Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk cake. When discussing the menu for Sandy’s retirement party with Tim, I asked if there was a dessert planned, or he wanted me to bake something. Tim said that his sister was going to get some ice cream, but then mused that a cake would be a good idea. I asked what kind of cake Sandy enjoyed and he responded immediately “carrot cake.” I’d never baked a carrot cake before, but was game to try, so I started leafing through the two giant baking books I owned. Even though Martha’s variation with fresh ginger was intriguing, I landed on a recipe for Light Carrot Cake in the America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. It boasted only a half-cup of vegetable oil and 3 eggs (apparently carrot cakes tend to have much higher quantities of those ingredients) and I know that Sandy appreciates lightened desserts, so I thought I’d try it out.
Tim boasted to people at the party that I’d grated an entire pound of carrots by hand for the cake, but it wasn’t that big a deal, since I just sat at the coffee table with a grater and a bowl and knocked it out while watching half an episode of Burn Notice. The rest of the cake was pretty easy to assemble as well, though I got nervous at how long it was taking to incorporate the grated carrots, as instructions like “don’t overmix” always leave me super confused and concerned that is exactly what I’m about to do.
I made the neufchatel icing Saturday morning before the party, which was also super easy. I let the cheese come to room temperature and the powdered sugar mixed in pretty well, even by hand (the recipe recommended mixing by hand, so the icing wouldn’t get soupy). I didn’t have anything fancy to spread the icing on the cake with, just a rubber spatula, but it came out pretty well (despite getting a little smushed in the fridge, whoops). Later in the afternoon came the difficult part: decorating the cake.
Tim had requested that I write something on the cake. After consulting the baking drawer, we unearthed a tube of Betty Crocker Decorating Icing in green. We didn’t have any tips, so Tim bought some Cake Mate tips from the store. If you’re noticing that there’s a brand name disconnect here, you’re right, and it may have something to do with what followed, but maybe not. I asked a friend of mine who bakes a lot for some pointers on decorating and she told me to trace what I wanted to write on the top of the cake with a toothpick, because I could always smooth the white frosting out again with a spatula if it didn’t fit. This was the best advice, because I definitely had to try more than once to get the writing to fit and look good. So, with my “design” sketched out on the cake, I clipped the end of the icing tube and screwed on the writing tip from the kit.
Holy moley, I still am not sure what the problem was exactly, but the consistency of the frosting was impossible to get cleanly out of the writing tip. My brother in law’s girlfriend walked into the bedroom where I was decorating the cake (the kitchen was too crowded at that point, and MAN did I not need an audience) and noted that I was sweating, trying to write the message. It felt like pushing a boulder up a hill, I had to exert so much effort on the tube to get the icing to come out of the tiny hole in the writing tip. Maybe the Cake Mate tubes of frosting are softer and more gel-like? Maybe the Betty Crocker tips are larger and play better with the thicker consistency of the icing? (I don’t know that there is a consistency difference, I’m just assuming that something had to be going on. Please weigh in if you’ve used these with no trouble and let me know what my deal is.) As it was, I could only get about a half of a letter in the message out at a time, before I had to take a break and flex my fingers. I cleaned up the skinny lines as best as I could with a toothpick, using it to push stray end-curls into place to make the breaks a little less noticeable. Dismayed, I drew a little flourish at the bottom of the cake to trace with the star tip, to distract from the goofy writing.
Okay, lesson learned. Next time I will not pick the easy way and I will use a pastry bag with an actual tip and coupler. Though we do still have a half-tube of green and a full tube of red icing left. Maybe this Christmas I’ll decorate some cupcakes with some lazy ropes of green and red frosting. Who’s game?