Friday, April 13, 2012

3 Signs I Won't Be Competing On "The Next Great Baker"

I’m now two classes into my Wilton Level 1 Cake Decorating Course, and its been an eye-opening experience to say the least. Aside from the fact that I giggle like an idiot whenever the instructor mentions cake balls, there’s been a few other indications that my dreams of getting a baking reality show are slowly slipping away.

1. I can’t bake.
I’ve realized that this course presupposes a lot of things, the major one being the idea that I am actually decent in the kitchen. 

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I signed up for a cake decorating class, but the fact that I would actually have to have a number of “cakes” (as I’ve learned they’re called) to “decorate” (fancy technical term we bakers like to use) came as a surprise.

My past experience with baking cakes literally comes down to a few I did for my class of Grade 1’s and 2’s last year, because I had a student who had a severe food allergy and couldn’t trust items from the local bakery. The very first one I made that I proudly brought into school and served to my kids had the following reaction from one student after he bit into it:

“Mmmmm, what flavour is this? Dirt?”.

To which the other children heartily agreed. And I wish I was joking.

Pushing aside that haunting memory, this week I tackled baking an 8x3 inch round vanilla cake for class and some chocolate mini-cupcakes for Mason-and-mommy-time. I even dumbed it down by using boxed mixes (something to which my mother would be aghast). Really … how hard could it be?

I give you Exhibit A:

Every.single.cupcake. turned out like that.
Uhhh …. whoops.

Not to be outdone, I give you Exhibit B:
“Oh Andra, pish!” you say. “That looks like a perfectly fine, perfectly baked vanilla round cake. You do exaggerate so.”

And then you touch the pan, and the cake jiggles. Like pudding. Or that scene from Jurassic Park with the T-Rex and the water in the glass.

It. Jiggles.

How a cake that looks perfectly baked from the outside and yet is entirely liquid in the middle exists, god only knows. But it happens in my kitchen. Wicked.

Sadly, not being able to bake isn’t the only reason I’ll be lucky to pass my cake course:

2. I suck at mixing icing.
There are three different stiffness-levels of icing used when decorating, one of them being “thin” (and yes, insert random erectile dysfunction joke here). In advance of last night’s class I carefully mixed up a batch of thin consistency icing, which was to be shared with my girlfriend, Sharlene, who’s also taking the course. But when we got to class and compared it to the other students’, we noticed that mine looked a bit … odd.

Kind of like coagulated milk.

The instructor was horrified, and could not explain what I’d done wrong to create the mess. She then proceeded to mock me at every possible moment the rest of class, which was equally hilarious (I like ballsy humour) and mortifying. At one point she was talking about a method of smoothing out the icing, noting “Some of your cakes won’t be quite dry enough to try this yet.” And then she turned to me and loudly stated “Yours, my dear, will never be.”. Burn!  

Sharlene, on the other hand, opted for a different tactic and chose to use a new batch of icing, kindly saying “This way you have a whole bunch to use!”.

But we both knew she was effectively saying “I’m out, beotch! Deal with this mess on your own!”.

So I tried.
Wicked x 2.

And finally ….

3. My 2.5 year old, pound-for-pound, is a better decorator than I’ll ever be.

Yeah, look at him with his smug “I’m such a great decorator” face.  

Remember those mini-cupcakes I made for some mommy-and-me time with Mason? I practiced my icing techniques on them, under the guidance and assistance of my toddler. He dictated the icing colours (baby blue and light green), I did the swirls, and he did the rest.
Every last lopsided one of them.
He was so conscientious of where each sprinkle went, it was inspiring to watch. Seriously. They turned out amazing.
Crazy, right? Can you believe he has half my baking genetics? Now if I can only figure out a way to make child-labour in bake shops legal, I just might be able to open that cupcake store I’ve always dreamed of, after all.

Mason’s decorating forced me to up my game a bit, so I did manage to complete a half-way decent cake last night, crappy icing and all.
Cake Boss it isn’t. But things can only get better from here, right?


  1. For YEARS I couldn't bake bread. The most basic thing. They ALWAYS turned out so heavy and hard we feared they could be used to beat us about the head and neck if someone broke into our house.

    Then we moved to Switzerland which has made me the most AMAZING bread baker ever. Thank you change in altitude. Although I'm fairly sure when me move back to Canada I'll lose all my bread baking mojo.

  2. Baking (properly) in Calgary is damn near impossible. I think it's a combination of the altitude and the dryness. I keep trying, though- I figure that, statistically speaking, something has to turn out EVENTUALLY.

    My suggestions, from one struggling baker to another:

    - Get an oven thermometer (like, one that snaps onto the oven racks). Crank your oven on, and slowly increase the temperature. At every increment (I go in 25 degree increments), check the thermometer inside the oven. I found out that my oven is actually 10 degrees cooler than the display suggests- until I get to 350, and then it's 15 degrees cooler!

    - Get some cheap bread, lay it out on a baking sheet, and crank your oven on to 300-ish. Toast the bread, and take it out after 10-ish minutes. You will be able to see if your oven has any hotspots, or cold spots- those pieces of bread will be over toasted or under toasted. The back corners of my oven are hotspots, the whole front is cold.

    - I have to stop overloading my oven. My first instinct is always "They're all baking at the same temp, jam that oven full!!!" But if the oven is too full, the heat and air don't circulate properly, and things don't bake as they should. An empty oven is better than a full one.

    - And finally, unless you are specifically instructed otherwise (like if you're making pastry), all the ingredients should be at room temperature when they're mixed and baked. Cold ingredients don't mix properly, and if they're jammed into a hot oven, everything starts setting up before it's mixed...and then you end up with a terrible, almost-inedible cake (that I ate anyway, of course!!!).

  3. I am a pretty incompetent baker myself... I have mastered banana chocolate chip muffins though. I made cupcakes last week and it took 3 tries.

  4. Glad it's not just me. I attempted chocolate chip cookies last week, from scratch & they were awful! I knew it was awful before I even put them in the oven, but I had to see it through (to the garburator!)
    And I see nothing wrong with baking cupcakes from a box mix-that to me IS baking!

  5. Andra - Is your oven level?

    That might explain the lopsidded cupcakes!


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