Birthday Cakes I Should Not Have Baked

This is from ‘Notes To My Kids” and is a tale of attempting to cook a birthday cake for my son using a recipe my mom used for me as a kid. Mine did not turn out quite as good as mom’s…..

To Roger:

As you know, I am a pretty good cook. I can whip up a good meal just about any time and cook just about any type of cuisine you could want. But the one area of the culinary arts I am not so good at is desserts. A perfect example of this woeful shortcoming was when I tried to bake you one of MeeMaw’s “Billie Sue Chocolate Cakes.”

This cake, a childhood favorite of mine and one you also liked, was an old fashioned recipe MeeMaw made me (and others) when I was a kid. That cake had cooked icing made with Hershey’s cocoa to produce a rich, dark, milk chocolate dessert that when done right was perhaps a “food of the gods.”

But let me repeat myself, when done right is the most important thing to remember. When not done right, the result was a kitchen tragedy to behold. Yes, this is about a time when I did not do it the way it should have been.

You may now ask what my mistake was. It was a simple thing I did wrong, caused by my tendency to not precisely measure things when I cook. I usually “wing” measuring things, like the amount of spices to use The outcome, while usually good, is not consistent every time. The ingredient of the chocolate cake I did not exactly gauge was the one I should have measured exactly to be sure. That ingredient was the cocoa powder that went into the batter of the cake.

Instead of using what MeeMaw’s recipe called for I added an amount of cocoa that could have made a bunch of cakes—not just one. I scooped out more and more cocoa into the bowl, and I mixed it up. The batter was very dark indeed, but I thought nothing of it at the time. What could be wrong with more cocoa? Next, I poured the batter into my cake pans, and in the oven they went. After a while, they came out, cooled, and I iced up what looked like a normal Billie Sue cake. But appearances were not the problem, it was the God-awful taste. I had used so much cocoa, the flavor was beyond strong, to say the least. Horrible is a better word to use, I must say. It was really bad, and we all knew it with our very first bite.

Therefore, that cake did not get consumed with glee like a Billie Sue cake should have been. I think it ended up in the trash because it was so outright wretched tasting to the tongue. Who knew what the reason was in the blink of an eye?

It was MeeMaw, of course, the Queen of the Baking and Cooking. Having made many of these cakes over the years, she asked how much cocoa I had used. I did not know for sure, so I just said “a lot.” The result was a brief lecture by her on always exactly measuring the ingredients of a dessert. If you don’t, a disaster is what you will get.

Since that day, I have taken her advice to heart, but I can’t say that I have applied it either because I have never baked another cake. Instead, I have left that birthday chore to others who follow the baker’s art. Most thankfully for those eating the cakes, I am sure you will agree.


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