The other thing about my birthday that was always something of a letdown was that my mom bought me bakery cakes. Don’t ask me why that was a disappointment to me. I’m sure there were tons of kids who hated the homemade, amaturely decorated cakes that their moms made, but for me it was the opposite.
Add to that the fact that those cakes were always just kind of lumped in with the Thanksgiving dinner desserts (did I mention that Thanksgiving dinner was always my “birthday dinner”? No? How would you like to have turkey for your “birthday dinner” for eleven years in a row? I don’t even like turkey that much) and no one wants a bunch of birthday cake after Thanksgiving dinner. They want pumpkin or pecan pie. My birthday cake went uneaten, except for one sad, depressing slice, cut for me, the Birthday Girl. A birthday cake with only one slice of out of it is what emotional devastation looks like.
My first year of college I wasn’t able to go home for Thanksgiving. We only got Thursday and Friday off, and I was more than half way across the country from my home. Fortunately the university I attended was in the town where my grandparents lived. I was able to go their house and stay with them for the weekend. My grandmother was familiar with my lifelong bakery birthday cake disappointment saga, and said that she’d even bake me a cake. Huzzah!
She took great care, making the cake the afternoon of the day before Thanksgiving—I was still in town at my dorm. We were at an elevation (fine, we were in Fort Collins, Colorado) so she used a chocolate cake recipe from a high altitude cookbook she had. She carefully poured the batter into two springform pans that I think were handed down from her ancestors who settled the Hudson River Valley in the 1600s. She closed the oven, and sat down in the adjacent family room to read.
After about 15 minutes, she noticed a very strong, very bad smell. Something was burning in the oven. Alarmed, she jumped up to check on the cakes. When she opened the oven there issued forth a billow of smoke worthy of a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Sure enough, the batter had leaked out around the seam in the springform pans. She was mystified—she had been using these pans for decades. My grandmother is a child of the Depression, and never throws anything out (including ancient springform pans, clearly). She once bought an $8 repair kit to fix a $14 nylon strap-aluminum frame lawn chair, rather than toss it. There was a little batter left in those pans, so she decided to just go with what she had. It would be a very compact cake.
She finished baking it, cooled it, and iced it. It wasn’t pretty, but it was homemade.
After dinner, she brought it out with candles, and she and my grandfather sang to me. She cut the cake, and we started to eat.
After about two bites, we all started laughing. In addition to being the ugliest, most compact cake ever, it was also like eating frosted lead. Being in that oven with all that smoke had caused it to fall. We ate about one more bite, and then she did throw it out.
You might think I would be disappointed that my first homemade birthday cake in 17 years was a flop. Even secretly disappointed, because what kind of a jerkwad would say something to someone who tried to do something that nice for them. I was not in the least. That was the best birthday cake I ever had, leaden texture and all. It was flavored with love, and frosted with a genuine desire to please.
My grandmother is 101 years old. I don’t really know how much longer she’ll last. She’s still pretty independent, living in an apartment in a retirement facility. She’s not in a wheelchair, or on oxygen. She occasionally uses a cane to steady herself. Her mind is sharper than mine and she’s more than twice my age (perfect example of what a blerg I am: I had to open the calculator on my computer to figure that out, and I opened Paint and tried to do the calculation with the Rectangular Selection tool). But whatever happens, however much longer she has, that will always be the most delicious birthday cake I ever had.
Excuse me, I think I have something in my eye.
Is your birthday around a major holiday? Has anyone ever made you a super-special birthday cake? Have you ever ruined a baked good to the point that it was hilariously inedible?