Lately, I’ve been a huge fan of Facebook crafting videos – going so far as to root for the application of copious rickrack like it’s the home team at the State Finals. “Really?!?” I’ll scream gleefully at my cell phone, “Glitter! Yes! Just roll that thing in glitter!! What else can you possibly put on there? Lace! With hot glue? Bring it! And now you’re going to coat the entire object (which is usually the sad remains of a laundry detergent container) in about six bottles worth of clear nail polish? Perfect! This is high art!” I always await new 5 Minute Crafts videos with further examples of how to hot glue garbage to trash with great anticipation.
One might think that I would have learned something from the hours I’ve wasted watching other humans tape stuff to cream cheese tubs, but I haven’t. And, in the general cheerful sally-forth-straight-off-a-cliff spirit of my existence, I decided to make my father’s 75th birthday cake all by myself.
A few Christmases back, my dear friend Tamara made the G.P. a cake that he just loved. It was a gigantic sheet of dense deliciousness that contained coconut, pineapple, bananas and pecans and was topped with cream cheese frosting covered in further (toasted) coconut.
“Nobody around here will toast any coconut for meeee,” wailed my Dad, with the entire pan of cake in his lap, happily digging in.
I couldn’t remember the name of the storied (and highly successful) cake, so I texted Tamara for the recipe – half sure she’d made the whole thing up on the spot. She sent back a photo of a much-loved and ancient instructional sheet for something called “Hummingbird Cake.” It didn’t seem like it was too difficult.
While Tamara had made a sheet cake for Christmas, the recipe called for a bunt cake pan. If you don’t know what one of those is (don’t feel bad, I didn’t either and frankly expected the thing to be shaped like Sputnik) it’s the pan with the hollow center surrounded by a bunch of purely decorative humps. Basically, this wonder of engineering insures that anything you put into it will come out looking like a bunch of shy camels with their heads stuck in the sand. It has been a long time favorite for creating such culinary delights as: “Green Jell-O With Unidentifiable Fruit” and “Aspic Ring Avec Canned Fish.”
The Rev — who owns every baking item ever devised by man including several items that look suspiciously like medieval torture devices – provided the pan and four perfectly blackened bananas.
The cake wasn’t a problem to assemble. Honestly, it was just throwing a bunch of stuff in a bowl and stirring it a little. The Rev gummed up the works a bit by putting the bananas in the freezer until I could come and get them. I was personally unaware that a frozen banana is the hardest thing known to man until I dropped one and it cracked a tile. I left them in a bowl outside to defrost. It took four minutes. Welcome to summer in Texas.
I dumped all the sugary goop into the cake pan and threw it in the oven for an hour and ten minutes. The cake smelled wonderful as it baked – like a very rich banana bread. I tried a little nerd when it was done and it was absolutely heavenly. I left the cake to cool and went off to go watch more dumb videos.
A few hours later, it was time to turn the now cooled cake out of the weirdo pan.
Mistakes were made.
First, I should have remembered that you don’t turn a cake onto a cooling rack – you dump it on a plate, preferably the one you’re going to serve it from. Secondly, even though I loosened the edged, a good one third of the cake stuck to the bottom of the pan. It wasn’t burnt – it was just unfriendly and came out fine (if crumbly) when I applied a prying table knife.
By the time I managed to transfer the cake from the cooling rack to the plate, I was left with a pile which was all cake, but cake in a bunch of different states of cake (typically: solid, crumbly and gone). This particular example was hovering between solid and crumbly. For some reason, I decided that it would be a good idea to take the crumbly part and try to sort of sculp it into something that looked like a solid cake.
I filled in the hole in the middle, and started to make a mound, cramming the moist niblets together in a pile. I sent the Rev a text message saying that I had “absolutely ruined Dad’s cake” along with a picture of the rounded wad I had made in an attempt to save it.
“It looks fine,” my Mother replied.
It looked like cheap dog food, but I correctly figured I could use the cream cheese frosting as spackle. After the cake was coated in further sugar and fat and then encrusted with toasted coconut, it actually looked kind of okay – although nothing like a successful bunt cake should look. My nephews (who are in town from Germany for the summer) came over to help me decorate it.
I decided that the only thing we could do would be to stick candles into the more stable side, but I had forgotten to buy a “5” candle at the grocery store. I still had a “7” from the year before. The kids thought that Grandpa would be okay with being 74 again. I was not okay with that.
I cut a “7” and a “5” out of cardstock and let the kids decorate them. We then taped the numbers to wooden skewers and shoved them in the good side of the cake. The kids also made the G.P. cards that contained poems which focused largely on that bodily function which starts with “f” and is highly useful in simple rhyme schemes.
When Dad cut his cake, the pieces came out vastly different in size and amount of frosting. He did, however, say the cake was good. My friend Amber (who comes to most of our family functions and knew the entire story of the Great Birthday Cake Debacle and had been waiting for this very moment for three days) cheerfully yelled, “BUT IT SURE IS CRUMBLY.”
Everyone laughed. Jerks.