Tuesday, April 3, 2018

"Lady in Waiting"


Angelina’s baby sister was just about to turn one year old. Everyone had been preparing for a big family get-together on the weekend, where little Olivia would get her very first taste of birthday cake. Angelina had spent a great deal of time folding paper napkins into origami crowns and stars and flowers; her dad had spent his week hanging streamers from the ceiling all over the house, and various aunties and uncles were making up trays full of delicious treats and goodies for the party on Saturday. But it was Angelina’s mother who had the very best job of all: she was baking the cake.

On Thursday evening, Angelina’s mother started pulling out all of her baking materials and arranging them along their long counter. She had worked as a professional cake decorator once, so her supply cupboards for this type of work were full to bursting and every piece was of top-notch quality. There were pans and platters and bowls and brushes galore. She brought out her industrial stand mixer and a collection of spreaders and spatulas. She had a large, black tool box that was a treasure chest of highly-pigmented food colourings, piping bags and tips for making different shapes and textures of icing. Each item was laid out with great care, as a painter would carefully set out his paints at the beginning of a large project.

Angelina had watched her mother make many cakes before, but she rarely was invited to eat them when the decorations were complete. All sorts of people hired her mom to make cakes for their most special occasions -- weddings, graduations, retirement parties and the like -- but for Olivia’s first birthday, she would finally be allowed to indulge in one of her mother’s masterpieces. There had been a magnificent cake for Angelina’s birthday, of course, but that was so long ago now.

Angelina sat at the kitchen table, folding a few remaining napkins into delicate paper flowers. Over at the counter, she could hear her mother muttering to herself as she mixed the batter for her sister’s birthday cake. After a while, Angelina walked over to where her mother was working, hoping to watch, or help, or, if she was lucky, to taste.

Angelina’s mother carefully poured the thick, shiny batter into the waiting baking pans, already floured and greased. With a spatula, she scraped out the mixing bowl until it was perfectly clean, before handing the empty bowl and wiped-off scraper to Angelina for washing. Usually a bit of the batter would be left in the bottom or along one edge of these tools, but her mom had been especially careful today. Angelina sighed with disappointment. She would have to wait until the next phase of this process to taste-test.

The kitchen smelled better and better as the cakes began to warm and rise in the oven. Angelina peered through the window in the oven door to get a better look, as the gooey cakes transformed into soft and solid circles and goodness. Finally the timer went off and Angelina’s mother gently lifted the cake pans onto the top of the stove to cool. The aroma that escaped from inside the oven was absolutely heavenly!

“Patience, my girl,” grinned her mother when she saw the look of longing on Angelina’s eager face. The girl looked up a little sheepishly, and went back to folding napkins while they waited.

An hour later, they were ready to continue. The first thing that Angelina’s mother did was to pop the cakes out of their pans and cut off the rounded top of the cakes to make them nice and flat. Usually those cake tops were considered waste and so could be eaten immediately, but when Angelina reached up to break a piece off, her mother shook her head. “We’re going to use those bits to make cake pops this time,” she said. Angelina sighed again, resigning herself to more waiting. Surely there would be something to taste before too long.

Angelina’s mother whipped up a buttercream icing by combining a great glob of butter with several cups of icing sugar, a splash of vanilla and just a dribble of milk. Her mother dropped a dollop of white icing into several small bowls, smearing a coloured paste into each with a toothpick. Angelina mixed the bright pigment into each little batch while her mom layered up the cake and covered the whole thing with a thin crumb-coat of buttercream icing before setting it in the fridge to chill. More waiting ensued.

When the cake had chilled another hour, Angelina and her mom covered it in a rainbow of icing, using each of the colours in turn. They then used even more icing to make a dough out of the leftover cake tops, rolling them into round little balls, roughly the size of a Timbit, finally covering them in a smooth layer of white. They stuck them around the top of the rainbow cake and shook a tin of sprinkles over the whole thing. Angelina’s mouth watered as her eyes surveyed their finished masterpiece with pride. It was beautiful and it would taste wonderful, but how could she wait for two more days!?

“Thank you for helping me, and for being so patient,” said Angelina’s mom, once all the baking bits were cleaned up and the counters were once again clear. “Time to celebrate.”   She pulled two cake pops out of hiding. They were covered in sprinkles and extra large. Angelina took one and beamed. No. More. Waiting.

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