it’s clever, but is it art? – rudyard kipling

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cake

my desire to bake began when i was just a little girl.

i was beside myself with joy when santa brought me an easy bake oven on my 6th christmas.

i imagined myself cranking out pies and cookies and cakes and cupcakes.

and making my first fortune.

i’d set up my bakery along with my lemonade stand.

and people would flock to my store.

and i would spend my days baking and going to first grade.

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finally came the moment

when i whipped up my first cake.

put it in the oven.

realized it was cooked by a light bulb.

and would take a while.

and everything was miniature.

and each cake would serve a small mouse or two.

and i had no way to buy more mixes to bake with.

and it was a dream i’d have to wait on.

years passed.

and i grew up and continued baking.

using a trial and error method.

and i especially loved to make cupcakes for people.

for any and all occasions.

the brits call them fairy cakes.

and that is the perfect name for them.

you love mexican chili chocolate?

coconut lemon cream?

caramel and pecan?

no problem, i can do that.

i wanted them to be pieces of art.

with flavors, and colors, and designs, and surprises.

all wrapped in pretty little papers.

but they didn’t always look that way.

so.

i decided to take a six week cake decorating class.

i signed up and bought all of my supplies.

 tips, turntables, icing knives, pastry bags, pans, colors and flower pins.

and went to my first class.

taught by a seasoned cake decorator.

my classmates –

were a mother and angsty daughter who had never decorated before.

and three teenage employees of the local ice cream store.

i figured i could hold my own with this group.

homework assignments

were to bake cakes and cupcakes and bring them in to decorate.

my kind of  homework!

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and i imagined myself doing this.

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and this.

but –

once we started mixing the frostings, the icings, the colors

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my area actually looked more like this.

i had color all over the place, under my nails, in my cuticles, it dyed my hands and arms and my frosting got too warm and didn’t mix to the right consistency and i had a hard time filling the pastry bag without it getting all over and had to bite the tip off of it as i lost my scissors somewhere in the fray and i had to change tips to make flowers and edgings and all kinds of things and my book was covered in color and was wet and i clogged the class sink when i had to scrape off my buttercream frosting and start over a few times or so.

and somehow, the mother daughter team excelled.

and were naturals, working in sync like a precision ice dancing team.

and the baby teens perfectly piped their cakes, with nary a misstep.

and i wondered how they did it.

and i noticed the ice dancers preloaded their pastry bags at home.

using the colors they wanted, with the tips they needed, and closed off the ends.

and the teens just chose simple designs and one color and one consistency.

aha! that’s it!

but, as the weeks went on,

i never really got better at the process.

luckily our teacher was very kind and diplomatic.

and she liked my ‘shabby chic by accident’ and ‘evil clown’ style cupcakes.

and we all bonded in our mutual creative endeavor.

and shared stories and laughed a lot.

and i accepted that each week i would leave with a different color of skin.

and when we all made our final cakes for graduation day.

 the mom and daughter and teens all had beautiful cakes.

and when my teacher saw my final cake

(at the top of this post)

she said she had never seen a sheep and dachshund and polka dot cake before.

and it looked like a wonderful piece of art.

and she wanted a picture of it to keep in her book.

to show future classes.

and i was a happy baker.

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 Stories aren’t the icing on the cake; they are the cake!

Peter Guber

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89 responses »

  1. I used to think I could decorate cakes quite well, we aren’t talking royal icing however, just putting bits and bobs on. Yours is gorgeous , how proud you should be for sticking it through and how amazing getting it starred in the book. Well done Beth x

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  2. I think your story takes the cake, Beth, from easy bake to teacher’s picture book.

    Sometimes the wanna turns out to be greater than the can-do, but it’s the stick-with that’s the greatest achievement. And you’ve got your degree in the Wilton Method of Cake Decorating to prove it.

    Way to go.

    What a colorful tale, my friend. I think the final project was art, too.

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  3. I loved the Easy Bake Oven and envy anyone who can decorate a cake. It is an art and I do think your adorable cake at top is testimony to that.

    You had me laughing about the “evil clown” cake and you being decorated in many colors. The competition with the mother/daughter team also was a hoot. Enjoyable read, Beth.

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  4. Your final sheep cake is adorable Beth. Awesome! i’m sure i know why you’re such an excellent school teacher – you’re willing to let yourself be vulnerable. Great story. And i had a passing fancy with easybake ovens myslef. i had a “girl fiend” at an early age who had an easybake, and my parents tell stories of me helping her bake. Ha! I can empathize with your baking experience – I’m terrible at it.

