I love to bake. Seriously love. And I am pretty good at it.

For years, Daphne and I have made gingerbread something-or-other for the holidays. The first year, we did a train using a pattern we found in Family Fun. It took the better part of a week: one day to make the dough; one day to roll, cut, and cook; one day to put it together with royal icing, and one day to decorate. Then it sat around for a week before we took it to a skating party and gave it away.

The next year, we decided to make up our own recipe, since Daphne doesn’t really like gingerbread. That Thanksgiving, we each made a big chocolate shortbread turkey. I made the pattern that year, using a big fan shape for the tail and then a generic bird-shaped body. I cut slits in both so they would cross and hold each other up. It worked! We each decorated our birds, and they were different and beautiful. Daphne’s featured candy corn tail feathers (about one hundred), and mine was a veritable rainbow of earth-toned frostings carefully brushed frosting. They were nice centerpieces at the family dinner.

Always having enjoyed making cakes for special occasions, a couple of years ago, I decided to attempt to do fondant. Having read enough to know that store-bought fondant is not tasty, I made my own. It was surprisingly simple, and the results were so fun and amazing. I’ve made a guitar, diapers, a camera (having baked some cake in a soup can to be the lens), and a Golden Snitch, among others. I have a great recipe for chocolate fondant that tastes like Tootsie rolls.

Regular frosting cakes are awesome, too, though… One year for Daphne’s birthday, I made a cauldron cake using the mould that has a hold in the middle for filling. I also baked a red velvet cake, which I crumpled and mixed with frosting (this was before the cake balls phenomenon) and made it look like it was potion bubbling over the side of the cauldron. I then used black icing frosting to coat the cauldron and lid… remembering to warn parents that their children’s excrement might be shockingly-colored over the next day or two.

I made a beach scene, an owl (with feathers of rolled and cut-patterned caramels), snake, jungle scene (using various candies to produce palm trees, coconuts, and monkeys), and then just crazy stuff like a cake decorated with courante or candy bars.

All of this to say that moving into the trailer, I did not anticipate losing this once-loved hobby. But I did. And it threw me for a horrific loop!

We moved in just before Easter. I did bake some press cookies, which, fortunately, do not have to bake for very long. My daughter and one of her many cousins decorated the cookies in pastel icing, and everything was great. The next time I baked, however, whatever I was trying to cook burnt all along the bottom. We have a propane oven, and the flame is so close to the baking apparatus that anything containing even a modicum of starch (baked sweets, French fries, lasagne, etc.) burns along the bottom.

I’ve experimented with several things, like lowering the temperature or baking in smaller batches, but these have only met with mediocre results. Then it got hot. Really hot. As in the hottest summer on record. Ever. And I couldn’t even imagine heating up the barely-insulated trailer with an open blue flame in the middle of the living area.

I could not believe how much of my identity was wrapped up in baking before this! I have been asked in the past to bake for people’s showers and weddings and birthday parties, and have always declined because I did not want the pressure of having to make money doing what I loved doing.

Now, I can’t even get a cake to de-pan without leaving half of the charred remains in the pan?! Who am I?!

PROBLEM 1: Propane heat, close to pan = burn.

Knowing this and still wanting to make cakes for a baby shower I was co-hosting, I baked turquoise velvet cakes at my parents’ house then brought the cakes home to decorate. That’s when I ran into…

PROBLEM 2: Small refrigerator, no wasted space = no storage.

I took the well-wrapped cakes to a friend’s house and kept them there during the week. I was going to try to decorate the cakes on Friday, but realized that…

PROBLEM 3: Tiny trailer, elevated sliding doors = no place to close out the cats except for the restroom and there’s no way I’m leaving cakes in THERE… 1) eww and 2) that’s where the litter box is; if I locked the cat door, they would be REALLY confused and probably poop in the floor just to get me back.

Knowing how foolish it was both to wait until the day of to decorate the cakes AND to try a new “simplified” (read: not tried and true) fondant recipe, I got to work early Saturday morning.

First, the uber-yummy cream cheese frosting turned into soup. My friend ended up having to bring me six extra pounds of powdered sugar, which would have made the frosting way too sweet had I not added some shortening to even things out. Crisis One averted.

Then the fondant failed. I rolled and mixed and rerolled. I lost my patience and freaked out. When another hostess called me, I yelled into the phone and threw it onto the couch. I ended up only covering one cake with fondant and decorating the other two over the cream cheese frosting with fondant bits I was able to salvage, thanks to a lot of help working the chocolate fondant from Daphne, at whom I had also snapped earlier.

Proud moment.

Everyone loved the cakes, but I hated them. I knew what I wanted them to be, and even if they were acceptable, they weren’t what I’d wanted. They were… okay. I hate average. I want spectacular. (In all truth, my camera cake had been only average, as had the snake cake. This is why I don’t want to do things professionally. I’d always be in a snit.)

Next, I attempted to make a lovely layered Key Lime Pie Cake for a friend’s birthday. Again, the cake burnt. Not only that, I hadn’t realized that the cake pans had overlapped and one of them was tilted, so a bunch of batter spilled and burnt on the pan, thus stinking up the trailer.

With that, I ended up scooping out the cake and mixing it with the cream cheese frosting, making cake balls. I then dipped them in chocolate, so they were pretty extremely yummy and they were attractive enough… but, again, not what I’d wanted. I’d wanted to cover the beautifully-layered cakes in chocolate ganache. Boo.

Now that it’s cooling down, though, I’m ready to start experimenting. The other day, I made some lemon cake using a lemon cake mix and a big pan… so I guess they’re pancakes. I was going to layer them by piping vanilla icing between the layers and covering it with chocolate icing, but I was out of powdered sugar, and the cakes are so yummy, we’ve been nomming them! I also baked some store-dough cookies the other night, underbaking them but leaving them in the warm oven to firm up. They were pretty good. So it’s just going to take some practice.

Eventually, I’m sure, I will find the new normal way of cooking here in the van down by the river…

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