I am not a baker. Cookies in my house are always store bought. Birthday cakes are always ordered. I panicked this year when my daughter insisted that I make homemade cupcakes for her birthday. Images of flour everywhere, lopsided, burnt little cakes with thin frosting, and a room full of grossed-out girls assailed me along with her req
uest. I couldn’t mess this up! I tried to talk her out of it, tried to convince her that I’m not good at baking. She assured me that she knew I could do it. Talk about pressure.
Being the little foodie that she is, she would have noticed had I made a midnight run to Safeway (or Vons) and tried to pass their delicious delectables as my own.
Betty Crocker rescued my ass. The yellow cake with chocolate cream-cheese frosting w
as delicious. In a fit of domestic inspiration, the decorative sprinkles I dug out from the back of the cupboard kept the girls entertained while they munched (there’s no expiration date on sprinkles, is there?).
So today my daughter said she wanted to make red velvet cupcakes from scratch. Scratch, scratch, not Betty Crocker-box-scratch. Her friend was here to help. Since they both know the difference between a tablespoon and a teaspoon, I figured they could go at it on their own. Darling Daughter looked up a recipe on the Internet, I went shopping for missing ingredients, and voila! they began to mix.
With just a few questions here and there, like how much is 1/8 of a cup, they eventually got their cupcakes into the oven. There were a few mishaps-like not enough red food dye. Mixing a few small bottles of color (red, then blue, then green) to get the required two tablespoons, the girls decided they were content with black velvet cupcakes.
Finally, they pulled the cupcakes out of the oven, and I inserted a toothpick to make sure they were done. The wooden toothpick came out shiny. Yes, shiny. Not wet, but oily and slick. Not a drop of batter or crumbs.
Now, I’m not a baker, but I’ve cooked enough to know that something wasn’t quite right. I double checked the girls’ measurements thinking maybe they had put in twice the amount of oil they were supposed to. But no, that wasn’t it.
They frosted the shiny black velvet cupcakes. Really yummy, homemade cream-cheese frosting, by the way. Thumbs up there. I took a careful bite. Thank goodness it was a small bite.
Maybe there was something wrong with the recipe? After all, it was an online recipe. Any idiot could have put it up there. I took a look-the amounts seemed standard. A cup of this, tablespoon of that. Then I saw it. 15 ½ ounces of flour.
Knowing what the answer would be, I asked the girls how many cups of flour they had put in. A little less than two cups because two cups equals sixteen ounces, they said.
At this point, half of you are laughing and half of you have no idea what’s so funny. Of those who are laughing, I bet you’ve made the same mistake yourself at some point, or know of someone who did.
For those non bakers, and non math types, allow me to illuminate. Two cups of flour does not equal two cups of water in weight. In fact, 15 ½ ounces of flour measures out to about 3 1/3 cups. So, the black velvet cupcakes had flour, just not enough flour to cushion the oil.
The cupcakes were tossed. The mess cleaned up. My daughter was sad. And then I pointed out to her that she and her friend had something they could laugh about for years to come. Had the cupcakes tasted good, the fun they had together would be forgotten.
In twenty years from now, when my daughter’s daughter asks for a homemade baked cake, my wish is that she will remember this day with a smile and pass on the story of the time she made black velvet cupcakes, sans flour.