Every now and then my husband has to impose a Total Cupcake Ban on our house. I innocently walk into the kitchen and he’s standing there, all authoritarian-like, saying “Strictly No Cupcaking Allowed” in the kind of voice that makes me wish he was wearing a police uniform and calling me “ma’am”.
Look I know i have a problem – and not just with my husband-in-uniform fantasies. There have been days I’ve gotten up, baked and iced a dozen cupcakes and thrust them into somebody’s hands before 9am. In some people’s minds (i.e. my husband’s), this is a much greater sin than having a drink before the sun is over the yardstick. Particularly if I’m flinging sugar, butter and flour about in the kitchen before any of the kids have had breakfast or – worse still – my husband has had his first coffee of the day. Which is tantamount to spousal-abuse, or so the letters I’ve received from my husband’s lawyers duly inform me.
I have come late to the world of baking. Had you met me even five years ago and asked me to bake you something, I would have called upon my good friend Betty Crocker for assistance. And even then I would have stuffed it up. Then one glorious day, I inherited my grandmother’s copy of “The Joy of Cooking” – which is a little like “The Joy of Sex” except that A) any makin’ bacon it contains isn’t the kind that involves illustrated diagrams of a disconcertingly bearded man and his “lady friend”; and B) it shows you how to have a bun in the oven that’s not going to give you hemorrhoids, varicose veins or stress incontinence.
Anyway, “The Joy” was a treasure trove of all the little bits and pieces of information that was completely missing from my cooking knowledge base, such as the fact even a small amount of yolk in with separated egg whites will mean they won’t beat properly. Or, unless you really like your guests to walk around making that pha-pha-pha sound with their lips, it’s highly recommended that you take time to sift your dry ingredients properly when adding bicarbonate of soda. And that you need to soften butter before attempting to cream it (unless you really want your Kenwood Chef beater attachment to end up looking like it’s had the Dali clock treatment).
Of course, for a long time my bake-from-scratch cakes were either like rocks or would suddenly collapse in on themselves if someone made a sudden movement. But slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, things began to improve. And then quite rapidly get completely out of hand – sometimes literally, such as when I stuck my finger in the barmix in my pursuit of the perfect pat-in-the-pan crumb pastry (see “Up in Arms” for more details). And for the record, anyone who has heard that pitiful story in its entirety and seen the scars I bear will forever think twice before licking the whipped cream off one of those finger traps without a) unplugging it from the wall first and b) calling the electricity company to temporarily disconnect the house from the main grid all together. That’s my gift to the world.
Fortunately, I didn’t let a little severed tendon dampen my enthusiasm for baking and I was soon back in the kitchen, churning out cupcakes faster than the kids can eat them and grind the crumbs into the carpet. And so we’re back to the Total Cupcake Ban my husband keeps imposing on the kitchen. Look, I know I’ve got a problem but there’s perfection to be found in those little balls of butter, flour and sugar, goddammit! And isn’t a Not Drowning Mother owed a little perfection in her life when all else around her invariably turns to shit (including those cupcakes, actually, if you think about it)? All hail the mighty cupcake!