Learning to Let Go of the Perfectionist Baker Gene (yeah… right)

I’m sure it’s happened to everyone.

You make a cake.  Situations arise.  You run out of time and have to just give the cake as it stands at that moment.  You are disappointed with yourself and want to beat your head against a wall.

This past weekend, I was to make a “Chicago” cake for a friend who was having a surprise party for her girlfriend who finally moved to town.  I was told chocolate cake with peanut butter buttercream, and other than that, just a “Chicago” theme.

My mind exploded, and I had all sorts of grand ideas for this. I finally nailed down some stuff a few days before – I wanted to make the Bean (I love the Bean), the Chicago Theater sign, the Wrigley Field welcome sign, and the Picasso (if possible) – and to have a skyline across the bottom of the cake.

I know, I know… I’m a little ambitious.  But my mind doesn’t understand the word “no” when it comes to cake decorating.  You try to tell me that when I’m in the midst of a cake.  I dare you.

Anyway – the night before said cake was due, I was up late working on frosting and fondanting and cutting out shapes… and lo and behold, my dinner apparently went bad and I got a superb round of food poisoning.  (Did you know leftover pizza can go bad in a couple days?  Yeah – me neither)

Over the next 18 hours (the cake was due at 7 p.m. on Saturday), I alternated between drinking lots and lots of Gatorade, making sure I didn’t have a fever, trying to force myself to sit up and decorate this cake, and trying to get in a short nap every couple hours since I didn’t sleep the night before.

The result was this – the only picture I have of this cake.

I was so disappointed in myself.  I had such high hopes for this cake, especially because I was going to be in a room with a lot of people I didn’t know.  But… I have learned some lessons.

1) FondX.  I am not a fan.  I figured it would be much easier to purchase a little container of black fondant than to make some myself (seriously – there’s a story about me and food dye in my family at Easter… let’s just say I ended up with black hands, and I have no memory of how it came off my skin.  All I know is there’s a video with me screaming bloody murder in the background).  I had always used Satin Ice until I discovered Michele Foster’s Fondant, and thought it would be a good idea to try something new.

I’m sure there are people for which FondX works wonders.  Actually, I’m sure it’s GREAT for covering a cake – very soft and pliable.  When you are trying to cut out a city skyline and paste it around a cake… not so much.  My buildings were stretching, ripping, and going all over the place, whereas I was almost in tears trying to finish it as quickly as I could so I could get out the door with the cake.  I guess you could say that Frank Lloyd Wright designed my buildings… they’re all sorts of odd-shaped.

Note to self – never use FondX for decorative elements, unless they are incredibly simple.

2) Time Management.  Why oh why do I always assume that things will never take as long as they do?  “Oh – that Chicago theatre sign.  It’s so simple – that won’t take me any time at ALL”.  Famous last words.  (Well… not famous.  But they sure do stick in my mind).

All of that cutting was easy enough, kind of a pain with all the teeny tiny corners, but it worked just fine.  The painting however… I never seem to remember that paint must DRY before you touch it.  Hm. I think I need to go back to kindergarten for a day.

3) Letting it all go.  I think that a lot of bakers out there must be perfectionists – after all, baking is a very exact science.  Sure, you can change your flavors here and there, but you add a Tbsp instead of a tsp of baking powder, and you will have quite a surprise on your hands.

I have had this problem since I was a kid – when I get a vision of something in my head, I just can’t let it go, and get incredibly frustrated with myself when I can’t get it right.  I need to learn to just go with the flow…. in decorating, you have to.  There will be tons of mistakes, and the best decorators know that you just cover it up somehow – be it with a flower placed just so, or a ribbon that has some pretty tapering… who knows.  But you just have to go with it, because once you reach a certain point, there is nothing else you can do.

(If someone could take a baseball bat and beat that last statement into my head, I’d appreciate it)

I did get a lot of compliments on this cake, even though I still cringe when I look at it.  I did like the way my Wrigley sign worked out.  The Chicago one could’ve been better – but unfortunately my better one (I made two – luckily) broke in half when I was trying to stick it on the cake.  The Bean was fun – I made a bean-shaped cake pop, dipped it in white chocolate, and sprayed it with edible paint.  The only problem is that I couldn’t get it smooth by any means, and then it cracked as the chocolate cooled.  Sigh.  And the Picasso never happened – I just plain old ran out of time, although I had all the pieces cut out.

But… like I said, I learned some lessons, and now it’s time to move on to my baking vacation – and to my real vacation to Seattle!

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3 thoughts on “Learning to Let Go of the Perfectionist Baker Gene (yeah… right)

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