All French children are trained in the subtle art of making cakes, especially chocolate cake. Each year, we are given examinations, and if we fail, we are not allowed to smoke cigarettes or have affairs. Needless to say, I make an amazing chocolate cake. So when I asked Nick, my fiancé, what kind of cake he wanted for his upcoming 30th birthday party and he replied, “Carrot cake with cream cheese icing”, I was astonished.
Carrot cake is not exactly a French specialty. The first time I had one, I thought: “Huh? Carrot in a cake? Weird!” I liked the cake but it wasn’t something I would ever trade for chocolate cake. Nick comes from New Zealand though, where putting carrots in cakes is as normal as shaving smiley faces onto sheep.
“I’ll do it!” I said without hesitation, even though I had no idea how to make this cake. I decided to take it as a challenge, like when I bravely tried to jog every day for 21 days.
“Really? Awesome! The party’s gonna be great!” Nick was already excited about it.
“I need a recipe though…” I said, already stressing about it. Had I bitten off more than I could chew?
“No problem,” he said, “I’ll ask my mum, she’s the carrot cake magician. She’s like the Wizard of Oz. But from New Zealand.”
Standards were high, pressure was at its maximum but I like a tough challenge so I said: “Okay.”
The day after, Nick forwarded his mum’s email with the famous recipe. Her email basically said:
“A carrot cake recipe? I don’t have any because I can do carrot cake with eyes closed! Once I woke up in the morning and there was a freshly baked carrot cake waiting in the kitchen. I had no recollection of making it… I must have done it while asleep. But I’ve tried to type the recipe from memory. I am happy to help Cecile through the difficult process. Suggest she remembers not to over-mix the cake as it will be tough otherwise but if you have yummy icing it tastes good anyway. So she shouldn’t fret.”
It wasn’t a basic cake where you mix everything together. You had to be super cautious mixing the ingredients, otherwise the cake would be tough. Nick read me the recipe aloud later in the evening. It went like this:
Nick: “So the ingredients are: 2 cups sugar…”
Me: “What? TWO cups of sugar? That’s way too much sugar, I’ll only put one cup.”
Nick: “Sigh. Just listen to the recipe! Then we have 1/4 cups rice bran oil or any other light cooking oil such as sunflower – not olive oil…”
Me: “I’ll just use olive oil to prove the recipe wrong.”
Nick: “Why would you do that?! Just follow the recipe! Then you also need crushed pineapple…”
Me: “Is it a carrot cake or a freaking carrot and pineapple cake?!”
Nick: “Relax, we can find pineapple in cans. Next comes walnuts, roughly chopped. Mum says roast them in a pan for better taste.”
Me: “Sure, I have nothing better to do than roast walnuts in a pan.”
Nick: (Smile slowly fading.) “Well, I guess you don’t need to roast them, it’s optional. Then you have 2 cups plain flour and 2 teaspoons of baking powder.”
Me: “Huh? What is baking powder? Where can I buy it?” (Panic attack followed)
Nick: “I’ll call my friend Andy H, he’s a good cook, he‘ll know.” (Andy H is ENGLISH, so I felt quite insulted to need an English man’s advice on cooking! However, he knew exactly what it was and where to find it.) “Then, we have 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoons of salt and 2 cups of grated carrots…”
Me: “Grating carrots is boring! You can do that part.”
Nick: “You won’t get the rewards of your challenge if I do everything! Next is the icing. You need 250 grams of cream cheese, 100 g butter and…”
Me: “Oh my god! So much fat! My mum would kill me if she knew I was about to commit such a cake atrocity!”
Of course, I was mostly joking but Nick doesn’t really trust me, so he kind of took my comments seriously. “Why don’t you just follow the damn recipe? You can trust my mum, I’ve had her cake several times and it was fantastic!” He finally exploded.
“I’ll do it MY way!” I insisted. Nick sighed and left the kitchen. Of course, I nervously followed the recipe after all- I even roasted the walnuts. But to punish Nick’s mistrust, I kept on shouting stuff like “this olive oil smells funny!” as I was baking. The only real change I made was to put only one cup of sugar instead of two. I really couldn’t put so much sugar in a cake. I just couldn’t do it.
When the difficult moment of “FOLDING” the ingredients together- not mixing, folding- arrived, Nick came into the kitchen to watch my every move. He didn’t seem happy with the result and said, with a sad face: “You’ve over-mixed it! It’s too late now, the cake is going to be tough.”
I wish I could write that I totally ruined the cake and that it was a total disaster- it would make this post funnier. But the cake was fantastic, not tough at all and everybody liked it, even though there was only one cup of sugar in it instead of two. Nick was very happy as well, he said: “It tastes like my mum’s cake. But less sweet.”
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