Anna June is learning to help in the kitchen. And because I like to bake and she likes sweets, many of our joint projects revolve around baking cakes, cookies, brownies, and the like.
Since Monday was AJ's Granddaddy's birthday, she wanted to bake a cake for him.
I just got mini muffin tins for Christmas, and I was hoping for those. But AJ wouldn't have it - it was a birthday, and he needed a proper cake, with ice cream, of course.
She selected a Pillsbury Traditional Yellow Cake mix while we were at the store. She also selected some black Betty Crocker cupcake decorating icing (I couldn't not talk her out of the color). Of course, after we got home, I realized that I couldn't just spray a can of black icing onto the cake - it would require real icing. Sigh. Icing is my nemesis. I don't really like it, and I don't have the artistic knack. But practice makes perfect, so I keep trying.
Despite my past baking failures, some of which you can read about here, here and here, I keep trying. Even AJ has learned that looks can be deceiving when it comes to how something actually tastes.
Sunday night, after our customary trip to Rusty's, it was late. AJ was tired. I was determined to get her in bed as soon as possible. I had a game plan - send Ben to shop for the birthday gift while we were to get the cake in the oven, run AJ's bath while putting a load of her laundry (i.e., uniforms) in the wash, and then bathe her and be done in time to get the cake out of the oven. Foolproof.
While I prepped the cake pans, AJ cracked the eggs, having me check after each one for shell - she only got the tiniest bit in there, which I got out with a spoon. I opened the cake mix, got the oil out of the pantry, and measured the water carefully. AJ dumped everything in the bowl and began to stir, and then I continued with the hand mixer. The cake went into the oven, and we were pleased that both layers looked "even" in their pans.
As soon as I closed the oven door, I turned and saw the vegetable oil still sitting on the counter. This was just going to have to be a dry cake. I was not going to get the pans out of the oven, dump the batter back in the bowl, add the oil, put the batter back in the pans and the pans back in the oven. It would interfere with my clockwork-precision plan.
We executed the plan, and I was already mad at myself for forgetting one of the three ingredients. I mean, I learned to read a long time ago! There are even pictures on the box! Anna June did her best to console me. She said, "Granddaddy is actually a bigger fan of the ice cream." I knew that was true, so I calmed down a little. After all, how bad could a cake with 3 eggs in it be? At least this omission would lower the fat content!
Eventually, it was time for AJ to go to bed. She was VERY UPSET that she would not be awake to frost the still-cooling cake layers. I still had to make the vanilla frosting, after all. My compromise was that I would make the icing and put the cake together, but she could decorate it however she wanted in the morning.
I got the "Quick Vanilla Frosting" recipe from Dad's Own Cookbook, one of my top kitchen resources. It is just butter, powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. I actually dreamed last night that my grandma and great grandma (my Nana) were telling me that was how they always made icing. I know that's not true, but it's nice to know I can actually make icing all by myself. Ben once told me that he had no idea one could make icing - he thought it came from a can.
In the morning, it was pretty easy to wake her up. As predicted, though, she couldn't exactly use the decorative icing as she wanted, and she was pretty mad at me that I couldn't make the cake look like the curlicues on the can. I tried. I attempted to make a "J" for Jerry but it ended up looking way more curly than I had anticipated. I then went and found the other decorative icing I had so she could liven it up with a little color. Green, blue, and red squiggles were added to the mess.
My parents picked AJ up after school, and AJ and her Granddaddy spent the afternoon curled up in the recliner watching TV. (AJ got on the phone to let me know that I should make him a birthday card - which I did, using this free printable and some of AJ's artwork - and wrap his presents, and remember to bring the cake!) My mom made delicious spaghetti with homemade meat sauce, and garlic bread. We brought salad to go with it. It was so good it was hard to stop eating it to be ready for cake and ice cream. While we were eating, the BCS National Championship was starting, so we watched the beginning of Alabama beating Notre Dame to win their 15th title (2nd in a row). Folks here are ecstatic. Even though Dad, Ben, and I are definitely UAB fans, I wore my Bama sweatshirt and Dad was dressed in red, with Mom in black and white and AJ's houndstooth dress we intended for her to wear still in her bag. We had fun talking about "our" quarterback, whose name is AJ. We passed around photos of baby Wesley dressed in his Alabama gear, one of which I had to steal from converted AL fan Liz for this post:
We are very pleased that our team won our state some bragging rights for the next year, even if it is a bit ridiculous to put so much emphasis on football programs. Roll Tide, anyway.
In the end, we decorated the cake with 4 candles and sang "Happy Birthday".
It may have been the ugliest birthday cake ever, but it was certainly made with love. (Cake photos courtesy of the birthday Granddaddy.) Happy birthday, Dad!
Thing I love: My cake taker
Why I love it: My grandparents gave it to me, and I like being able to bring cake, however ugly, to family events
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