Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Reflections on a Stuck Bundt Cake

Yesterday, we had this big thing at work where awards were given out and speeches were made and sandwiches were eaten. One of the programs was a PowerPoint and talk about stress relief "during these challenging times," referring to the economy, war, and the environment. Personally, I think we would be better off if we limited our pessimism and stopped dwelling on "these challenging times," but that is another topic. Anyway, he kept coming back to the holidays being a stressful time, regardless of the economy, etc. Oh, these stressful holidays. For a second, I was surprised, thinking, "Why do they have to be so stressful?"
I thought:
- The holidays are expensive. But do they have to be? I mean, won't your loved ones love you anyway if you don't get them everything and exactly what they want?
- There's a lot of pressure to get everything done on time. But that's life, really all the time, and if you plan ahead, you can manage it. This is my first year not having exams during the holidays, so this seems like a piece of cake to me! And again, won't your loved ones still love you if maybe you're a little late with...whatever?
- There's pressure, when seeing friends and family you haven't seen in awhile, to put forth some kind of appearance of perfection. Speaking as a female (because that is the only experience I have), there's pressure to look beautiful and also thin--despite the fact that this is eating season--and bring the best-looking, best-tasting dessert to every party. Or some variation of this. But does it have to be this way? Why not focus on the positives--seeing all the people, all the warmth and lights and music and giving to the poor and happiness?

Etc etc. And then I realized that all of my "but won't blah blah blahs" don't apply to everyone; therefore I am lucky.
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I am going to a pre-Thanksgiving dinner tonight and for some reason volunteered to bring dessert. I am really not a dessert person. Why do I do this? I am a good cook (the hostess of this party has been telling people I am an "amazing cook" so I have a standard to live up to now) but baking is a challenge. Sometimes I bake things that are as good as the things I cook, but for the most part, there are many opportunities for disaster when me and the oven are involved.

I decided to try Joy the Baker's All Purpose Holiday Cake. I have a dearth of apples. I impulse-bought cranberries. My grandmere just gave me a ceramic bundt pan. No thoughts of recipe difficulty crossed my mind. So I embarked on the baking adventure--I used whole wheat pastry flour, maple syrup instead of brown sugar, 1/2 cup less oil, raw cane sugar and a little honey (if anyone cares). The batter tasted like Autumn Spice Toothpaste. Uh oh #1.

I baked a small amount of batter in a ceramic dish, and was relieved to find that my pre-cake tasted awesome. Nothing like toothpaste. Phew.

Except for the bundt pan. I didn't know you were supposed to only let it cool 15 minutes, so that the cake is cool but the pan is not! I let it cool until this morning; the party is tonight and the cake is stuck in the pan. Furthermore, the top is a teeny bit blackened. I am in the midst of Googling ways to un-stuck my cake. I fretted about having to scoop the cake out of the pan with a spoon and bring to the party a Pile of Cake. Which may have been a little burnt.

But then I realized something. I am incredibly lucky. I don't have the holiday stress people talk about--at least not to the same degree--because of the people who surround me in life. Everyone is going to laugh at my pile of cake, and that's where it will end. They will still love me if my cake is ugly. They will still love me even if the cake doesn't taste good.

I guess the conclusion of this is that I am thankful (haha) to have these kinds of people in my life, but also, I think this attitude is contagious. If you just march into the holiday parties, burned cake and all, being nice to everyone and ignoring any snottiness--kind of insisting that the point of these holidays is not being judgmental about presents, dresses, and food, but rather being together and having fun--maybe it will catch on.

UPDATE: It is now Thanksgiving morning, after the party. When I got home from work, I had half an hour to get directions from Google Maps, run an errand, and get the cake out of the pan. I tried several techniques for heating the bottom of the pan, and finally had to go with the last resort--putting the oven on low heat, putting the cake back in for five minutes, and then flipping the pan.
After five minutes, I opened the oven door.
Smoke and burnt-apple-cinnamon-smell poured out of the oven. The top of the cake was now completely black. I ran around the room opening windows before the smoke detector went off. At the sight of the blackened, smoking cake, I felt like crying or laughing--I went with laughing. I felt like I was in a movie--If Bridget Jones Were a Botanist. A single lady going to a couples party with a blackened cake.
And that damn cake still wouldn't come out of the pan! I had to cut it in slices, shake them onto a plate, attempt to arrange them nicely, and inform the party guests to eat around the burned parts, if they so desired.
When I ran my errand, I observed that burned cake smell had permeated my hair and jacket. I was walking around smelling like my cake-tastrophe.
But in the end, I was only half an hour late to the party, everyone had fun, no one starved, the cake was fine, and no one loved me less for bringing a half-burned, ugly cake to pre-Thanksgiving dinner.

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