We spent two weeks in England visiting his family, during which time I discovered a multitude of wonderful new things to make at home. Bakewell tart, hot cross buns, Battenberg cake, proper scones, and a magical creation called a Victoria sponge. It's a yellow sponge cake with jam and cream between the layers and topped with plain sugar. In general, I try to learn as many recipes as I can for things he grew up with or is used to eating; I've seen him get a bit homesick once or twice and I expect if I were living in a foreign country I might have some of the same twinges. So here we are, a couple of weeks settled back in at home, jet lag gone, and today I decided would be a perfect day to try a Victoria sponge.
It started out okay. Recipe:
- 1 box Betty Crocker Butter Recipe yellow cake mix
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup water
- 1/3 cup softened unsalted butter
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 3 tbsp icing (confectioner's) sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 jar Bonne Maman raspberry preserves
Simply follow the instructions on the back of the cake mix box, using two greased round pans for easy layers. Let both halves of the cake cool in their pans for a bit.
While that's happening, stick your mixer beater(s) and a metal bowl into the freezer for about 15 minutes to chill. Pull them back out once the time is up, add the heavy whipping cream, and beat on medium-high setting until you start seeing soft peaks while you mix. Add the sugar and vanilla, then beat on medium-high again until those peaks get nice and stiff and it starts looking like the whipped cream we all know and love. Finished product:
The difference in taste between homemade whipped cream and the store-bought concoction in the tub or can is mind-blowing. I usually find the store version too nauseating, but this had a flavor more like a vanilla custard with a much nicer, albeit still very light, consistency.
The trouble began when it came time to pop the cakes out of their pans and onto a cooling rack. In a perfect world, I would have spread the jam on the bottom of the top layer and the cream on the top of the bottom layer and combined the two like the tastiest Voltron in existence, then sifted plain sugar over the top, and waited proudly for Ben to come home. This is not a perfect world.
Yes, I had been betrayed by my non-stick cake pans, despite multiple prior uses with no problems; thinking back, I had greased them before needing to suddenly run out to the pharmacy for some emergency medicine, then came back and poured in the batter -- the greasing agent may have dried a bit in that time. The "why" was no comfort at all. My cake was ruined. I couldn't even look at it. I sent a very upset text to Ben and posted the picture of the broken cake on Facebook with some darkly witty comment about the world being terrible, because look at my cake, just look at it. Who would want to eat a cake like that?
And then my friend Erin, a fellow chronic illness warrior queen, put things into perspective for me.
I stopped being angry and hating my cake. It didn't matter if the cake was broken because I made a mistake or my pans were defective; I still had a perfectly good cake. It didn't deserve to be thrown in the trash or shamed on social media. It was baked to be the way it was, and all I could do if I wanted cake is to do the best I could to smush the broken bits back together and move forward.
Most of you can probably see the point that I'm making here.
Inadvertently, I had made not a Victoria sponge, but something new, an Allegorical Cake. I had the most brilliant plans for myself, both in my career and what I would accomplish out of life, and instead I ended up broken. Being broken didn't mean I was any less of a person. Some people may look at me and see only my illness and my challenges and write me off, but they're missing out on someone who I like to think is worth knowing. Every day I can open my eyes and say "I exist" is a triumph, even if that's all I'm able to do that day.
The cake is my mother. She was positively vibrant when I was young, always ready to go somewhere and do something, to have adventures, to play with me for hours on end. She indulged in intricate crafts like china painting and scherenschnitte. Now she has myalgic encephalomyelitis as a result of permanent brain damage caused by a virus she contracted at her old job. She is in awful pain every day of her life, and sometimes all she can do is rest -- but that's okay.
The cake is my youngest stepchild, who is autistic. To outside observers, he's just being bratty or badly-behaved, when he is simply being himself the only way he knows how to be and the only way he is capable of being. He is no less wonderful of a child or a human. He processes the world in a unique way that has made me re-evaluate my own take on life as I thought I knew it.
We are all the cake. We all have our cracks, our burned bits, our unevenly spread frosting, but we are still good. There is at least one person in the world who will smile at us and think we are perfect the way we are. Our value does not diminish based on our flaws. Some of the most delicious-looking cakes are actually covered in fondant, which I am convinced is just wallpaper paste with sugar added and thus a fine way to ruin a cake that would have been great without needing to be fixed or improved or held to an arbitrary standard of what defines a "cake."
It really is a great little cake after all.