Just add Ethel

It should have all been so simple.

My dad’s birthday was last week. He and Mom were headed chez Owl for a visit. Since Darling Bebe’s favorite television is watching Giada De Laurentiis, I thought we would have a great time baking Grandpa a cake.

His favorite could not be any ordinary cake. Noooooo.

German chocolate. You know, an “involved” cake that calls for melting chocolate, separating eggs, beating whites and more.

It started off fine, the kitchen table covered with an array of ingredients and measuring implements.  I should have known something was amiss when the first three eggs dropped shells as I separated them.  Slippery little shards, too.  I explained patiently to the preschooler that Mommy did not do it perfectly so that’s why she had to try to get those shells out of the pool of egg whites.  By and large, the batter-making was without incident.

We buttered and cocoa’d the two nine-inch cake pans (neat trick for chocolate cakes suggested by KnittingKittens, of course).  That’s right.  TWO 9-inch pans.  That’s what the recipe called for, in spite of the traditional German chocolate being a three-layer cake.  Ooookay.  Looked like a lot of batter but …

… and into the oven they went.

And they began to rise.  And rise.

And bubble.

And rise.

And drip over the edges of the pans.

I threw a sheet of foil in to catch the drips as best I could.

Then the oven started getting smoky.  And the pans kept dripping.

I tried to open the recently painted kitchen windows, but they were stuck.  I opened the screen on the storm door and turned on the ceiling fan.  And opened some other windows.  The kitchen started filling with smoke.


Yes, the smoke alarm.  Followed within seconds by the phone, as the monitoring service called to check on us.

“We are FINE.  There is cake batter burning in the oven!  I can’t hear you.  DO NOT send the fire department.  I can’t hear you!  My problem is that I can’t hear myself think with this alarm going off!”


“We cannot turn off or instruct you how to turn off your smoke detector.”


“Then I guess you can’t help me.  I have to get the batter out of my house.  Goodbye.”


Darling Bebe is in the fetal position on the couch.  She cannot stand loud noises of any kind.

I am now doing the smoke-swatting dance beneath the smoke detector to try to make the d*** thing stop so I can at least hear myself think.

I grab a cast-iron pan and spatula, scoop the burning batter into the pan and take it out the back door.  At least there is nothing on fire inside the house anymore.  It ought to clear now.


Any time now.

I’ve had to readjust the baking time on the still-baking cakes.  Because dagnabbit, there will be cake, I tell you.

Finally ~ mercifully ~ the alarm stops screaming.  About three minutes later, Mr. Owl strolls in from an evening engagement.

“What’s burning on the patio?”

“Do not ask.  I am living through an episode of ‘I Love Lucy.'”

“Why don’t you just buy a cake?”

Death glare.

As wise KnittingKittens reminded me, frosting covers a multitude of sins.

Which is a good thing.  Because even the daughter of an engineer can only do so much with a couple of cakes that refuse to let go of their pans.  At least they did exactly what I expected them to do.

Deep in the owl hours, long after putting my traumatized owlet to bed, I decided that there was probably a reason for the traditional pecan/coconut frosting.  No smooth artistic swirls here.  Neither muss no fuss for that part of the cake assembly.  Just slap on the goo and let it drip on down the sides.

Boy, am I gonna get an earful about this after DB goes to school tomorrow.  All the fun scooping and measuring and mixing is nixed.  “Mommy made the kitchen smoke and it was burning …” Sigh.

Was Dad surprised?  Was he ever.

Inexplicably, it was the best German chocolate cake we ever had.

I’d show you a picture, but he packed up the rest and took it home.

But I swear I’m convinced that I’m just a puppet in someone else’s cosmic sitcom.  Someday I may find out whose.


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4 Responses to “Just add Ethel”

  1. KnittingKittens Says:

    I told you ihis adventure would make a great blog post! I am thrilled that your dad loved the cake–I knew he would!

  2. Sandy Says:

    A labor of love for dad! At least no hooks and ladders!

    German Chocolate is our family fav! yum, yum! You are a great DB to your dad!

  3. AngieSue Says:

    Something about German Chcolate Cake, which I happen to LOVE, turn kitchens into zoos. My first one, baked for a 4-H sale, was cooling on the dryer and the cat ate a huge chunk out of the top. No icing fix for that one!

    Happy that yours was received with love!

  4. Luann Says:

    Oh, I’m sorry for your pain, dear Owl, but thank you so much for the very welcome laughter today! I’m typing through tears as I imagine you flapping around the kitchen with flaming cake batter. All the more funny because there for the grace of the cosmic sit-com writer go I! Someday I’ll tell you about the time I made French bread, or as it will forever be known in our family, Luann’s clown shoes.

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