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Just Icing on the Cake, Part One

by Roberta McReynolds

Imagine a ‘toy store’ dedicated to the decadent, culinary urges of pastry chefs (both professional and amateur) and the scene is set for a dieter’s nightmare. This store exists a mere four miles from my front door, and worse yet, within walking distance from my husband’s favorite hobby shop.

The aisles are stocked with innovative gadgets for every conceivable special event and season, with a rich emphasis on wedding supplies. Cake pans, cookie cutters, and candy molds are strategically situated to catch and hold the attention of those who dare enter. Decorative sugars and sprinkles, fondant, specific types of icing supplies, pastry fillings, and candy making ingredients tempt taste buds and stimulate the imagination. Shoppers inevitably approach the checkout counter with more than they originally intended to purchase.

I suspect that the sugar-laden atmosphere is delivered directly through the air-conditioning system to reduce any natural resistance, causing a hypnotic-like trance. I should know, because I’ve had my senses overwhelmed each time I walked through the door, but have yet to discover any effective defense against temptation. Most of my bouts with this phenomenon have concluded with a slightly bruised bank account. I’ve entered the store looking for unique laser-cut cupcake papers and cute sprinkles only to get sidetracked halfway down the first aisle. The next thing I know, I am entrapped by a display of fascinating bundt pans holding me firmly in place until a salesperson suddenly appears at my side.

One of these episodes was the moment when I innocently became infected by the ‘cake decorating bug’. I’m not certain, because there were no witnesses to later explain to me how I ended up signing up for classes. The trunk of my car contained the irrefutable evidence: class schedule, a beginner’s decorating kit containing all I needed (you’ll recognize the humor in this later), and a receipt.

How hard could this be, really? Three classes lasting three hours each and the first class was just a demonstration. I assumed that I would only have to work at the actual decorating process for a total of six hours. I could do that! It would be a fun new experience. If I should make a fool of myself, I could rest in the comfort that I’d never see the other students again; what happens in class, stays in class.

I arrived to the first class early and strategically located a seat near the exit, just in case. I watched the other classmates arrive, trying to ascertain if they were more experienced or had the same uneasy appearance I was trying to mask. My anonymity was short-lived when a former neighbor, Cathy, waltzed in with several of her friends. Cathy the accomplished cook, of course. Instead of sitting off by myself, I was now part of group and seated further away from the door.

The instructor was setting up and chatting with everyone. She seemed quite pleasant and created a relaxed environment. I took notes as she shared information, much of it making little sense to me, but I was positive it would be vital to successful decorating.

Lori unwrapped two cake layers from their plastic cocoons and flipped them from palm to palm as she explained taking one cake from the pan after cooling and since it comes out upside down, the bottom is now the top. She turned the top (which was now on the bottom) back to the top to explain slicing the raised portion off to make it flat so it could now be a flat bottom and the bottom could be the smoother top for easier icing. Then you slice the cake into two, which she had already done, for a two layer cake. Got that?

Someone in the back of the room bravely admitted, "What? The top is the bottom?"

Lori began flipping the layers again. If she’d had a third layer, I suspect we would have been entertained with a juggling routine worthy of Ringling Bros. Circus. Furthermore, she’d end her performance without losing a single, wee crumb.

"Torte the 3-inch deep cake into two layers, even off the top, turn them both over and the bottom becomes the perfect top!" Lori repeated. She beamed at us, confident we had it this time. The third time through the demonstration included reassembling the layers and inserting them back in the pan and walking us through each step very slowly.

She tried to get back on schedule by whipping up a batch of special frosting and instructing us to make at least two batches for next week, divided in three different amounts and degrees of stiffness. There was something about adding butter flavoring, because butter-cream frosting doesn’t contain butter, along with portions of vanilla and almond flavorings.

My hasty notes included cryptic reference to regular ‘shortening isn’t acceptable’ anymore, because the trans-fat is what made it work so well and all brands of confectioner’s sugar are not created equal. (Let’s keep it our little secret that I transgressed and purchased the type that contained cornstarch.)

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