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    • thanks, paul. yes, i think we need to keep trying things in life, whether they come naturally or not. it helps me to understand what it is like for a child to learn something new and is challenging for him/her. i love that you were the baking assistant for your early girlfriend )

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  5. I think your cake is wonderful, Beth! By the way, that’s the first I’ve heard of cupcakes being called fairy cakes here in the UK. We make cupcakes and fairy cakes. I can’t remember exactly what fairy cakes are but they’re not cupcakes. 🙂 Who told you that?!

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  6. There is a store here that is becoming very popular, a place like maybe you imagined yourself owning, called Nothing Bundt Cakes. The cakes are beautiful and incredibly delicious. The service is incredible, a family owned business where I was greeted by the father and two daughters as I walked in the door.

    Looks like you have a nice start. Share as much as you can with your friends, family, and anyone you can. You never know!

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  7. I remember my mother getting all the catalogs of the cute cake decorating items, including the items for the Barbie-doll-huge-skirt cake. This was before craft stores were so easy to get to though. 🙂

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    • thanks denise, and yes, there was something special about those easy bakes. yes, they taste good and as for the decor, there is always someone for everything )

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  8. I am smiling from ear to ear. I worked in a bakery a couple of times and well art was in how can you copy a rose or some one else’s design quickly enough for the store to make a profit. I never did get the hang of making a rose. I think I would buy your cake before any of the others hundreds that might be picked from a store book. Well that’s just because I like to think out of the box. 🙂

    When one belongs to ‘step’ families – there are extra folks to go around. I’m glad that our grands have both sets of grandparents close. And that even if they don’t remember (we have the photos to prove it) they were able to meet one of their great-grandmothers. We are working on trying to get them to meet the other one, but distance is always a problem when elders want to retire to warmer climates instead of being closer to family.

    Yep, thanks – I am 100% me. Maybe even 110%. 🙂

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  9. I absolutely adored your creation and I bet it tasted delicious! The sheep, dachshund and polka dots all went together quite well! Beth, you are ‘one of a kind’ so I would expect nothing less from your cakery experience than this! (Oh, I was so disappointed with my Easy Bake Oven, and no my Mom did not allow me to purchase more of those ‘expensive’ boxes of cake mix either!) Now, I am the ‘queen of cookie decorating!’ Oh, only once a year, though!) Smiles, Robin

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  10. I did manage to do well once in a one-hour cake-decorating contest where Halloween was the theme — managed a bit of a haunted house thing — but mostly my food-preparation styling tops out at slicing the two grilled cheese sandwiches into four pieces each and then arranging the pieces in different patterns. Most of these are squares made by pairing up matching quarters from the opposite sandwiches, crust-end to crust-end.

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  11. This has a “modern day” Erma Bombeck feel to it–a huge compliment, I devoured her books growing up–and was just fun, start to finish. Like your class. I especially enjoyed the part where you showed imagined finished products, versus reality. The acceptance of wildly colored derma was an excellent detail, also.

    You could SO be the next Bombeck…but different…:)

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  12. Aww, what a lovely post. “Evil Clown Cupcakes” — if you ever open a shop, you have a name.
    And your cake looks great; I love cakes with choking hazards! Just kidding. It’s a beauty.

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  13. It is a testament to the beauty of this post that I read it last night. I’m coming back to comment, because I was cross-eyed with sleep when I read it, but I remembered it enough to make sure to come back. I love the cake, Beth. It is a work of art. I’ve always wanted to take a cake decorating class, and I suspect I’d have the same challenges as you. I don’t think I’d come up with something so great, though.

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    • wow, thank you so much, andra. i ended up just enjoying the class and having fun, once i decided my cakes and cupcakes didn’t have to look a certain way, and to see it all as a creative outlet.

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  14. We call them fairy cakes here. Your whole post reads like a wonderful fairy tale of magic. The fairy in training who got it right by dint of imagination and creativity. I’d call that art. 🙂 x

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  15. Great story, and your cake rocked. I have to admit, I thought it was a tea party cake at first, though, the sheep being the tea party and the dachshunds being the chairs. I was chagrined when I read your description, but I thought you might enjoy the other point of view. 🙂

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  16. I have never made a cupcake in my life… It is not a custom here, and even couple of years ago, you couldn’t find anywhere the thing you put the mix in… It is just not our type of dessert, but since the westernisations of all things, cupcakes have made their way to us. It is a shame our delicious food don’t make it’s way over to you…
    Well, anyway I still can’t quite grasp the idea of icing, it means something cold to me, like ice cream 🙂 I would love to try though and I hope I will in the near future (the molds are expensive here)

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  17. I love your cake! I took a cake decorating class, too–with mixed results. My cakes were either awesome or awful–but it sure was fun! I went on to take a candy-making class. More fun. But it’s a LOT of work! Fun post!

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