Privilege Blog

Sometimes You Stick To The Plan And Sometimes You Don’t, Or, Saturday Morning at 6:43am

This week I will be taking a planned quarterly break. Aside from the traditional holiday planting for the 4th, and a guest post I have every intent of completing, I’ll be off.

Above you see my attempt at baking a chocolate cake this morning, for a family birthday. An example of plans gone awry. I asked Jan, at Jan’s Sushi Bar, for a recipe. It was impeccable, as is all the food she writes about. Well worth a read. Also pay attention if she says anything about cake layers “doming.”

As should be clear, I do not know how to bake. I haven’t made a layer cake since the Duncan Hines days of late grammar school. My sister and I also agree that High WASPs don’t bake much. I’m not sure whether it’s difficulty in doing something on purpose that can make you fat, or the risk of looking like such a dope when one fails.

But now I have a bee in my bonnet and will most like persist in mastering the skill. As a first step, I asked Twitter for help. Many kind folk offered moral support and suggestions. In the end, I  relied on the fix suggested by Mary McKenna, who usually exercises her considerable brain power on writing about epidemics here, and for Wired Magazine, here. Again, well worth a read.

The cake is better now, no? Still slightly psychotic, but with strawberry teeth comes impunity. Clearly, as the Queen of Cashmere explained, baking requires Mary’s sort of scientific thought process.

Privilege is, purportedly, about luxury. It’s a luxury to have time to learn something new. It is a luxury to have helpful friends, and a family sure to find this funny. Many failures improve with laughter, and I can hear my sister, now, in my imagination. Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

55 Responses

  1. Interesting that you note here that High WASPs don’t bake much. That now explains why my mother didn’t bake at all, which I resented her for as a child since mine was one of the few households I knew of where the mothers didn’t bake cakes or cookies (only the sisters did, and out of desperation since MD wouldn’t). Thanks for helping me understand it was cultural, and not personal! Reggie

  2. Try the Barefoot Contessa’s Flag Cake, found in her book, “The Barefoot Contessa Family Style.” It looks complicated, but is easy and is perfect for July 4th or any other national holiday. I’m making it for a neighbor’s party on Monday.

  3. Your cake may look awry but I’m sure it’s delicious!! And I must say that my experience is rather different – my mother made a mean molasses cookie but couldn’t cook at all!! Our dog ate magnificently from my sister’s and my under-the-table hand outs. Have a wonderful well deserved break!!

  4. OK, very impressive save. And you know it’s likely to taste more awesome for its visual anomaly. I’m really surprised that the WASPs don’t bake. It’s such a practical – and attractive – creative activity.

  5. clever strawberries. they complete the layers, it pays to have friends. as an artist-my mother created when she did bake-substituting ingredients at a whim! prettily done with a little yankee ingenuity. I am making something today-if by change it “turns out” I will photograph it & post it for shock value!

  6. That looks like a very edible cake — enjoy it and the celebration that it’s intended for, and have a restful break. Happy 4th of July!

  7. Your cake looks delicious, sad that we do not live closer for you to share a slice or two with your old friend Lily!
    Hope you enjoy your ‘blog vacation’, will be waiting for your return to us!

  8. Oh, and if you are looking for a fail-safe chocolate cake, try Martha Stewart’s recipe for classic chocolate devil’s food cake frosted with Mrs. Milman’s chocolate butter cream frosting (another MS recipe). It is exactly what I was looking for after many years of (unsuccessfully) searching for the “perfect” old-fashioned chocolate cake recipe! Reggie

  9. As one not being of high-wasp background, my Mother always baked, and still does. I think my children and now grandchildren wonder why I rarely do.

    It is because of the perfectionist in me I am sure. You accomplished a great save on your cake Lisa!

    Enjoy your time away from the Blog World!

    Art by Karena

  10. My mother didn’t bake either, but, it is something that I have been drawn to over the years, hence major hip spread :( I am a pretty good baker now and I’m to old now to care if fellow WASP’s know! As though the hips had not already told my secret… So allow me to tell you that almost all cakes dome when baking. The trick is, after the cake cools down, you take your long bread knife and slice across the top to level out the cake. Sprinkle powered sugar on your cake plate (to keep the cut side of the cake from sticking to plate when you are ready to slice and serve)frost that side, place next layer on top, and again take your bread knife and slice across the top to level your cake. This layer will be the most difficult to frost because, you won’t have a firm layer to work with. I make a seperate batch of frosting that is close to being runny so that I barely have to touch that layer. The next layer you don’t cut – you will have a pretty dome to frost for the top. How’s that. We WASP’s are awfully practical, don’t you think? Have fun baking; and watch the hips!

  11. Have a fabulous 4th of July Lisa and enjoy your time off.

    I make the recipe from the Barefoot Contessa’s cookbook Parties on page 88 “Chocolate Ganache Cake”
    it looks like yours!

    Your cake looks very festive and the combination of berries and chocolate…
    in a word YUM!

