I’m sure you’ve all heard of Murphy’s Law…..you know, the old saying that says, “Whatever can go wrong, will.” It applies to cakes as well. Sometimes we have Murphy’s cakes. We will be in the middle of cake construction and look at each other and one of us will say (usually me), “This cake is never going to come together.” I’ve threatened to walk away in the middle of a cake disaster but something keeps me in the kitchen, bent on mastering the particular cake monster that I am working on at the time.
Recently we were asked to do an 80’s themed cake. No problem. An 80’s themed cake shouldn’t be a problem for us. I was young and having children in the 80’s. My daughters played with 80’s toys and I listened to 80’s music. There are plenty of ideas and themes out there that we could choose from to incorporate into the cake. The cake was for our church and a celebration that they were having for the people who spend countless hours volunteering. It was a way of saying thank you for all that they do. We were happy to be asked to do the cake for them.
We decided that we would incorporate Pac-Man, a boom box, Rubik’s cube and a Smurf. A lot of the cake would be fondant work that we would be doing immediately after the cake was baked, crumb-coated, and the fondant layer was put on. The only thing that we had to do ahead of time was to make the Smurf. We decided to do the Smurf out of fondant instead of gumpaste. Gumpaste is usually what I use to construct people but I knew that there would be children at the party and I wanted the Smurf to be a little more palatable.
We set aside our weekly cake night and got to work. Megan and Bethie were working on fondant footballs that we needed for some Superbowl cupcakes and I was working on Mr. Smurf.
I hate making people out of fondant. Let me just say that right now.
His body went together fine but his head……let me frame this out for you; Megan and Bethie were finished with the footballs, Megan had gone to bed and Bethie had gone home and I was still working on the little blue man. Even Gracie was too tired to sit at the kitchen table and watch a movie with me. Finally, at about 1:00 a.m., and hours of re-working his head, I went to bed with the head finished and waiting for the detail that I would do the next morning.
It’s not out of the ordinary for us to have a little trouble from time to time with cake components. Sometimes we have to remake things even after they have dried. I’ve already thrown away people that I spent hours working on because I wasn’t happy with them after they had dried. So I really didn’t think anything of the trouble that I had with little Smurf-man. Megan was at school when I finished his face the next morning and I texted her a picture so she could see what he looked like. She liked him, I was satisfied and so I put him in the dining room to dry.
The cake was due on a Friday night and on Thursday, I got to work baking. Cakes went together pretty well. There were going to be three tiers, 10″ square bottom, 9″ round middle and a 6″ square for the Rubik’s cube which would be the top layer. Still no problems.
I was running a little late, I wanted to have the cakes baked and cooled by the time Megan got home from school so that we could get started right away but I was just finishing up baking when she got home. Still no problem.
I wanted to start with the Rubik’s cube layer so that Megan could work on doing the colored squares while I crumb-coated and put fondant on the other layers. I stacked and crumb-coated the Rubik’s cube and was ready to hand it off to Megan.
When Megan is nervous about something she doesn’t come right out and tell you what she’s nervous about. She just starts to say things like, “Mama, I think I’m going to have a hard time getting the squares to come out evenly on the cube,” rather than, “Mama, there’s no way that I will be able to make that oblong, rectangular blob look like a Rubik’s cube.” She’s so polite.
Really?…..it looked fine to me. I mean I know that I need to get new glasses but….maybe I was just tired of working on the black fondant and wanted to move on. I was ready to deliver it to the kitchen table and I looked at Megan. She was starting to twitch.
“Mama, that’s not really a cube.”
Silence on my part.
I considered doing battle for a moment and then decided against it. I looked at what was supposed to be a cube.
She was right. There was no way that she would be able to get the squares to come out evenly and make it look like a Rubik’s cube.
Okay. I got out my trusty bread knife which doubles as a cake carving knife and got to work. Fifteen minutes later, the cake was more accurately shaped like a cube and Megan stopped twitching. No problem, right?
I had to cover the cube with black fondant before she could put the squares on. Can I just say right now that there are some colors that I absolutely hate working into fondant and black is one of them. It seems to dry the fondant out faster and you have a small window of opportunity to get the fondant on the cake before it starts to crack. ( Oh, if only for an airbrush in my storehouse of cake tools!!) Even adding water doesn’t always pull it back from the brink of disaster. Yep…..I ended up throwing away two batches of fondant and putting fondant on the cake six times before I got it right. I came close to walking out of the kitchen. All the while, Megan is sitting patiently at the kitchen table waiting for her cube.
