I will do anything to save money. In fact I’ve been known to go to ridiculous lengths just to save a few pennies, literally. I remember once when I lived in Manchester, before I moved to Spain, I had to get some passport photos taken for some sort of official document. I went to one shop to find out how much they charged, then wandered around for quite some time until I eventually found another shop that did them but their photos cost £1 more so I walked all the way back to the first shop, which took me about 25 minutes, purely to save one pound. The sad thing is I would do it again! Every time! I can’t help it. I’ve inherited this trait from my dear Grandad. He passed away many years ago but his penny pinching ways continue to live on in me.
Which brings me to today. Today I had to make a birthday cake for my son’s birthday party tomorrow. Yes, I HAD to. No, I couldn’t buy one, I had to make one. I refuse to buy cakes when I can easily make them, ‘easily’ being used in its loosest possible form here. Before I recount the story of my cake making let me first put my day into perspective. I had arrived at school at 8.25am. From that moment until home time I didn’t stop. If I had a spare few minutes when I wasn’t teaching, either because it was playtime or because my class had their Spanish lesson with the Spanish teacher I would sit and write some of the end of year reports that I’m currently working on. Except for at lunchtime when instead of having lunch I raced ‘Treasure Hunt’ style to a shopping centre in Marbella in order to locate an octopus hat for Henry for his school play. When school finally finished at 4.15pm I tipped away the cup of tea that my friend had made for me at morning playtime and which had been sitting on my desk just willing me to pick it up, to make it feel useful rather than being left to sit idly by, bored and growing a nasty skin on top to pass the time. I opened the door to the parents, thankful to at last be sending home my very lively and chatty class, breathing a sigh of relief as I dispatched the last of my children with a cheery wave. I enjoyed a fleeting moment of peace before the inside classroom door flew open with a crash and in rushed my own children accompanied by a torrent of noise, bickering and whining as they pushed each other out the way trying to be the first one in. I got the boys out of school and into the car (sounds simple but isn’t) and drove home.
And so, after this day full of stress and busyness, it was time to make the birthday cake. The very instant I got into the house I went straight to the kitchen to begin my cake preparation. I needed to make a very big cake because it had to feed lots of people and I have a great recipe for just that sort of massive cake but it takes two and a half hours to bake. To add an extra frisson of stress and time constraint to my mission I had booked my children in for eye tests at 6pm and 6.10pm at the local hospital and had to get the cake in before we left so that I would have time to let it cool and then decorate it on returning home. I whisked together the huge quantities of ingredients, put the mixture into the tin and popped it in the oven. I washed everything up and then started work on making the mix for a second cake, this one would be for Henry to take to school on his actual birthday on Friday. Having made the mixture I put it in the fridge ready to bake in the pressure cooker when we got back. By now it was 5.50pm. Just time to brush off the flour that seemed to be dusted all over me and we could set off for the hospital. One quick check on the cake before we leave.
I look in the window in the oven door. Oh no! Half the cake mix has leaked out of the loose bottomed tin and it is oozing all over the shelf beneath! I sit and stare at it in disbelief. My eyes stray to the kitchen clock, it’s 5.55pm, we have to go. Possibilities race through my mind. I could open the door and try to speedily scoop the mixture back into the tray. But no,, that’s a bit manky and anyway the oven temperature would drop so that what is left of the cake would probably sink anyway. There’s nothing for it, I have to leave the disaster to do its own thing while I get the boys’ eyes checked.