  12. Well I can’t bake so perhaps I’m more of a wasp than my blonde/ blue eyed presence would lead you to believe.

    I would be thrilled if I had made that cake. Over the moon,in fact.

    happy 4th, Happy Birthday to the celebrant and we’ll see you soon.

    xo Jane

  13. In my opinion the ultimate luxury is time. Time to learn, time to experience, time to appreciate, etc.
    If I could add anything to my life right now it would be time, just to whatever. I might even bake a cake.
    Yours, btw, looks delicious.

  14. Ten points for baking a cake! And not just any cake – a chocolate one, with strawberries. I applaud.
    Baking a cake means more than working 15 minutes ( my limit ) in the kitchen, so therefore I have decided not to bake. The other reason is, that we are all trying to loose some weight here, heh; )!

  15. Lisa, I can just tell from here that cake is going to taste OUT of this world, the icing is puddling and pooling just right. Your solution is, of course, as lovely as you are. Now is the time to be grateful you didn’t descend from artsiness as I did; indeed, in my clan, the badge of honor is to mend and ammend in as sick a manner as possible. I remember a clan event cake identical to yours, but with the added indignity of a crack right down the middle at the tip top. Artsy relative went to toychest, dismembered a dinosaur, and positioned the head emerging from the central ooze, the tail emerging out the side, one layer down, and so forth. Applause all around. Sick, I tell you.

  16. I think you did an excellent job baking that cake. I love that it has that shape which can only be baked with love. I would take a slice of your cake over all the others on the table.

  17. Well, I guess that’s just another proof I’m not a WASP ;) I grew up in a house where everybody baked, and I married a man from the other side of the world who comes from a family of professional bakers (his sister and brother in law have a “poslasticarnica”, a traditional “sweet shop”, or bakery in Belgrade). And I love baking!
    Your cake looks really yummy, I must say. As I mentioned in twitter, my son (almost 3 years old) was staring at its picture for 5 minutes, and he looked like he wanted to get into the computer and EAT IT! hihihi.
    If you want to continue your baking adventures, I have 2 recomnendations: 1)The book “Great Cakes”from Country Living (it is full of great advice and its Lemon Blackberry cake always turns out well – and it has no domes!) 2) 45 minutes of fast walking on the treadmill every day ;)

  18. Haha! The strawberry teeth are a great save. The cake looks delicious! You were brave to take this on–cakes are only easy when you can stuff their uneven layers with gobs of buttercream. Now that my girls are “modelesque”, they would never stand for that, so like metscan above, I have given up cake baking, even for special occasions. But I would gladly have a bite of this one!

  19. This post explains why one grandmother always had a homemade treat to offer my brother and me and why the other grandmother would offer Nabisco Brown-edged Wafers (sadly no longer made) or olives for a snack.

  20. Miranda’s got it right about getting the cake to be a flat layer.

    Did high-WASP mothers not indulge themselves in the Julia Child wave of the 1960s? My mother spent many an afternoon driving around her Midwestern city looking for fancy ingredients and making multiple versions of fancy desserts until they were ready to serve to company.

    I’d far rather have a slightly lopsided chocolate cake, saved with strawberry filling than any of the multitude of desserts straight from the shelves of Costco, TJ’s or Whole Foods that I’ve been offered.

  21. I’d say that about 50% of my attempts at cake baking have been successful, and of the remainder a quarter have been edible, if not quite the way they were meant to turn out. (The first birthday cake I ever made for X didn’t rise properly, but turned out to be a giant raspberry-filled chocolate cookie, which we both remember fondly but which I have NEVER been able to replicate, more’s the pity.)

    The most recent failure was last Wednesday, when, for a party we hosted for X’s department, I attempted to make an ice cream cake from a magazine recipe, breaking two of my cardinal rules (1. never trust magazine recipes, and 2. never use party guests as guinea pigs for new recipes) and ended up with a soup of frozen vanilla custard, apricot, almonds, and biscotti.

    Fortunately, I had entrusted the official, congratulatory cake (for new Ph.D.s) to a local baker, which, I’m guessing, is what many High WASP women find most practical–delegating others to do better what would cost them both time and expense. But yours looks delicious and attractive, all the same. Apocryphally, crepes Suzette were another such successful failure, so you’re definitely in good company.

    Happy summer break, and safe travels. We ourselves are headed to New Mexico tomorrow for a month. I’m not too concerned about fire (except where it affects our Los Alamos friends and colleagues, nearby pueblos, and wildlife), but I do hope smoke and air quality aren’t too much of a problem. Will look forward to your posts when you return!

  22. Oh, my! That is a wonderful solution to the gaps between the layers (I am SO sorry I was not more clear about why you need to level the layers if they dome). I also apologize for not being on Twitter to advise this morning – Beloved came home at midnight last night after 10 days and has been the focus of my attention today. :)

    Please let me know how it tastes, but Lisa – you did a marvelous job!

  23. I am still chuckling at the strawberry teeth. When you return from your break you might consult smittenkitchen, who has lots of wonderful cake recipes and really good instructions.

