02 September 2008

Cake Catastrophes or How to Punt When Money is on The Line

Naturally, one cannot pass through over 20 years of cake decorating without a few mishaps. Perhaps the greatest danger was to my own peace of mind.

When I started in on this cake decorating venture, we lived in a tiny 2 bedroom apartment. Our living room had 1 couch, 1 sewing machine cabinet, and our dining room table. And that's all that would fit! We did have a dining room, but it was overloaded with a desk (so Mulletman could study), a small deep freezer, a high chair, and an electric keyboard.

Needless to say, space was bit tight for running a cake business. So tight, in fact, that you had to step outside to change your mind.

That's a joke; You're supposed to laugh.

I'm waaaaaaiiiiting....

Anyway, I would bake the cakes and make the frosting in the kitchen. Then I designed and decorated them at the table. (in the living room, you'll recall. Right in the middle of the LIVING room where everyone, you know, LIVED.)

From the time I pulled the first cake out of the oven, the air was punctuated with, "Stay away from the cake. Go play in the other room. NOW!" It got even tenser once I strated applying the frosting, "Don't breathe in here. Don't thump on the floor. Go play outside. DON'T bump the table. DON'T bump the mama! Stay away! KEEP OUT!"

Poor Funsocksgirl and Scout!

We also had a wonderful little long-haired rat terrier mix dog. Surprisingly, she didn't shed much, but an occasional long hair would float through the air. And. Get. Stuck. ON THE FROSTING!

"out, Out, OUT you stupid dog!!"

Poor little Emily!


My first big catastrophe was also one of my greatest triumphs. Mulletman and I played volleyball on a town league. We were in the "B" league which meant "no spiking or intense plays". The B League for for folks who played well enough to be competitive, but who weren't gung-ho enough to methodically kill the players on the other team with power plays. I was playing the front line and some bozo on the other team was getting ticked that we were winning. He spiked right at me.

I had no time to think, I just reacted and deflected the spike with the base of my palm. A searing pain went right through my arm and out my elbow. I was hurt, folks, badly! Nonetheless, I tried to be a good little teammate and "shake it off" so we could finish the game. I even took my turn at serving!

By the time we got home, my entire forearm was swollen and mottled with purple and red. I was cold and clammy and nauseous. I was also too poor to go to the doctor! We iced it etc. and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, I was due to start decorating a BIG wedding cake the very next day.

I baked the cakes between rounds of analgesics, but I ran into a real problem when it was time to make the frosting. For a wedding cake I usually make pounds and pounds of frosting. At that time, all I had was a little hand mixer and I had to make my frosting one batch at a time. Usually my arm and shoulder ached like a son-of-a-gun when I was finished. I had asked Mulletman about getting a larger stand mixer, but he always poo-pooed the idea as being beyond our meager budget.

However, this time, I was in too much pain to manage a hand mixer. I was in tears just picking it up! Mulletman swooped in to the rescue. He said if I could manage to hold and squeeze the decorating bag, he'd mix the frosting for me. Otherwise, I'd have to cancel the order - Something I was loathe to do to anyone 2 days before their wedding!

I tested a bag and found that if I used both hands, and didn't twist my wrist at all, I could make the decorating happen. Accordingly, Mulletman mixed. And guess what? His arm and shoulder ached when he was done.

And guess what else? I had a brand new Kitchen Aide mixer within a week!

:D Funny how that worked!


In reality I can only think of a few other near disasters.

I once agreed to make and decorate a wedding cake and transport it 60 miles away to Kansas City. The customer paid extra for the distance, naturally.

I didn't think it would be any big deal. I'd bake the cakes and frost them, but I wouldn't assemble tthe cake until I got there. Easy peasy, right?

All I can say is it was A. a good thing we got there 2 hours before the reception and B. an even better thing that Mulletman was there to keep me from coming unglued. Because the cake did. Come unglued, that is. The two largest layers were horribly cracked - cake, frosting and all. I was so upset I thought I was going to throw up!

Mulletman gave me many hugs and encouragements and suggestions. Fortunately, I always bring a "boo-boo kit" with me when I go to set up. It has extra frosting, my spreading spatula and bags and tips. It took quite a bit of doing, but when we were done patching and tweaking and redecorating it looked pretty darned good. However, we finished only a few moments before the reception started!


