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Birthday request prompts artist-baker summit

Age is a funny thing – or, maybe not so funny sometimes! I do know my perception of age definitely has changed over the years. When I was much younger, what I thought was old wasn’t even near “old” when I reached that number myself. I remember my mother turning 40 years old and me thinking she was one step from the grave. When I turned 40, I certainly didn’t think that at all.

The older I become, the more I realize that age is a state of mind. The problem is in my mind I feel very young. In fact, sometimes I feel like I am the same age as my children. But anytime we are photographed together, it becomes very clear that I am not their age.

You can always depend on some lit candles and a birthday cake to give you an abrupt wake-up call. They do so with the same shrillness as an alarm clock when it goes off early in the morning. And, it doesn’t even have to be your birthday in order to be effective. It can be someone else’s.

Last Thursday, my son, Blake, turned 26 years old. The morning of his birthday I said to myself, “How dare him?” But, he did anyhow. As I tried to process his age, I found it very difficult to wrap my mind around it. After all, how could he be turning 26 years old when that is my age?

I called him that morning and wished him a happy birthday. I also asked him what kind of birthday cake he wanted me to bake him this year. He blurted out, “strawberry!” His choice of cake caught me a little off guard. His “older” sister, Courtney, (we won’t even mention her age) was planning him a surprise party in Atlanta, and I was to bring the cake up there.

He must have sensed some hesitation in my voice because he meekly asked, “Is that all right with you?” “Of course, it is,” I said while my mind was envisioning the gooey strawberry cake sliding and melting on the journey to Atlanta. “Good!” he said with glee. ”That’s the one I want.”

“Then strawberry cake it is,” I replied.

As I hung up the phone, the cake baker and artist who live in my head began to have a little meeting.

One of the topics they discussed was how I could beautifully decorate and transport a strawberry cake without messing it up. Any other time it wouldn’t have mattered, but this time it was to be presented to Blake at a restaurant in Atlanta in front of a lot of people I had never met before. I said to myself, “Mark, you are a creative person. Put on your thinking cap and solve this little dilemma.”

All of you who bake cakes know how difficult it is to keep a very moist and spongy strawberry layer cake from sliding all over the place in a car. Sometimes it is even hard for me to get it from the kitchen counter to the dining room table.

However, a messed-up cake has never stopped the Ballard clan. All we do if slippage should occur is pass out bowls and spoons. It has always been an unwritten rule around our house that no sugar shall be wasted. All I could see in my mind was a melted pink poof.

After much contemplation, I decided to make it in the form of a sheet cake. It would be easier to serve and decorate that way. I would then freeze it, allowing it to travel better. Now all I had to decide about was what to put it on and how to cover it.

The problem was we were going to Atlanta about lunch time and the cake would not be served until about 9 that evening. That made things even more interesting.

When I was at the grocery store purchasing the ingredients for the cake, I passed the aisle where the tin disposable roaster pans are located. My inner baker said to my inner artist, “Why don’t you just get one of those and bake the cake in it?” That way you can serve it right from the tin pan and not have to worry about messing with a platter.” The inner baker continued, “It even has a plastic lid to cover it.”

My inner artist lost out as I placed the tin pan and cover in my buggy. When I got home I mixed up the cake batter and baked it directly in the pan like my inner baker had suggested. However, when I took it out of the oven, my inner artist screamed, “Mark, you simply cannot take that cake to Atlanta in a turkey roasting pan!” So I went on a search for a platter large enough to hold the sheet cake, said a quick prayer and then turned it out onto the platter. It came out perfectly. I smiled along with my inner artist.

I iced it with the gooey strawberry icing and then decorated it with cream cheese piping and fresh strawberries. I even wrote “Happy Birthday Blake!” on it. I borrowed the plastic lid from the tin roaster, and it fit perfectly over my freshly baked confection. I secured it with tape and placed it in the freezer. However, I was not out of the woods yet.

The frozen cake had to make several stops before its final destination at the restaurant. It wouldn’t fit in our cooler, so we waited until the last minute to put it in the car. We dropped it by my daughter’s boyfriend’s place. We cleaned out his refrigerator to allow the large cake to fit with the hopes it wouldn’t thaw anymore.

When 9 p.m. rolled around, I was exhausted, as was the cake. When our waiter brought it out with the candles lit, I felt like it had held up pretty good for all it had been through. I decided that must be like me. Although I’m not 26 years old, I think I’ve held up pretty good for a man with two adult children who has a baker and an artist living inside his mind.

UPCOMING EVENTS

Check out Mark’s Web site. Visit www.markballard.com for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff for the new year.

The Mark Ballard Show is on Cox On-Demand.

Mark’s on www.macon.com 24 hours a day. Videos, columns and articles are featured.

Mark Allen Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA; fax them to (478)474-4390 or call (478) 757-6877.

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