  24. Dear Lisa, One of the best things about Saturdays are your posts! Miranda, of course, hit the nail on the head – a sharp knife and a lot of icing can remedy many a wonky cake. But what I admire was the coolness under pressure – you researched, thought with the result that your solution is lovely. This is one of the main reasons why the Sturdy Gal version of the WASP is so attractive – she doesn’t fuss but simply gets on with the task at hand. Have a lovely break! Lindaxxx

  25. Wow clever you the only cake I have ever made was a seed cake yummie,would love a piece of your choc cake but my hips will not allow it.
    Happy Sunday Ida

  26. I can’t remember the last time I even *tried* to bake anything, so kudos to you! Le monsieur will be making some of his excellent chocolate chip cookies for our July 4th party tomorrow, but that’s the only time the Kitchen Aid comes out of its box in storage in the closet.

  27. Not having much of a sweet tooth, I don’t bake very much either. When you make low fat, low sugar ‘treats’ you lower the bar so far that they don’t even have to look that good, the person who eats them feels so morally superior…or that’s the theory anyhow. Adding stawberries not only improved the look of your cake but made it healthier, right?

    What I liked best about this post was your mention of the luxury of time and wealth in having friends. Spot on.

  28. Remember those homemade birthday and Mothers’ Day cards you received from your son and daughter? This is the adult version: wobbly, touching, cherished. Never, never apologize; hardly any cakes are inedible and besides that’s not the purpose of a birthday cake.

  29. Bravo, your cake is fantastic and the fact that you made it makes it even more fabulous. Doing what we don’t normally do is often what ends up being what we love most…..Happy holiday weekend. xv.

  30. Lisa, after reading this I am now utterly convinced that my mother was high wasp, which is how I acquired her baking {or lack of} skills. That cake still looks like something I would eat, which isn’t something I can say for some of the things I have baked recently. I hope you have a wonderful and relaxing time away and looking forward to your return, as always :)

    xo mary jo

  31. Didn’t you know, Privilege? Messy-looking chocolate cakes are all the rage.

    I showed my husband this article — and it bothers him to no end. (Being a French chef, he likes his pastry very neat, tidy and traditional)

    The so-called Best Cake in the World, now sold in New York, looks like a disaster — crumbling insides, collapsing frosting, etc.

    “My grandmother could have done better,” my husband sniffed.

    Needless to say, neither one of us are WASPs. And we bake all the time!

  32. Fabulous cake Lisa!!! Love the ‘strawberry teeth’…nothing like the combo of chocolte & strawberries! I’ve only had white cakes layered with strawberries…this is very clever, I applaud your efforts and wish I could sample a HUGE piece of it!!!
    xo J~

  33. I’ve always had a theory that people who really loved to cook, and experiment – not following recipes exactly, and improvising – really didn’t like to bake.
    It’s very precise, and although it can be an art, for me it’s more of a chore, although I do love to cook.
    The only dessert I enjoy making is a clafoutis, because I can experiment with the fruits and the combinations.
    Your cake does look so beautiful though, and I’m glad it looks “imperfect” – gives it charm.
    Have a good time on your break, and looking forward to your return.

    1. Kathy, What about the person, who does not like cooking, who always improvises preparing it, but when baking ( not liking that either ) follows the recipe obediently?

    2. Ah but the good thing about baking is that you have to know how to improvise, what can be replaced by what, how proportions work with the different ingredientes, etc. Once you know that, you can be as adventurous as you like and it is 100% joy, no stress at all!

  34. I dare say the original cake turned out better than any layer cake I would have attempted! Now it looks like a torte. In recent years, I have taken to making trifles…Have a good break.

  35. The strawberry teeth made me smile this morning. No one in my family baked though all my friend’s moms did. I never realized it was cultural, and now perhaps can see why everyone in the same family thought it was odd that as soon as I was old enough to stand at the table with a spoon and a bowl I wanted to bake. Now my baking skills only come out to play with my grandson.

    Time is the ultimate luxury, time to learn, time to explore, time just sit back and enjoy the moment.

  36. The cake looks killer. Seriously killer. (As in beyond a good thing!) I agree that most High WASPs don’t bake… I have never sorted out why not, but they just don’t. There are exceptions, to be sure, but by and large it just isn’t the thing to do.

    I’m so glad you are going to take your break, I hope it’s divine. Like you.

  37. Let me clarify. It was the NYT article that sent my husband into a chocolate-cake-induced tiff, not your blog post. I think I’d rather eat yours, with the strawberries.

  38. I bake, quite a bit, but I never enjoyed it as much as I do now. It used to be a chore, now it is a respite from a harried day. And the children, our friends and neighbors all seem to love the results. But your cake looks fine – and I am sure it tasted delicious. I never understood the point of making a cake a sculptural phenomenon – that tastes like cardboard!

  39. “…High WASP’s don’t bake much.” I think when they do bake, they make blueberry pie or Toll House cookies.

    I LOVE to bake and would do it every day if I could. I am a CPA and love the exactitude of measuring, mixing, baking.

  40. Oh dear, it took me far too long to catch up to your posting on this! I apologize. I was happy to help, and the strawberry serration looks far better than I envisioned. (I could make a microbiology joke here about Serratia, which is a bacteria that grows out pink, but that would be excessively clever and therefore wrong.) And thank you for the very kind words about my book and blog. — Maryn

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