The Thing I Never Thought I’d Do: #AlexBakesCakes

SugarandspicecakeFor the past decade, cake and pie have existed on opposite ends of my dessert spectrum of passion. I love pie. I competed in pie competitions. I made pies to flirt. If pie was on a dessert menu, I ordered it. I’ve made it while living with a family in Ecuador and in a hostel in Costa Rica. My interest – and obsession – with pie knew no bounds.

On the other hand, over the past decade, I’ve loathed cake. I almost never eat it. Not at work parties, not at restaurants, not at home. Rarely do I eat cake at weddings. It’s this last point that caused me pause as I began to consider my own wedding. While there was no doubt in my mind that there would be an abundance of pies (a panoply! a pie-noply!), the question mark hovered around the quintessential cake.

Not because we want to honor the tradition of cutting the cake – we’re omitting a number of wedding staples, so cake-cutting doesn’t rank on the list of things we care about. Not because we think people enjoy standing around like so many Office Space Miltons being handed cake. But because cake at weddings is terrible. It’s bland – or worse, it’s too sweet. Oftentimes it’s stale. The decoration gets more attention than the actual flavor. While I understand the importance of everything looking amazing on the big day, that doesn’t excuse a boring dessert.

So, I want to do better. While I almost never eat cake, I’ve helped make hundreds. From mixing batters and making frosting to wielding an offset spatula to smoothly apply decoration and piping on the finishing touches, making cakes (and cake’s awful stepchild… cupcakes) is second-nature. It pains me to admit that as much as I love pies, the lifetime tally of pies vs cakes favors cakes twofold, I’m sure. If we include cupcakes in that count, it’s another order of magnitude more. It’s fair to say I was, for a long time, a self-hating cupcake baker.

Letting our past actions and inaction define us keeps us from growing. When we shut out ideas and possibilities, we become stale (like so many wedding cakes before us). Question your beliefs.

As I work through the seven finalist recipes (ones with pineapple and ones with lavender and ones with chocolate and ones with pistachio!), I’m opening myself up. Rather than taking comfort in my closed-off part of the world where cake is bad and pie is good, I’m looking to see what might be possible outside of that space. Each recipe is one more step out of a comfort zone I’d built for myself.

While this in and of itself (are we still talking about baking?) exists on such a small scale, it allows me a chance for daily practice and reflection. Cooking a meal can be a perfunctory task. We all fall into ruts. Who needs a grocery list when you’re getting the same ingredients
week in and week out? But a new recipe can be so fulfilling. A dinner or a dessert can stretch our abilities, expand our interests, and challenge our expectations. It’s a simple action that becomes powerful when repeated.

Perspective shifts gradually. Sometimes that shift happens over months and years. Other times it happens over cakes and slices. What matters is that you have the appetite to stomach it.

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