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Holding It All Together-The Great Cake Bake

By Amy McCollom
Do you bake? Do you like to bake? Imagine having your cakes that you bake judged. Eek! My daughter and I have been watching a series on Netflix called The Great British Baking Show. Although I do get caught up in the excitement of the challenge of making and baking the exquisite different cakes and pastries on each show, I would be terrified to actually be there and have to compete against more competent bakers than myself.

My sister, though, she would do pretty well, I think. She can and has made so many things, and they all turn out really, really good. From fancy hand-painted cookies, to macarons (not to be confused with macaroons), to purses, quilts, pillows, and other hand stitched items, she is a whiz at anything she tries. I didn’t get that gene. I didn’t get the green thumb gene either. I got the clumsy, caring, animal loving gene that draws in puppies and kittens and children, and can make a mean pot of gruel when needed. But fancy pastries and cakes, not so much.

The thing I like about this British baking show is most of the items the bakers have to bake are things that I have never or rarely heard of before, so it is a learning experience. I also have a fondness for anything British, as my roots are from there, and I would possibly like to visit there someday. 

Most of the things they bake do make my mouth water, so if you are going to watch, have some hot tea, and a biscuit ready to snack on, as you will get a bit “peckish.”

I have made birthday cakes for all of my kids through the years, and for family and church functions and such, but never for a contest or to be judged, really, except for maybe one incident. And like most times in my life, one thing led to another, to another, and here is what happened…

I was newly hired at the University of Illinois, working at Operation and Maintenance in the front office. I was a lowly typing clerk, who filed, handed out office supplies, and kept a building key inventory. I was the low woman on the totem pole, so to speak. I found out during my first week that office politics dictated that the lowest on the totem pole had to bake the birthday cake for the birthday person that month. The birthday person was none other than my boss, Ms. Shirley. I hadn’t known her very long, but we had a good rapport, and she wanted a simple chocolate cake. 

Whew. I felt that was doable. I had made those before, and had a great recipe for a Texas sheet cake! The night before the party I worked hard to get everything just right. I went slow and sure, as this was kind of a big deal. The entire front office would be eating my cake, and I didn’t want to blow it. I even wore a hair net.

When I was done, it looked beautiful! The glaze was shiny like a mirror and set up like crystal. It had turned out perfect. I warned everybody not to touch my cake, and even placed a DO NOT EAT THIS CAKE sign next to it. My dad loved cake, but he promised to keep out of it.

In the morning, I went into the kitchen and to my horror discovered that somebody had helped themselves to a big piece of my cake! My cake! It was ruined now! What was I going to do?! I couldn’t take a partially eaten cake to my boss for her birthday! I was devastated, and crying my eyes out. I yelled at my dad, who swore he didn’t get into it. Finally my brother came out of his room to all the commotion and confessed. “Oh, I got home late, and saw a cake sitting there, and just got me a piece. I thought Mom baked it for me.”

“Didn’t you see the paper I put next to it that says do not eat this cake!?” I asked furiously!

“No, I didn’t turn on the lights, I just cut me a piece. I thought it was for me! I smelled it when I came through the door! I’m sorry!”

Without anything else I could do, I took the cake and told Ms. Shirley the story. She said she didn’t mind, and the whole office got a chuckle out of the mishap. I, of course, was red in the face all day about it.

Later that day, my brother stopped by my office and brought Ms. Shirley a birthday card, and personally apologized for eating a piece of her cake. She thought that was so sweet of him, and forgave him on the spot. I still remind him of it occasionally.

I promise you, if I am ever asked to do something, there will be mishaps, mahem, flukes, misunderstandings, and it will not be perfect. But my heart is in the right place, and whatever I do, it will be memorable. Just always expect the unexpected when it comes to me and my family. And if you need a nice cake, better to ask my sister.

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