The Impossible Dream

The impossible dream...edible cake from scratch at altitude

Growing up at high altitude, I never had a homemade cake for my birthday. My mom, frustrated after trying adjustment after adjustment to get her sea-level ready recipes to work here in Denver, made all our birthday cakes from mixes. I didn’t care. A cake was a cake. And, I like cake any way I can get it.

Recalling my mother’s horror stories about cakes that rose and then imploded, cakes that were dense enough to prop doors open, and cakes that were dryer than the Sahara in June, I followed in my mom’s footsteps with boxed cake mixes. I’m nothing if not pragmatic. Why would I put myself through the disappointment of baking a cake from scratch when my mother had tested the waters before me to no avail?

The other day, however, I must have hit my head or something because I had a Suzy Homemaker moment. High off a success making homemade buttercream frosting for some box-mix cupcakes, a radical idea struck me. What if I made a cake from scratch? Yeah. That’s right. What if I went all old school and ditched the boxed mix? It was cake. How hard could it really be?

So, last night, I greased and floured two 9″ round cake pans. I sifted my flour. Then I sifted it again with the baking soda and salt. I creamed butter and sugar for so long I thought I’d kill my 16-year old Sunbeam Mixer. It was only then that I realized my kids had finished off the milk I needed. Into the car, down to King Soopers at 8 p.m. to fetch milk, all the while ever so grateful that my scratch cake didn’t require me to milk a cow. As I was folding in my beaten egg whites, I was apprehensive. I didn’t like how it was going, but I persevered. At 8:20 I popped two round cake pans into my oven, flipped the oven light on, set the timer for 25 minutes. My hopes were elevated slightly when I saw the outer edges cooking. I paced like an expectant father as the cakes began to rise. When the timer went off and I needed to check the doneness, I cleared the room so a sonic boom from my noisy children would not ruin my effort. I lifted them from the oven as I had carried my first born, full of hope and wonder. As they released from the pans, I stood in awe. In front of me were two seemingly fluffy and light yellow cakes.

Still, not one to get my hopes up, I reserved judgment. After whipping up yet another batch of buttercream and doing a passable job layering and frosting the cake, I was satisfied enough with my efforts to serve the cake to my mother tonight for dessert. Ballsy move, I know. After all, this is the woman who had me convinced cake success here in Denver was tricky at best. But, you know what? It was good, and she was suitably impressed. Hubby had two slices and felt uncomfortably full afterward. Both my kids devoured their pieces, and Joe even gave me the coveted thumbs up. Success!

Ever the perfectionist, I think I could improve on my effort. And, I will probably try it again someday as Steve is already encouraging me to do. For now, though, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the sugar high. I wonder how many other things I thought were impossible are actually within my grasp? I’m feeling a bit like Don Quixote. Just point me toward the next windmill. I’m ready to do battle.

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