Finally, I passed the cube off for her to finish, she seemed satisfied, and I moved on to crumb-coating and putting the fondant on the two bottom layers. As I was putting the round layer together, the top layer of cake cracked. Are you even kidding me? Keep in mind, this was only minutes after I had recovered my sanity from the cube disaster. Okay. Keep moving. I laid it on the buttercream filling, crumb-coated it to seal the pieces together and put on the fondant. Megan finished the Rubik’s cube, the cakes had their fondant overcoats on and we called it a night. We weren’t as far along with finishing as we wanted to be but we knew that we would have time the next day when Megan got home from school.
As I said before, having one or two problems with a cake is not unusual. As I look back at this cake, things could have been worse, but there definitely seemed to be a dark cloud hanging over this whole project. When we look at the pictures now, we still can’t believe that it all came together.
Before Megan got home from school, I took the bottom square layer out of the dining room and started working on the Pac-Man fondant pieces that would decorate the sides. I don’t like to do fondant work unless Megan is here so that felt a little weird but I finished this layer and put it aside. One of the corners seemed lower than the others but I knew that it probably wouldn’t be noticeable when the other layers were in place.
Megan came home and was ready to work on the boom box for the middle layer. We had to stack the cake before she could put the boom box on. I had put the wooden dowel supports in and we put the middle layer on. I cracked a small piece of fondant off the bottom but we figured that Megan would be able to cover that with the boom box.
Megan: “Mama, the middle layer is rocking.”
Megan: “Yeah, watch.”
She took her hand and gently rocked the cake back and forth. Hmmmmmm. Are we done yet?
There was a look of sheer panic on Megan’s face when I told her that we would have to lift the middle layer off and remove one of the wooden dowel supports because it was too high.
“Megan, I’m going to lift the middle layer and you pull the problem dowel out of the bottom layer.”
Blank stare from Megan.
Dowel removed, cake back in place.
I looked at the clock. It was 3:15. I was supposed to pick Gracie up from work at 3:15. I had taken her to work because her car was in the shop. I left Megan at the kitchen table working on the boom box for the middle layer. She would be fine as I raced out the door to pick Gracie up.
I sat in the parking lot of the grocery store where Gracie worked and no Gracie. Finally after waiting for 20 minutes, I went into the store. Gracie was still working the register. She was in the middle of taking care of a customer so I didn’t want to disturb her. I quietly said, “Aren’t you done at 3:15?”
She mouthed to me, “4:15.”
I raced back home not really knowing how Gracie was going to get home, only that I had a cake to finish.
I walked into the kitchen and Megan had finished the boom box. The only problem was that she was supposed to put it over the place where I had cracked the fondant when I put the middle layer on the cake. You guessed it.
Megan realized what she had done.
Okay. It’s okay. We’ll cover it up with the fondant balls that we put around the base. Another bump in the road.
“Megan, what’s this hole in the fondant on the middle layer?”
“Where in the world did that come from?”
Finally, we put the fondant balls on the bases and the cake was finished.
“Mama, what time are we supposed to have the cake to the church?”
“Ummmm. I’m not sure.”
Megan checked the event time on the website. The event was planned for 6:00. It was now 5:00. We are a half hour from the church and now we would have to fight traffic on the road which is the major artery for the valley.
We made it in the nick of time. We put the Rubik’s cube on top of the middle layer, Mr. Smurf-man went on top of the Rubik’s cube, pipe the base of the cube, and stepped back……….
Wait, a minute….is that the same cake that we have been agonizing over for the last two days. It can’t be………
So the cake came together….finally. There were no major disasters. It didn’t end up topside down on the driveway or anything like that (which, by itself, is surprising considering how the events unfolded). There were just enough minor incidents from start to finish to frustrate us. We would look at each other and both of us would say out loud, “You’ve got to be kidding me!!!” A friend of ours once commented that no matter what happens, our cakes always seem to turn out. It’s because we have no choice but to stick with it and work through the bumps in the road. When people are expecting a cake, you keep working until you can produce it.
Object lesson: bumps in the road, bumps in the road, there will always be bumps in the road. Am I going to walk away or am I going to stick with it? We’ve all learned the hard way that we learn from the bumps. There is nothing to learn when the road is smooth. There is nothing to learn when the cake doesn’t crack or the fondant doesn’t sag.
And sometimes the bumps make you appreciate the finished work all the more.