3. Birthday Cake Breakdown
Updated: Jul 21, 2019
Baking a cake with autism/ADD
Cake baking and decorating requires a lot of planning. Even seen a person with ADD make a plan? Right...
My son was about to turn four years old and if there's one thing he loves, it's the movie Monsters Inc. He must have seen this film a hundred times, easy, and now the whole family knows the movie by heart. His favourite character is Sully, the big, fluffy, marshmallow-like monster with a big heart and even bigger teeth. So, I knew a Monsters Inc. themed birthday party would make this a day to remember.
Now, since my son has a gluten allergy, I had to make a special gluten-free cake. I did my research - this, I'm good at - and gathered all the necessary materials. Not just the cake mix, but also everything I needed for decorating. I'm talking about food colouring, special piping bags with the right opening for making hairlike structures on the cake, all ingredients for the chocolate ganache filling, you name it. Everything in the right amount and in the right color. I baked the layers of the cake in advance and put them in the freezer until the day came of decorating the cake. Now, I can almost hear you think 'what could go wrong with this kind of preparation?' Well, let me enlighten you.
P.s. I will use *Attention shift* to highlight the fact that my focus will jump from one place to another.
Instead of sticking to the cake, the monster's butter cream hairs were oozing down, like thick strings of snot from someone who really needs to see a doctor.
I decided that I was going to use my neighbours kitchen to decorate the cake. After all, I didn't want my son to see it before hand and my neighbour was kind enough to offer me her help. Loaded with three big boxes of half thawed cake layers, fondant, materials, and grand expectations, I showed up at my neighbour's house. I set everything on the kitchen counter and started working.
First, I did the ganache filing. I had seen a recipe online, bought the ingredients and assumed the rest was self explanatory (Fuck my ADD for not having the patience to actually read the whole recipe). I ended up with something comparable to a brown soup. I stirred and stirred and watched the substance drip from the spoon as I held it up. This can't go in the cake, it will just drip off again. *Attention shift* I decided to take a step back from this project. I've noticed that when I get confused or overwhelmed by confusion, I tend to just drop the subject or walk away from the situation. It's like my brain sets this timer and if I haven't figured out the problem within 2 minutes (for example) I just lock down. My brain literally begins to itch and hurt. I get restless and nervous and upset and really, I just need to let it be, calm down and come back to it later.
In the mean while, I was cutting the layers of the cake. The knife was giving me trouble as I couldn't seem to get it to cut straight and whilst cutting, half the damn cake came apart. Stupid *ss gluten-free cakes! They crumble like cookies. By the time I was done, all the muscles in my shoulders had cramped up from the exertion and that little piece of forehead you have between your eyebrows, it felt like someone had stabbed me there with a knife.
*Attention shift* My attention switched instantly. How was my chocolate ganache doing? It seemed to have thickened, so I put it in between the layers, only to find out the cake was on the wrong surface for me to decorate it and we had the move four layers of crumbling cake onto a decorating platform. Oh, the stress! But by the grace of God, we did it!
Ok, cake moved, the filling is on, now what? *Attention shift* Oh yes, the butter cream! While I was making the butter cream, I had to put food colouring in it to make it the right turquoise or otherwise purple colour. With food colour in one hand, I recalled that I also needed this little flask to colour the fondant I was going to use to make letters *Attention shift*. Before I even realised it, I was in hands deep kneading turquoise fondant and the butter cream project was pushed aside. I really liked the feeling of fondant. To feel the soft substance go past that little pieces of skin you have between your fingers, the plica.
*Attention shift* Oh wait a second, I forgot to put on gloves. Darn it. *Attention shift* Now, where did I put that butter cream? Oh yes, there it is, but oh, look at my hands! *Attention shift* Apparently, food colouring does more than just colour food. I need to wash them first!
After washing up, I decided to make another batch of fondant and butter cream in another color *Attention shift*, but the little flasks with food colouring were nowhere to be found. I circled the kitchen at least ten times before I noticed my neighbour's two year old walking around with it in her hands as she passed their little dog that was chewing up my fondant *Attention shift*. Wait! What?!
I took both ingredients away from the toddler and the dog, turned back to the kitchen counter *Attention shift* and had no clue whatsoever of what I was doing. Alright, calm down, let's do the butter cream first. I grabbed the piping bag, put the butter creme in but the stuf was sliding off the cake in the same pace as I was putting it on. Wasn't the cream supposed to stick? Maybe if I tilt the cake? Ok, I can do that and with a tilted cake in front of me, I started piping again only to discover a few moments in that the piping bag was plugged. I squeezed it hard and Woosh! The butter cream splashed out and not just on the cake, but also all over the kitchen counter.
"Did you sieve the powdered sugar before adding it to the mixture?" My neighbour asked. "It was in the recipe and you need to sieve it to prevent chunks of sugar ending up in your butter cream." Well, Fuck me. I never read recipes. I don't have the patience for it.
*Attention shift* I looked at my neighbour kitchen. A big blob of turquoise butter creme was smeared across her counter. Powdered sugar had created some sort of misty dust all over her appliances. Flasks of food colouring were everywhere and the bowl I used to make the chocolate ganache stood there dripping in the corner. The fondant had hardened by now, I had cake crumbs in my shirt and my hands looked like I had just killed a clown. A really pretty turquoise clown.
My neighbour stood beside me. "Wow, this is really intense." she said with a sigh of disbelief. "I need a break." I replied. I felt like vomiting. I felt like I was going to break down. The muscles in my shoulders were rock hard with tension and my head spun like a spinning top. What the hell was I doing?
Thanlkfully, my neighbour is also a good friend and she really helped me finish the cake. In the end, it didn't turn out that bad but my grand expectations were definitely down the drain. The next day, I revealed to cake to my little boy and he instantly shouted "Sully!"
So, there you have. It might have took a break down or five, but in the end, I had a gluten free cake that resembled Sully the monster enough to make my son ever so happy. Phew...!
P.s. The Ganache actually turned out really good ;-)