I learned how to ice a cake from a lovely business lady in Rocky River, Ohio. When I first started icing cakes at the bakery there, they looked like this…
My mother and I like have fondly dubbed these cakes, “Merryweather Cakes,” referencing a scene in Sleeping Beauty when the fairy godmothers attempt to make a cake without magic (We needed a name for them because I’d made so many in my lifetime). The layers slide, frosting melts and yes, they very well may require a broom to keep them propped up.
(I know that it isn’t technically Merryweather who makes the cake. She just happens to be our favorite fairy. The fat one. We prefer fat fairies…although perhaps that isn’t the most politically correct way to refer to them…I digress)
…but this lovely lady in Rocky River, Ohio took Sunday mornings and worked with those us who wanted to practice icing and piping. Teasing and laughing always ensued. There was no use getting upset or frustrated because at the end of the day it was “just cake,” after all. The “just cake” motto stayed with me and helps me laugh at any frosting fumble.
Just the other day at Corporate the Giant, my boss had to completely deconstruct a fully decorated wedding cake that has been assembled incorrectly (No, I did not assemble it. Thank goodness!) Blood pressures skyrocketed all around me, faces turned red, tables became smeared in icing and I was certain that a bomb had detonated from somewhere within the bakeshop.
I ducked and covered at my workbench, while quietly scooping cookies and meekly observing crisis management tactics. Although the cake still managed to be completed on-time, I think everyone needed to take one iota of a second, breathe, do some yoga on the floor and say to themselves, “its just cake,” and then continue working with the same ferocity and complete the project without panic, but with precision (Okay, maybe there wouldn’t be time for yoga on the floor, but you get the idea.)
The “Just Cake” philosophy doesn’t discredit the craft of cake making. In fact, I believe it comes from a love of the product. Cake is fun. Cake is a form of celebration, so we must not loose our sense of play along the way. As professionals, must treat cake calamites with a sense of urgency, yes, but our reaction must be proportional to the actuality of the crisis. We’re not operating on limbs here. No one’s life is on the line (or so I hope). It’s a piece of cake. So, when the cake drops, the only “good” reaction I see is one of rationality, continued respect and care for coworkers, and absolute concentration. It’s a time to own your craft, put it to the test and see how your skills stand up to the challenge.
During one of my first night shifts at Corporate the Giant, my own skills were put to the challenge. I was left in the bakeshop alone, when a panicked server came power walking into the pasty shop in desperate need of a birthday cake for an “important” dinner guest. Of course, no order had been placed an order in advance for this cake, and the guest wanted it in about an hour. My being new, the server didn’t quite trust my simple, “Sure, we can do that for you.” He confirmed three times that I could make the cake. Yes, yes and…yes.
I took my moment’s pause, went into hyperdrive and concentrated on putting together the cake. I cut the layers, filled them, crumb coated, iced and decorated. Luckly, it didn’t turn out to be a Merryweather, although it certainly wasn’t perfect. It never is.
After the cake was out the door, I thanked the stars for that lovely lady from Rocky River and smiled to myself because I had the secret. It’s just cake.