Social media is often a highlight reel of over-processed, retouched photos with perfect lighting and idyllic landscapes. So when something goes wrong, it’s easy to believe that you’re the only one—after all, no one else is Instagramming their failures.
And if you’re a perfectionist, it’s easy to over-react.
the (mis)adventures of cake no. 2
Since the start of the new year, Josh and I have only been eating sugar on Sundays. As someone that is particularly fond of hot chocolate and baked goods, my relationship with sugar might be described as excessive. I’ve given it up cold turkey before—we completed a Whole 30 a few years ago and, let me tell you, Day 31 was a feast day. It just isn’t sustainable for me. So rather than be extreme and toss sugar completely, there is a cheat day every week.
I can honestly say that every Saturday in January has felt like Christmas Eve.
Sundays suddenly became special, a day of true celebration. We pull out the cookies in the freezer and sometimes make a special trip to Starbucks. The worst part about this project has been giving up hot chocolate—a daily staple in my life. But I also miss baking. And it’s very difficult to bake when you can’t sample what you’ve made. Understandably, baking is now reserved mostly for Sundays. And what better way to celebrate than with cake?
Now it’s important to note, that I’ve only made one cake before in my life—last year for Josh’s birthday I made this decadent chocolate monstrosity. Half of it went to work and the other half was lovingly sliced and placed in the freezer (even so, it didn’t last long).
To most, it’s nothing special. The frosting job is “rustic” at best and “sloppy” at worst. But I was proud of this cake. It was the first one I ever made and things went pretty smoothly (once I called Mom to figure out how to get the cakes out of the tins…)
That was nearly a year ago, and I decided it was time to attempt Cake No. 2. After all, Josh’s birthday is coming up and I could use some practice. I delved into my Pinterest boards and gave Josh three options. He chose this gorgeous work of art. The recipe wasn’t too complicated, the flavors were interesting, and I figured that—with a little luck—we’d have a big slice to celebrate Sugar Sunday and send the rest to work on Monday.
Let’s just say things didn’t go according to plan.
I started to get a little nervous when I realized that I only own one 8 inch cake pan. Most of my baking tools are gifts or hand-me-downs, and since we have established that I am not a frequent cake baker, I never noticed this absence in my life. The thing is, the batter was already made. The cranberry compote was cooling. I was ready to get to work on the frosting.
I did a quick search, trying to figure out how to salvage the situation—I had two 7 inch pans, though they were not identical, one being much taller than the other. But the slew of calculations left me nonplussed and I didn’t want to waste the batter.
So the way forward was simple: bake the first tier, let it cool, turn it out, clean the pan, bake the second tier. More time consuming? Certainly. But I didn’t have plans and we were in no rush to eat cake. But the situation did feel a bit ominous, so I told Josh we should say a prayer to the Patron Saint of baking, whomever that was.
Shortly afterwards, I found this taped to the cabinets:
Saint Elizabeth of Hung(a)ry, Patron Saint of Bakers
Pray For Us. Especially Me.
Things seemed to improve after that. The cakes turned out nicely and were mostly level. The frosting was easy to make and although I thought it was a bit tasteless and overly sweet, I figured it would balance out the tartness of the cranberries and the acidity of the orange.
And then it was time to decorate.
It was difficult to control the cranberry, but I thought I did pretty well with the first two layers. Then the third layer split and, noticing that we would end up with a lot of extra cranberry, I tried to squeeze it in before the crowning layer. The split layer protested, oozing cranberry to the outside of the cake and leaning precariously.
When I tried to frost the outside, I quickly gave up on a clean, white finish. It just wasn’t happening, folks. Not with my skill level and definitely not with the cranberry insisting on making an appearance every three inches.
So I tried to embrace the marbled Valentine’s nightmare look.
And then I burst into tears.
Is it a bit ridiculous to cry hysterically over a cake? Yes. Yes, it is. But did I? Yes. Yes, I did.
The perfectionist in me wants to turn out Instagram-worthy, Pinterest-beautiful pieces of art. When I fall short of the idealistic standards I’ve constructed in my mind, it can be a blow to my pride. It’s a struggle to allow myself to be a beginner, to make mistakes, to face the judgement of my own mind. And so my bruised ego mourned.
It didn’t end there, however. The frosting and the cake itself hardened significantly while chilling, making the slicing process a bit of a crumbly ordeal. It wasn’t just ugly on the stand anymore. It was ugly on the plate too.
Sadly, I didn’t love how it tasted. Perhaps it was the high expectations based on the recipe writer’s photos or the fact that we haven’t been eating sugar very often, but it was just okay for me. So it was sent to work with Josh and the unsuspecting souls there that might mistake it for strawberry or raspberry. (Why not? Let them eat cake. Even if it’s not beautiful.)
I briefly considered abandoning cake in my baking repertoire—perhaps I’m just not there yet and I should stick to bread for now. But if I quit, then I’ll never get better and we will continue to have Pinterest Fails. And if I quit, perfectionism wins. So continue I must.
There will be no cake next week—we are going to the Carolina Chocolate Festival—but I plan to pick up the following week. Stay tuned for Cake No. 3.