Pansy Preserved


Alas, I thought I could.

Urgency Day 449

500 Things Item 52: Suzanne Somers’ Eat, Cheat, and Melt the Fat Away (I really did buy this)

It’s the morning after the first night of summer break, and we’ve already had a sleepover. Better yet, this morning we had pancakes a la Pete! Yup. One of the boys made pancakes for breakfast.

As my sister says, I love our older children.

Gone are the days of the morning dash to Dunkin’ Donuts to stave off the mom- we’re-starving!‘s before I could crank out the Pancakes Suzette. In fact, Pete enjoys cooking so much, he even enthused about Julie and Julia while pouring perfect disks of his signature pancake batter onto a nicely-seasoned griddle.

Oh yeah, I love our older children.

A while back, I fell into a pattern of giving high school graduates a beginner’s cookbook to take with them to college. You can tailor the selections to the kids, whether by region or cuisine or aptitude. Rachael Ray is always a safe choice. She’s got great, accessible recipes and a bourbon-and-cigarettes voice that will inevitably become familiar to the college-bound.

But as Pete was flipping his pancakes this morning, I told him I would have to eschew such novice volumes for his commencement gift next year.

“It’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking for you, baby. Set up your blog now.”

Was that an incipient-blogger smile I received back?

All of this makes it the perfect day to consider the cookbook shelf for the next downsizing item.

Zut alors! Of the 27 cookbooks I currently own, I could only bring myself to pluck one of them off the shelf: Special Occasions: The Best of Martha Stewart. But then, more zut alors!! As I thumbed through it to gauge its dispensability, out tumbled the templates from the legendary Pansy Cake! The Pansy Cake. The Greatest Culinary Disaster of my dubious baking career.

I cannot possibly part with the evidence of such iconically-humbling infamy.

For those gentle readers unfamiliar with The Great Pansy Cake Catastrophe, I offer a recap.

In 1996, Sydney was pregnant with their first son, Jack. I was hosting the baby shower for approximately 35-40 guests. She selected two cakes from the Martha Stewart Special Occasions cookbook: a lovely and simple angel-food cake called Coconut Cloud and the devilishly complicated but stunning Pansy Layer Cake. Loving both a challenge and my darling friend– and also being situationally cocky– I enthusiastically agreed to make both. Unfortunately, amidst all the other party prep, I didn’t begin the pansy cake until 10:00 the night before the luncheon shower.

Possible elements that doomed me:

  1. Inadequate stand mixer
  2. Meringue-layer templates not to scale
  3. Meringues eventually completely ignored
  4. Unfamiliarity with piping icing
  5. Unfamiliarity with multi-step, multi-day baking
  6. Hubris.

Take your pick from the above list. Any one of them would have undone me, but I added each to the recipe in increasingly desperate measurements. The indelible image in my memory is of looking up to see my darling neighbors Andrea and Greg peering with intense concern at me through my front window– at 2:30 in the morning!— as I gleefully tipped the entire contents of the woeful stand mixer and the semi-congealed sludge of several baking pans into the trash.

But the Coconut Cloud cake was phenomenal.

In my family, calling something a “pansy cake” has become shorthand for describing a man-made disaster.

As in: “Wow, that oil spill in the gulf in sure one big pansy cake!”

[Embracing this affectionate symbol of my many imperfections, and I will be donating a less meaningful cookbook.]


8 Responses to “Pansy Preserved”

  1. boysgonewild Says:

    And later, you went on to make some of the world’s best chocolate chocolate cookies. Yum-oh.

  2. sthibeault Says:

    Thanks, sweetie. Improvement was made, as were yummy cookies. Maybe I should put the successful production of that damn pansy cake on my bucket list. Will you help?

  3. Donna Says:

    I don’t know if I told you this story:

    A few months ago, when our book club read “The Help”, I decided to make a caramel cake for our meeting. (This cake is mentioned frequently during the book.) As you well know, my cakes generally come from Mr. Duncan Hines, but this time I found a scratch recipe and went to work — the night before, I might add, not at the last minute which is my usual MO. Well, my caramel cake ended up in the same place as your pansy cake. So if you ever decide to give the pc another try, maybe we can have a cook-in and I’ll give the cc another try. Interestingly enough, I was able to taste my disaster and it was decadently delicious — just not fit for other eyes to see, especially when my cooking abilities are already held in very low regard.

    Here’s to the future!

    • sthibeault Says:

      Yes, yes! A day devoted to the purging of our baking-demons. By the way, your Christmas cookies are held in the highest regard and eagerly anticipated every year. De-lish!

  4. Sydney Says:

    Best baby shower ever. A successful pansy cake would have gilded the lily. I’m weirdly proud to be connected to your greatest culinary disaster ever.

  5. Sean Says:

    I love this tale. It gives me hope that my own culinary disasters (garlic fish spaghetti, anyone?) will eventually be followed by a experiments that don’t wind up in the garbage.

    Also, my rapper name will be “Situationally Cocky.”

  6. ellen Says:

    that was a fantastic party. glad you kept the book!

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