We get back home at about 7.30pm and I’m straight back in the kitchen. I quickly put the other cake in the pressure cooker to bake and then steel myself to look through the oven door window, half expecting to see the cake tin now completely empty and cake mix all over the oven, flowing like volcanic lava over the edges of the shelf, down the walls and onto the oven base. But no, I’m surprised to see that what was left of the cake is still in the tin and even better, it looks cooked. Being only half the size means that it’s ready in about half the time so I take it and the oven shelf out to have a closer look. My first thought is that what is left looks fine and that if I make another cake using half the original quantity of ingredients and sandwich the two together I will be able to save the cake! My second thought is that the oozed cake on the shelf actually looks quite nice. It’s a huge cake-cookie! I manage to manoeuvre it off the shelf in one piece and put it on a cooling rack. I cut off a tiny bit and try it to see what is like. It’s delicious! Now, you might recall that this afternoon I had skipped lunch at school in favour of buying an octopus hat and I hadn’t eaten anything since. I was suddenly overcome with a voracious hunger. Nothing was going to satisfy it but cake, I needed cake, so I cut off another bit, then another and then another. My delicate nibbling transformed rather unsettlingly into a cake eating frenzy from which I didn’t emerge until I had eaten an embarrassing amount and felt a bit sick. No time for sickness though, I had another cake to make!
First I needed to bend the cake tin back into shape. You see, when I had taken the cake out of the tin I had noticed that it was very slightly buckled and there had been a gap, only the smallest hint of a gap, barely noticeable in fact but it clearly hadn’t gone unnoticed by the cake mix. It had realised how close it was to freedom and the temptation was too strong and it decided to escape from the confines of the tin. Now, far be it from me to cast myself inaccurately as blameless in this whole episode but this really wasn’t my fault. There is somebody in our house who can be quite impatient when it comes to putting things away in the kitchen cupboards and if things don’t fit neatly in straight away then it isn’t unheard of for this person to slam the cupboard door a few times to see if the contents can be coerced into fitting more neatly. Clearly it would be unfair of me to name and shame but I will point out that the cupboard where the cake tins go is high up, out of the reach of the children and we know that it wasn’t me. Make of that what you will.
The third cake of the night goes in the oven at about 8pm. It should be ready to come out at about 9.30pm. I realise that by the time it’s cooled and I can sandwich it together with the other half it will be quite late so I decide to start decorating the top while the bottom bit is still in the oven. Suddenly the pressure cooker beeps, the second cake of the night is ready! I take it out and put it on the cooling rack next to the remains of the cake-cookie. Ok, back to the decorating. I stand and look at the cake. I can’t quite work out how I’m going to decorate it but I do know that I want to make a car race track design because Henry adores cars. I go and get the new toy cars that I have bought especially for it and I gather together the other things that I have bought, thinking they would be useful. This doesn’t take long. I have the cars, a bag of licorice sticks, a packet of biscuits and a small, brown, plastic gate from a child’s farmyard set. This meagre collection is all I have to work with. Hmmm. Wishing I had put a bit more thought into this beforehand I continue standing and looking, waiting for inspiration to strike. After about 10 minutes it does, I have a plan! I set about making my masterpiece. On top of the cake I construct my desert race track scene and I will use the licorice sticks to make the finish post. My creativity is interrupted by the oven beeping. The third cake of the night is ready! I take it out. Oh, it’s quite big! It’s risen up more than I expected. I leave it to cool thinking that I will have to cut it a down bit otherwise I will have the tallest cake in the history of cobbled together, tragedy blighted, homemade birthday cakes.
Back to the decorating! I need to make a chequered finishing post. I locate the smallest of spaces in my rapidly depleting kitchen worktop surface. In the midst of the apocalyptic scene that confronts me, in this messy wasteland of cooling cakes that is liberally sprinkled with crumbs and generously dusted with flour, with used spoons piled up next to used bowls, where off cuts of baking paper jostle for space with buttery bits of kitchen roll that have been used to grease tins and then discarded, where a precarious arrangement of cake tins and cooling racks threaten to tumble Jenga like into the sink at the slightest movement, where everything is pebble dashed with cake mix splatters that sprayed around during a momentary lapse of concentration during the electric whisking stage, in the midst of all this chaos I find the tiniest of spaces to draw and carefully colour in my chequered finishing post.
Eventually my creation is close to being finished. It is going on for 10pm. All I have to do is cut down the bottom half a bit and put jam on it, place the top onto the bottom without causing the sand to fall off and then make some buttercream to put around the sides and then throw more crushed biscuits at the sides to continue my sandy theme! By 10.15pm it is done and it had only taken me just over five hours!
Why on earth would anyone choose to buy a cake when a homemade cake can be created so simply?!!