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Frying up a birthday cake

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Posted: Monday, June 13, 2011 9:04 am

Cake Boss? More like Cake Peon. Ace of Cakes? Call 'em Jack of Tarts. Iron Chef? Please. Comparatively, I'm the Titanium Baker.

The Missus celebrated her birthday this weekend, and I, being the dutiful and doting husband, took it upon myself to surprise her with a custom birthday cake.

To be fair, she knew she was getting a cake. The surprise was that she didn't know how it would be decorated.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've helped my mom design and decorate custom cakes for years, and I always have fun with the process. Though it can be challenging.

Friday evening rolled around, and I was putting myself in a cake decorating state of mind. The week had been particularly busy, and exercising my artistic license would be a good way to unwind.

My wonderful wife had baked the cake for me earlier in the day so that it would have time to cool. And I needed a lot of it for what I had in mind. Two cake mixes. Vanilla in flavor. Baked up in one 11 3/4-inch diameter circular cake pan. Talk about a muffin top.

When I was finished cutting, molding and frosting, the cake (I hoped) would resemble a cast iron frying pan sizzling up bacon and eggs. Really, what says “happy birthday” like greasy diner food?

My first step was cutting everything away from the existing cake that didn't look like a frying pan.

Which turned out to be about three-quarters of the cake.

Since there had been so much cake, the outside baked faster than the inside. The edge crumbled as I gingerly cut, making me think this was a suicide mission. I almost gave up a few times, but then I thought of my Missus and how surprised she would be. I soldiered on.

I cut the handle of the pan out of a thicker foam rubber sheet and set it aside.

The plan was to mold the “bacon” and “egg whites” from fondant, a pliable cake frosting that is used on fancier cakes for a more flawless result. My mother had given me a brick of fondant. Apparently, the longer fondant sits, the more it hardens. This glob must have been sitting since the fall of the Berlin Wall (or it was a piece of it).

I didn't know that the heat from one's hands help to soften fondant the more one works with the substance. So I put it in a bowl and stuck it in the microwave. For a minute and 45 seconds. What came out was a molten substance surrounded by an earthen crust.

After cursing the day my common sense left me, I set aside the inner fondant aside to cool a little, just like my burnt palms.

My attention then turned toward the frosting. I would need black (frying pan) and yellow (egg yolk). I mixed the frosting using a dry Wilton mix, adding the milk and butter, thickening the sweet concoction nicely.

The “yolks” came out just as I wanted, and, since they'd be the next to last step, I put the frosting in the fridge.

My lava ball of fondant was sufficiently cooled enough that I was able to mold my bacon and eggs, setting them aside once more.

The remaining frosting would need to be black. So I added black food coloring to the bowl of white goodness. It turned a light gray after I mixed and mixed like mad. More black. More mixing. Medium gray. Whew.

I emptied almost an entire bottle of black until I got the desired color. Looking up, I also got the desired color on the cabinets, the drawers, the floor and me. It looked as though I had slaughtered a 1930s-era cartoon.

And what I was left with in the bowl was oozing black mess. It was nowhere near thick enough to frost a cake. The warmth of the evening didn't help matters.

I added more dry mix, which helped a bit. I let the frosting cool and set-up a little in the fridge. Finally, I faced my frosting fear and started working.

Black tar-like frosting glorped down the sides of my frying pan and pooled-up in the surface. I kept frosting, piling on the gooey, sweet mess.

It got to the point where I had a decent coverage, and the texture of the cake translated to the texture of cast iron. I placed my “handle” on the cake and frosted that to be seamless. I placed the “eggs” and the “bacon” to resemble a smiling face. I piped on the yellow frosting, puffing it up to look like yolks.

Then I went back and reshaped the drooping black pan.

To top off the decoration, I spattered the happy birthday message to look like grease outside the pan.

I reshaped the pan again. And again. I prayed there would be a cake in the fridge the next morning and not a pile of something akin to engine sludge.

My back aching, I fell asleep next to the birthday girl, hoping she was surprised.

The next morning, I asked the Missus if she wanted to see her cake. “Yes!”

I presented her with a “birthday breakfast.” Her eyes lit up, laughter escaping her lips, truly delighted and surprised. She admitted later that she thought I would create something cutesy or sentimental.

But then I try to always keep life interesting and different for her.