I recently bought Betty Crocker’s Cake and Frosting Mix Cookbook from 1966. This was a time when cakes from a mix were still considered a big deal – although mixes had been on the market for awhile, Betty Crocker believed women might need some coaching in order to get the most out of them. Because mixes are complicated.
First, B.C. acknowledges how much life has changed from the olden days when there weren’t any mixes. In 1774, frosting recipes that called for 24 eggs to be beaten for two or three hours would then be spread on a cake with a thin, broad board or a feather (yuck). Cakes could take half a day to make for early American homemakers. There are no statistics supplied to support this claim but it could be true if one had to break to discipline the children, smoke a cig, turn up the latest radio program…
Then the book moves on to tips: It uses charts to explain to you why your mix cake might suck. Did you put it in too small of a pan? Did you follow the directions on the box? Did you set your oven to the right temperature? Do you know how to correctly measure water? (“Use a liquid measuring cup to prevent spilling. With the measuring line at eye level, pour the liquid into cup” Do the same people who need this last tip also read their shampoo bottles for the “wash, rinse, repeat” instructions?)
Q: Why did my cake fall?
A: You underbaked it. The oven temperature wasn’t correct. The pan was too small. Remember, you must use the pan sizes recommended (“I know you think you’re a Homemaking Rebel, but just because your husband comes home and reads the newspaper rather than giving a shit about your day doesn’t mean you can act out by using a pan not specified on the package. You’re only hurting yourself.) You couldn’t resist – you tested too soon for doneness. Allow the minimum baking time to elapse before opening the oven door. Something moved or jarred the cake before it was baked. (Did you dare move around the kitchen while it was baking rather than sit motionless at the kitchen table?)
Wow, if you didn’t have a self-critical voice playing in your head before you use this guide, you certainly will after.
Now, are you aware that, if you have a lot of time on your hands and want to go fancy with your cake decorations, it’s very fun to sit around snipping cherries into little flowers? Or frosting grapes with egg whites and sugar? How about boiling up some Brazil nuts and slicing them lengthwise to create paper thin curls of nutmeat? Or, my personal favorite, making roses out of gumdrops?
Is this physical therapy or are we baking a cake here?
I Have a Frosting Problem!
Q: Why was my frosting so sticky?
A: You may not have measured the water accurately. (Go back and review how to measure water – did you get down to eye level?) Are you sure the water was boiling? (Oh my God, you moron, you don’t even know how to boil water! No wonder your husband laughed at you when you suggested going back to work part-time now that Jack and Donna are both in school.) It’s possible the humidity was too high. (Did you really need to bake a cake when it’s 100 degrees outside, dewpoint 75?) Maybe you didn’t beat long enough. (Isn’t that your husband’s most frequent complaint? Ta-dut boom!)
Seriously, folks, let’s get on to some cakes, shall we?
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake – a recipe for this cake seems to be in every cookbook ever printed and I’ve never had anyone serve me Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is a dirty lie! Even more dirty are the variations suggested in this book: Mincemeat Upside-Down Cake and Grapefruit Upside-Down Cake.
Dipsy Doodles (this is found under the Teen Treats section of the book) They’re the teenage rage! Bite-size cake mix snacks and crackers served with little bowls of gaily colored frosting dips – some made with cream cheese, some with sour cream or fruity flavorings.
“Cut-Up” Clown Cake – make some layer cakes, cut them up and piece them together to look like a clown head. Gross. Here is the diagram for the layers you need to bake and how to cut them:
But potentially cool if you made it into “Cut-Up Your Pretty Face” Clown Cake and fashioned it after Pennywise the Clown from It.
Now, if you’re planning a child’s birthday party, keep in mind that the best cakes for girls have a doll sticking out of them, are made to look like the house in Hansel & Gretel, or look like a shoe or a chicken. If the party is for a boy, it’s best to go with a cake made to look like a baseball mitt, pirate’s chest, drum or a sailboat. If the party is for a teenager, craft a cake that looks like a phone (those crazy teens – always on the phone!) because if I know your teen, they will love a cake that looks like a phone served to them in front of their friends. More choices for your teen: a Zodiac cake, a cake made to look like telegram or a sweet 16 confection covered in coconut that looks like fur.
But wait, there’s so much more. In Part II, we’ll look at all the lovely cakes themed for any occasion! And believe me, you can find an excuse to make a decorated cake for just about anything – no holiday is too small, no event too trifling! Stay tuned.