Then there was the hamburger cake fiasco. I baked that cake for a fellow at church and I was supposed to deliver it to him as a surprise that Sunday from his folks. It was winter and we had two ways out of our house to the car. One was down some oooooooold, rickety wooden steps of death and destruction into the garage. The other way was down the lovely, but slickery stone steps to the driveway. I was leaning toward the stone steps, but first I wanted to send out some guinea pigs to see how slippery the steps were. Accordingly, Mulletman, Funsocksgirl, and Scout went bouncing ahead of me. No one slipped.

"Come on out, Mom. The steps are fine!"

Foolishly, I believed them. I picked up the cake - It was in a cardboard box lined with yellow tissue paper - and bravely headed out the door. I got all the way to the second step when I hit a patch of ice. My feet went out from under me and I and the cake went flying!

When all was said and done, I had a bruised tailbone and a rotten attitude; the cake was squashed all over one side of the box. There was no time to attempt to fix anything. I was going to have to give them the destroyed cake for free accompanied by multiple heartfelt apologies. It was a silent and grim ride to church that morning!

To my surprise, the folks who bought the cake LOVED it and insisted on paying full price for it. They laughed and said the mashed look made it more closely resemble their son's favorite fast food burger.

Go figure!


I'm not much of a flower arranger, so if folks want flowers on their cake I'll either make them out of frosting or they can have their florist make arrangements for me to put on the cake. At one large wedding, the bride wanted me to put pink roses etc. on the layers. She gave me a napkin with the desired color on it. I matched it exactly and the cake looked terrific. The only thing missing was the cake top which the family was going to supply.

Imagine our horror when we arrived to set up the cake and found that the silk roses they had in the cake top not only didn't match my frosting work (or the napkins), but clashed horribly therewith! The mother of the bride was aghast. I needed an idea and I needed it QUICKLY because the reception was scheduled to start in less than an hour.

I gave the poor, stressed woman assurances that I'd fix everything and she rushed off for her part in the wedding.

What could I do?

Suddenly God inspired me to do something I'd never done before and haven't needed to try since: I put the petal tip on my frosting bag and coated every one of the silk rosebuds on the caketop with frosting to match the cake. It was a risky proposition, but I couldn't think of anything else to try.

Happily, it looked stunning. The bride loved it and her mother was THRILLED.

Too bad I didn't get a bonus for the big save!

Even sadder? I don't seem to have a photo of that high stress cake.


So there you go. Remember, when you face the apparent food or decorating tragedy, there is always a way to punt and creatively climb your way out of catastrophe. You just have to take a deep breath, trust God, and always carry a boo-boo kit.


Lori said...

Awwwwww, you sound like you have a great hubby too!

I loved your story and I found out you have yet another talent.

Your the best!


Damselfly said...

OK, so your next book has to be "Confessions of a cake decorator" or something like that! It sure brings back memories. My stepmother is a professional decorator, and she often had me help her when I was a teen. One time, I transported a cake somewhere, and a piece of rust fell off my hatchback and onto the cake!

PS I just gave you an award at my blog!

Dawn said...

Wow, that's a lot of stress! I can't imagine doing that in the small space, with two kids, AND a dog. But I gotta give you alot of credit for gumption! Decorating after destroying your wrist was very heroic. And frosting the silk flowers - amazingly brilliant!

anno said...

Decorating cakes seems like it would be nerve-wracking work -- kind of hard to edit mistakes. At least it would be for me. Your idea, though, for frosting the silk flowers was pure genius!

Anonymous said...

My friend is a caterer and always has problems with food sliding around in her van. She always carries a boo boo kit as well. This was an hilarious account of your trials and successes.

Susan said...

Sometimes we remember the near misses more than the homers. Thanks for sharing these with us.

Anonymous said...

You must have nerves of steel. And be tremendously creative, too.

All my decorating attempts look like a five-year-old did them. And I get nervous carrying a bagged salad in to a party. I can't imagine transporting a tiered, decorated cake.

Love the story about the hamburger. Those people sound like fun.