Mrs. Peters Birthday Cake

There is a book by Mary Ann Hoberman called Seven Silly Eaters and it’s one of Barnaby’s favorites. In it, Mr. and Mrs. Peters have seven kids and all of them are obsessed with eating only ONE food each, and for each one of them it’s a different food. Warm milk, lemonade, applesauce, oatmeal, bread and eggs (two different kinds) and poor Mrs. Peters dutifully makes these foods every single meal for every kid. Finally, on her birthday, all the kids wake up early to make her breakfast, but none of them have cooked before and each one of them tries and fails to make their favorite foods. They all end up in one pot which they try to hide in the (still hot) oven. Mrs. Peters wakes up soon after to find a perfect pink birthday cake, still warm, coming out of the oven for her.

Jordana suggested that Barnaby and I could try to make this cake together. If you look at the ingredients, it actually looks like it might make a great cake, you just have to start with bread, go light on the oatmeal and lemonade, and it could be awesome. Also, nobody mentioned two sticks of butter, but I figure the book was written to rhyme, not to teach cooking, so I could improvise a little.

Yes, that's two sticks. It's a cake.

My mom taught me that scalding the milk and then letting it go funky with lemon juice can add insanely good flavor to bread, so we microwaved the milk for a bit and I let Barnaby slice the lemons.

I held the lemon. I'm not insane.

The important thing about knife safety is to teach kids not to be afraid because they know how to do it right. And also use very, very sharp knives. It may seem counter-intuitive, but a sharp knife will actually cut through stuff, whereas a dull knife is more likely to slip off and cut a finger. I gave him the knife and told him one of two pieces of information my dad gave me, “let the tool do the work for you.”

The other piece of advice was to put on my socks before my pants. That way, your pant leg never gets stuck in your sock.

I let him squeeze the lemon juice into the milk…

I love this juicer. It has no other function.

And then I let him take care of his job, “the dry ingredients.” Barnaby has been mixing the dry ingredients since he was three years old. He’s gone from being terrible at it to being really good at it, and over the course of that time I’ve learned two things – 1) you can’t assume that a recipe is exact, even in baking. What are the chances that *exactly* two and a half cups of flour is right? Couldn’t two cups plus four tablespoons and then three tablespoons on your shirt be the right amount? And 2) Even poorly made cookies are delicious.

Measure twice, cut once. Oh right, that's the third thing my dad taught me.

Sifting has always been his favorite. He tries to cover the entire flexible cutting board.

And now for stuff my mom taught me. If you cream the butter and sugar together, you get a super light texture for the cake or cookies. But you have to cream the crap out of it.

Nothing if not meticulous.

Then I put the applesauce in with the milk, and the eggs in with the butter and sugar. I operated the mixer, which requires no actual labor, and I set Barnaby the task of mixing in the apple sauce. Since it had to be a pink cake, I added food coloring to the milk, and since it was a requested ingredient, I put in a small handful of instant oatmeal into the butter/egg/sugar mixture.

If I had a lawn, I'd make him mow it.

And then, it’s just a matter of adding some of the wet and some of the dry in turns. Barnaby was in charge of the wet at this point. You can see, the food coloring worked.

Food coloring? Yes. Oatmeal flavor or consistency? Not so much.

We got the wet-then-dry ingredient dance done with all but a couple of tablespoons of each on the counter and outside of the bowl. Then I taught him *another* trick from my mom, buttering and flowering the cake pans. Since there’s no way to know the consistency of any cake I make, I’ve gotten used to using butter and flower to get the cakes out of the pan.

If his tongue isn't sticking out, he's not concentrating. Same with Michael Jordan.

We got the batter in the pans before being joined by my helper’s helper, a real whiz in the kitchen, The Monster Marlena.

Staring that Kitchenaid right in the eye, daring it to make a move.

The only part I won’t let the kids do is putting the cake in the oven. I still have a scar on my arm from when I was seven and I tried to flip the door open quickly and stick the tray of cookies in and the oven door closed on my arm. But this is a little still life I like to call “Cakes In Oven.”

Because "Twin Nudes" doesn't apply.

Barnaby made the pink frosting as well, with the second mixer bowl my lovely sister got me as a birthday present some years ago when I claimed that I couldn’t make a *second* batch of cookies because the bowl was dirty and nobody wanted to clean it. He did not, however, frost the cake, having moved on to Amateur Robot Design and Advanced Sibling Hassling in the living room.

She aint pretty, but for Pants-Flying-By-Seat-Of, I'll take it.

Barnaby was told that if he finished his dinner, he would get some cake and, in a rush to do just that he ended up covering himself in apple juice and ketchup, so he had to eat his cake the only way I can even enjoy a meal – shirtless.

This isn't nearly as cute when you've got chest hair.

His sister, ever the lady, kept her shirt on. And then, as is customary at the Williams household, ate her cake and shat her pants.

Cake Eating. Not pictured - Pants Shitting

Here’s what’s astonishing. This might actually be one of the best cakes I have ever, in my life, eaten. The curdled hot milk with lemon juice mixed in with the applesauce was INSANELY delicious and tangy, and it stayed moist for three days, covered. It didn’t come out of the pan perfectly, but it is just crazy, crazy delicious. And I haven’t tasted or seen a single grain of oatmeal.