking
Baking was something that had beaten me for years. Cakes would fail to rise, cookies would burn and the kitchen would be rendered a sticky, floury war-zone in the process. I blamed my oven for my failures. How could I be expected to succeed at baking when I had an oven with a mind of its own? So for birthdays and special occasions I either bought uninspiring, generic cakes from the supermarket or spent silly money on an elaborate, edible incarnation of a Minion. Each time, the feeling of failure drove me to binge-eat said cakes. It had to stop. It was time to take the rolling pin by the handles. My innocent, defenseless oven had taken enough heat.
The middle child’s third birthday was looming. I bought a box of pre-made cake-mix (baby steps) and, armed with a giant ball of pink fondant icing and some figurines from the toy box, I tackled the My Little Pony cake she had d̶e̶m̶a̶n̶d̶e̶d requested. On completion it was FAR from perfect. It was bumpy and uneven but the three-year-old was happy and I had saved myself a fortune.
I resolved to actually bake the next one from scratch – a Christmas cake. And I did. It was fruity and boozy and covered with almond and white icing. Glued to YouTube, I managed to fashion Santa’s ass and legs and something that vaguely resembled a reindeer. It wasn’t a total disaster. My mother-in-law (who made our wedding cake) gave it a thumbs up; as good an endorsement as I could hope to get. My confidence was growing so I chanced baking and decorating the toddler’s Christening cake. I made a topper and some little blocks and I could go so far as to say, this time, it was an actual success. And it tasted OK. I was rather pleased with myself.
From Zero to Mediocre
Each cake I’ve made since has gotten marginally better. There haven’t been many; a christening cake for a friend and a double birthday in the summer that nearly pushed me over the edge (the buck and the toddler have birthdays five days apart). I have a post-cake recovery period of around a month, during which the words ‘cake’ or ‘fondant’ or ‘icing’ daren’t be uttered.
A proper baker I’ll never be. My skills are limited and there’ll always be an element of the dramatic about my endeavours with a Kenwood. At present I have a catalogue of exactly three cakes; one chocolate, one lemon and the Christmas cake, none of which are very exciting; all of which are foolproof, clearly. However, with a few key utensils, some tricks of the trade and a bunch of YouTube clips, the mystery of icing a character cake disappeared as quickly as Mary Berry after the Channel 4 buyout. Make no mistake, my creations scream ‘home-made by an amateur, bless her’ but I am proud of my efforts and happy that I tried.
The fourth birthday is now on the horizon and a fairy door cake has been ordered, so next month I’ll be crying into my mixer and cursing my life once again. Stay tuned for a post on that sugary roller-coaster of emotion…
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