Birthday Cake
October 05, 2006

For my mom's 60th birthday I decided to bake a cake. This sounds pedestrian, but in our family I cannot say that it has ever been done before. No one bakes cakes. We don't even buy cakes for each other. I felt that this was a trend worthy of an "oh" birthday. 60 seemed as good a time as any to bake. What resulted was a mild comedy and an almost disaster.

I decided I wanted a moist delicious chocolate cake, sans Betty Crocker. I could do this myself. Of course I had nothing by which to accomplish this. None of the ingredients necessary to bake and none of the tools either. I was just that prepared....

The first step was a trip to Target. I purchased a single nine inch cake pan and a hand held mixer. This seemed like the fun part. Who doesn't love Target? It was there I also found my recipe. There was an amazing picture of a chocolate cake plastered to the inside of the pan. And just my luck, they knew what I wanted, on the back of the picture was a recipe on how to create that magic beautiful cake on your own. Yourself, no Duncan Hines. For $5.99 I purchased a pan and a recipe.

The list called for 11 easy ingredients:

¾ cup of butter or margarine
2 cups of granulated sugar
1 ½ cups milk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 oz. melted unsweetened chocolate
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

All of which I proceeded to Publix to purchase, like I said I had nothing by which to bake. I also threw into my cart a multi-colored happy birthday candle, vanilla icing and sprinkles.

All ingredients should be at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

That night, I began the process of baking. Spray 2 nine inch rounds with vegetable pan spray. I didn't have two 9 inch pans. I only bought one at Target, the one with the recipe on it. But the recipe called for two, in order to make both parts of the cake at the same time. I conference in Tom's opinion on what to do. Little did I know this would not be our last issue with the cake. We calmly decide we could do the cake in two parts, separating the batter and baking at separate times.

In mixer bowl cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. I don’t have a mixing bowl. That fact also escaped me. I decide, on my own, that a glass bowl would do. It didn't. It was not deep enough to hold the sugar and butter. I don't think the butter was melted enough either. So rather then achieving a light and fluffy mixture I had clumps of butter coated with sugar. Which honestly is not a bad combination, it tasted pretty good, as I licked it off my fingers. I also had a giant mess, since the bowl wasn't deep enough, the sugar butter sprayed across the counter, stove, sink and wall of my kitchen. After some attempts at cleaning the slimy butter up, my solution was to try the different mixers on my new hand held device. This didn't help the problem. Though in my defense it didn't hurt either. So I moved on, clumps and all.

Add milk, eggs, vanilla and chocolate; mix well. This didn't seem possible given how small and crowded the bowl already was. I couldn't imagine throwing in two cups of flour, three eggs and melted chocolate. Yet I persevered and added the next two ingredients into the chunky mix of butter sugar. All while I began the slow process of melting the chocolate chips in the microwave. At this point Tom comes home and offers to help.

"Can I do anything?"
"Yes, can you make sure the chocolate continues to melt, while I clean up some"

There were still clumps of butter sugar all over the counter and at this point some flour too, as I spilled it when I tried to measure out two cups. I needed to take a wet rag to the whole surface.

I did not notice that he set the chocolate to cook for four minutes.

Well it did not matter that there were 240 seconds of cook time available since about two and a half minutes into the chocolate charring, smoke started to stream out of the microwave. It smelled like hot crap.

Instantly our noses jerked up and we both jumped back and began to scramble. He was so panicked he didn't know what to do first. Looking to stop the timer and trying to end the smoke. Finally, in a moment of clarity, he yanked open the microwave and grabbed the steaming bowl. A percentage of the chocolate remained. But who cared, because there was a good chunk of the chips clumped together to form a lovely inedible mass of black char.

He took a fork to them and tried to mix it together. This revealed that the whole bowl was actually a black char covered slightly with an appearance of still real chocolate chips. This was not suitable for a cake. It was not suitable for even the dog. It was nasty.

I freak. As only I can do. I withdraw, scowl and begin to scold. This is his fault. Who puts the chocolate in for four freaking minutes? I start to dump the chocolate into the garbage can, scraping it out of the bowl, with the fork he initially used when he tried to stir the char. I am super bitter and upset. How can I mess something so easy up? I stomp around the small enclave of the kitchen. I shake the bag that holds the remaining chocolate and comment under my breath how there is not enough left to do it over. I stand there and stare at the glass bowl that holds three eggs, flour and clumps of sugar butter. This makes me even more angry. I open and close the refrigerator violently. Looking for chocolate that was never there. I just need to act busy to match my annoyance. Pushing the dirty dishes around the sink, running the water over the charred bowl and fork. Attempting to get the sugar butter off clumps off the back splash of the wall using violent sweeping gestures. I ignore his pleas to talk, discuss and rationalize. He wants perspective, I want my chocolate back. So he grabs my arm and drags me to face him.

"Stop acting like this is the end of the world. I will go buy some more chocolate at the grocery"

"Well, it is the end of the world. I mess everything up, I can't even bake a freaking cake with simple ingredients. I can't even are going to Publix? I tilt my head up and smile sweetly, as the words register.

"Can you get me a real, plastic, big ass mixing bowl, you know the kind, right?"

"Uh... well, then why don't you just go? I have already been to the store once today.

"Oh. Okay. I seeeee............"

I turn and attempt to walk out of the kitchen. Pouting ensues. Again, my arm is grabbed and I am dragged back.

"Don't walk away from me. What is the deal with your attitude? I said I would go to the store but you gave me a look like I would f that up too. Or would you like, instead, I can go home and leave you alone."

"I have no attitude. I am mad at the chocolate. I am not angry at you, just a little frustrated. I will go to Publix. I walked away from you because I needed to put on clothes where my nipples are not showing."

That was a lie. Of course I needed to change, public decency and all. Plus there was smeared chocolate all over my shirt and pants, remnants of my violent cleaning attempts. But I was still mad and also didn't want to actually be the one to go to the grocery, we both knew that was why I pouted my way towards my bedroom.

Since he was acutely aware of that and would do anything to get my spirits back he said, "Stop pouting, I will go. I honestly don't mind, that was why I offered initially. One trip to Publix, for my baby. Coming up a giant ass mixing bowl and a fresh bag of chocolate. Please, just make me out to be the good guy here."

He returns from the store with my mistakes; new chocolate and a good sized bowl. I follow the remaining directions. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Blend at medium speed 2-3 minutes or just until flour is blended. That bowl made a world of difference and made the rest smooth sailing. Or baking. And mixing. And a nicer relationship. Good god, that bowl carried a lot.

Pour into prepared pans. Bake 45-50 minutes or until top springs back when touched lightly in the center. Cool ten minutes on the rack; loosen sides and remove from pan. Cool completely. Frost with favorite icing.

The directions I didn’t read, that weren’t there, but were the most important part: serve to your grateful mother on her birthday. Given to you with love (and sweat and tears). Happy Birthday.

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