When I was in first grade, I remember my teacher handing me a notebook. Its cover was made of brown craft paper, and a piece of black fabric wrapped around the stitched spine. She distributed one to every student in class saying something about how we could use it as a journal or a workbook — whatever we wanted! This was about as exciting as it got for me, and almost instantly I had a creative vision. I am going to draw a sabre tooth tiger on the first page of this beautiful blank notebook. I don’t know why it called to me like that — why do any of these ideas ever call to us? — but I could picture it exactly, right down to the green eyes and sinister curly fangs. I grabbed some black and orange markers and began outlining my creation with the confidence of Henri Matisse. By the time I had finished, it resembled a forest fire way more than a mammal. It looked nothing like what I had pictured in my head.
This wasn’t the last time I’d be disappointed by the poor execution of what I felt was clearly a brilliant idea. As an editor often responsible for both conceptualizing a story idea and then figuring out the best way to tell that story, it took me a long time to learn how to prevent the inevitable letdown. But as a baker, I have yet to figure out how to reconcile the two processes. This past weekend, when my newly turned ten-year-old begged and begged me to make a homemade ice cream cake for her birthday, I pictured this in my head. And at some point I think I called up this beauty, too. But there were so many steps and instructions! And they both seemed so complicated and intimidating! They involved baking cakes the night before. Freezing. Thawing ice cream to an exact spreadable consistency. Freezing again. Thawing before serving. I knew I wouldn’t have the patience to follow their recipes by the letter, so after a feeble attempt at convincing her to order something from Carvel, I decided to just wing it and follow Phoebe’s vision. She would like five layers: one layer mint chip ice cream, one layer chocolate ice cream, a layer of crushed Oreos, and two layers of frozen chocolate cake in there somewhere. I followed her orders to the best of my abilities, but the cake broke into a million pieces before I could even start layering. And I didn’t have enough ice cream. And then the five layers of cake and ice cream sorta ended up mushing together to make one. That is why you are only looking at only the top — which, I thought came out kinda nice. Is it going to cause a pinning frenzy on Pinterest or garner a tweet from Joy the Baker? (Whose book is out, btw.) No chance. But after the celebration, Phoebe said her birthday cake was exactly what she had pictured in her head…and that it was the best cake she’d ever had. (more…)