Generally I am not a “sweet” person. To clarify, I mean that I’d give you a place to sleep if you needed one, or a hot meal, but cookies and cakes would be low on my list of favorite foods. I attribute this to the fact that as a child my grandmother provided such a steady supply that I think I achieved my lifetime sugar allotment early on. Also, my first real job as a teenager was in a bakery. After smelling that sickeningly sweet aroma all day simply walking in the door could put you off donuts for life.
This is not to imply that I don’t eat sweets, only that they’re not my first choice. To add to my lackluster interest in sugary foods, I developed an allergy to chocolate when I was twenty-one. Following the difficult delivery of my son not only did my hair turn gray in patches, giving me a sort of youthful Cruella Deville look, I found myself suddenly unable to eat chocolate. What’s up with that? I must have been Jack the Ripper’s knife sharpener in a former life to garner this much attention from the universe. If I even envisioned myself eating a malted milk ball or a Milky Way, little red bumps would erupt all over my body. Until five years ago the symptoms persisted, then, in a moment of weakness fueled by a truffle that simply could not be ignored, one bite led to another and I ate the whole thing. Afterwards, I sat on the bar stool in our restaurant and waited for the expected rash and subsequent doctor’s visit to ensue. Nada, no rash, no doctor, just another truffle sitting on the tray, whispering “pick me”. Yea! Say what you will about Prozac or Valium, a good piece of chocolate can make it all go away for me.
Cake also holds my attention. Not so much the cake itself, but the fabulous creations you can sculp and mold cake into. Every cake show on TV is programmed in my DVR and I will watch them in marathon fashion while I’m folding clothes or prepping food in the kitchen.
Art and food have always held hands. If you have ever been to Harrod’s food court in London you would have seen an excellent display of just this union. Asparagus spears perfectly disguised as haystacks, chocolate birds with candy beaks circling sculpted chocolate fountains, pineapple swans, truly a feast for the eyes.
As youngsters my children’s birthday’s were always an opportunity for a party and a day dedicated to celebrating the individual child. Cakes were the focal point of these special days so several weeks before the actual date they would choose a theme and what type and design of cake they wanted.
When my daughter was five and three-quarters, as she referred to her age at the time, she indicated that she wanted a “Barbie” birthday and a Barbie cake. Ach. Understand, my kitchen was not equipped with what cake designers have at their fingertips in their studios. Other than a cake decorating set I’d purchased at a yard sale, basic cake pans and some food coloring, I was ill-equipped to give Barbie a great sendoff.
Determined to give my little girl her wish, I went to the local party store for ideas. To my surprise I found a cake pan in the shape of a full ball gown skirt. Directly in the center of the pan was a tube, in which, according to the directions, you inserted the lower half of an actual Barbie size doll. Doll in place, you then iced and decorated the skirt and torso. Allrighty then.
Twenty little cherubs received invitations to the upcoming party. Her birthday falling towards the end of July, weather thankfully allowed for a backyard cookout. One day prior to her big day I put her father on decorations and yard clean up and I started on the cake. After one failed run at the skirt, the second try produced a perfect bodiless chocolate skirt inverted on a silver tray. Inserting the doll in the center, I filled my pastry bags and went to work. Being an annoyingly detailed person, it took me several hours to finish the project having to refrigerate Barbie several times to keep the icing cool. In the end she was worth the effort resplendent in a gorgeous beaded pink gown with white accents. Good enough to eat. Smile inserted here.
Relieved to put that task behind me, I called my husband in to show him the finished project. Not born with one single creative gene in his entire frame, he was free with his gushing, which I appreciated. So impressed was he, that he called his parents to go on about it. My mother-in-law suggested that he bring it over to their house where his father could take pictures with his new camera. Sometimes a bad idea sounds good in the beginning but turns bad, but this idea never had a moment of doubt as to which way it was going to go. Sigh.
Despite my protests, my husband swore on the life of his mother (which I got in writing in triplicate) that he would be soooooo careful, never exceed 25 MPH, and be back as soon as the pictures were taken. Right.
After an hour I called and was told once again that the cake was a masterpiece, thank you, and that it was safely on its way back home. Worry, really is a wasted emotion, I reminded myself.
I saw the car pull up in the driveway. I saw my husband sitting behind the wheel. I did not, however, see the door open on the driver’s side. Hmmm. Drying my hands I went out to help him carry in the cake. He slumped down in the seat and tried to look invisible on my approach. Really? I still see you. Keep your hands where I can see them, and hand over the cake. Well, it was technically still cake and icing, except no longer one on top and the other underneath. It seemed the last turn and the heat had taken their toll on Barbie and as he went right she and her skirt went left and what remained was puddled on the carpet. Pulling out the signed agreement regarding his mother I offered several helpful suggestions for carrying out his end of it.
Once again Barbie was created. This time in silence. The cake and the party were a success. Pride does goeth before the fall.
1 cup cold water
1 14 oz. can condensed milk
1 1.4 oz. vanilla instant pudding mix
1 8 oz. pkg. softened cream cheese
1 8 oz. tub whipped topping
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup Kahlua
1 Tbsp. instant coffee (darker blends preferable)
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa, divided
Combine first 3 ingredients in large mixing bowl. Whisk well. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30 mins. until firm.
Remove wrap and add cream cheese. Beat on medium speed until well blended. Fold in whipped topping.
Combine hot water, Kahlua and instant coffee. Split ladyfingers in half lengthwise. Arrange in a large glass bowl flat sides down. Drizzle with 1/2 cup Kahlua mixture. Spread 1/3 of pudding mixture over ladyfingers and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp. cocoa. Repeat layers ending with cocoa. Cover and chill for at least 8 hrs.