100: A Clump of Cake

100: A Clump of Cake

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

A Clump of Cake

Never say, “oops.” Always say, “Ah, interesting.”

~Author Unknown

I looked for the perfect cake recipe every day for an entire week, until I found it — chocolate espresso cake with a chocolate glaze. It was going to be the most delectable, rich, and perfect dessert for my boyfriend Logan’s twenty-fourth birthday.

Unfortunately, that day was a busy one for me. Though we had time to eat brunch with Logan’s friends in the morning, I was off and running as soon as I finished my French toast, making my way to rehearsal and other commitments. But I wouldn’t be deterred — the cake would happen, and even though I wouldn’t be able to start making it until eight o’ clock, it would be delicious even if I served it at midnight.

I hightailed it out of rehearsal around seven and ran to the grocery store. Skimming the aisles, I shook off the idea of exhaustion. I couldn’t be tired. It was Logan’s birthday, and I didn’t have the option to cancel on the cake. We were both low on money, scraping wages together to pay for rent and food every month and constantly trying to save, so this was his only planned present. I took a breath, reenergized, and plucked the espresso powder off the grocery store shelf.

Back at my apartment, I raced over to Logan, gave him a kiss, and got to work. First, I made homemade tomato sauce, because as much as I like cake for dinner, I knew he’d prefer something heartier. As that bubbled on the stovetop, I started the cake preparations. Mixing the ingredients, I was a little nervous. It was a new recipe, after all, and there’s always a chance that new recipes will fail — or, more accurately, I will fail at making them. But I figured, worse comes to worst, the cake would be dry, or too moist, or too heavily coffee-flavored. No matter what, I knew we’d have cake.

Finally, the layers finished baking and I pulled them out of the oven. They smelled excellent, filling the apartment with the scent of chocolate. I let them cool for a moment while I worked on the frosting. In my apartment, the kitchen and living room were combined, so the whole time I mixed and cracked and sifted, Logan sat on the couch watching TV and plucking at his guitar.

The moment came when I was ready to try extracting the layers from the cake pans, and I was excited, knowing the end of my cake-making journey was nearing. I turned one over and tapped on the back. Nothing happened. I tapped it again and felt the cake loosen. It jumbled around, and then out fell a hunk of cake. Followed by another. And another. Minutes later, the same thing happened with my other layer. I looked down at a pile of crumbs.

At eleven p.m., with my cake in shambles and my kitchen a mess, I started shaking with sobs and throwing small objects.

“What’s wrong?” Logan asked, as he came up behind me and wrapped me in a hug. I kept shaking, silently, until I could finally speak.

“The cake is ruined,” I said, sucking in little spurts of air between choked sobs. “It completely fell apart. It’s my... only birthday present for you... and it’s ruined!” I threw my oven mitt onto the counter like a child having a temper tantrum.

“Shhh... shhh...” he said, pulling me around and forcing me to look at him. “Yes, I wanted a cake, but I didn’t want this. You’ve been out doing things all day — things I know you had to do, and I’m not upset — but all I really wanted for my birthday was to be able to spend time with you. This whole time you’ve been working in the kitchen, and we’ve barely even spoken.”

I realized he was right. I was so focused on being The World’s Most Perfect Girlfriend and Human Being, I had completely ignored Logan the entire night. I thought I could traipse in from rehearsing all day, snap my fingers, and make a cake. But sometimes the world has other plans, and the world had handed me cake mush covered in goopy frosting.

“Here, let’s at least try it,” Logan said, and we shoveled a piece onto a plate. Then I remembered.

“Oh God, we have to take a picture to send to your mom!” A fresh burst of tears and a whimper escaped my lips. Every year, Logan’s mom made him a cake — nothing too fancy — but this year the duty was mine, and she had asked for a picture of the birthday boy with a slice of cake. She had specifically said the word “slice.” This was most definitely a clump.

“Hey,” he reassured me, “she doesn’t care. Here, take a picture.” I snapped a photo with his iPhone as he made a stupid face next to his clump of cake and I let out a little giggle. He took a bite.

“Wow. This is really good,” he said. I grabbed his fork and scooped up my own bite. He wasn’t lying. It really was delicious. It was a complete mess, dripping all over the counter and resembling an espresso-scented cow pie, but it was delicious. Really delicious.

He scarfed down his cake, let out a contented sigh, and then hugged me again. “Maddy,” he started, “thank you for a great birthday. Now can you come over here and just sit on the couch with me?” I smiled a little, covered the cake with aluminum foil for the evening, and resigned myself to sitting on the couch, head on his shoulder, feet curled beneath a blanket.

The next day, I ate cake for breakfast. By the end of the week, every crumb of it was gone, devoured with forks right off the plate. Although that cake looked a lot like I did by the end of Logan’s birthday — a complete wreck — inside it was every ounce of love and care I had for my boyfriend, and he could taste it.

~Madeline Clapps

More stories from our partners