Around the bend: Third-place finish takes the cake

“I’d like a cake shaped like a giant margarita.”
So declared my stepson’s girlfriend last month. For her 21st birthday, she wanted a 3-D cake shaped like a margarita glass a couple of feet tall.
Kids these days.
There was a time when a cake was a tasty treat available in a 9-by-13-inch rectangle, a Bundt pan or round layers. That’s it. Now, because of reality TV shows like “Cake Boss,” anything goes. The younger generation now believes cake is any structure, be it food, two-by-fours or steel girders, draped in fondant.
I began to explain that cake is a poor medium for a self-supporting sculpture when my stepson and my husband said in unison, “We can do it.”
Well, they would say that. My stepson is in love. He would say yes to anything this girl asked for — moon dust, Kate Middleton’s engagement ring, a real live unicorn. Picturing himself spending hours crouched behind a rainbow with a have-a-heart unicorn trap well baited with Skittles, he no doubt thought making a cake would be the easy way out.
As for my husband, he just likes a challenge.
I found this father-and-son earnestness, devoid of any sense of practicality, endearing. But ridiculous. So I snorted in a fond and non-derisive manner and offered to bake the girl not one but two old-school cakes — cake-shaped and made entirely of cake — so the party guests wouldn’t go hungry.
For kicks, we declared this the 2011 Birthday Cake-off: me, the boring baker, against the father/son visionaries, with the one rule that all cake elements be edible.
For three long nights the boys experimented with various foodstuffs, primarily Rice Krispies and marshmallows, ice cream cones and various types of box cake mixes. The first night, they sculpted a wide Rice Krispies treat base with a sturdy stem of stacked ice cream cones cemented together with melted marshmallows. Nearly three feet tall, it looked like the space shuttle just before takeoff.
But forming the bowl shape gave them more trouble. When they inverted a Bundt cake over the cone stem, it was far too tiny. Pity. Had they been shooting for a replica of the Seattle Space Needle rather than a margarita, they could have claimed a blue ribbon right then.
For the next three days, they tried various methods for creating a wider bowl shape that could sit on top of the stem and not fall apart or tip over. Every few hours they returned to the store for more supplies, traveling farther afield each time as they systematically exhausted Addison County’s marshmallow inventory.
The day of the party, in a last-ditch effort, they successfully molded the entire bowl section out of Rice Krispies treats. First prize was just a layer of frosting away. But when they took a moment to relax, the Rice Krispies sculpture relaxed, too. Over 15 minutes or so, it succumbed to gravity and fell in sticky chunks to the table.
Time was up.
During the party, we set the boys’ failed attempt next to the yellow and chocolate cakes I had baked, uneventfully, the day before. Mine looked nice but hopelessly outdated, being recognizable in both appearance and flavor as actual cakes.
We all knew they had won, but the birthday girl’s heart — along with the sympathies of the party guests — clearly lay with the pointy, unfrosted rocket-shaped thingy next to them. The gobs of congealed marshmallow told a story of the time and effort her one true love (and his trusty sidekick) had put in, solely to make her happy. My tasty buttercream frosting, though exquisite, couldn’t compete with that.
She grudgingly awarded me first and second place for my entries, but I knew it killed her to see her beloved take third.
She’s already making sure it doesn’t happen again. The day after the party I overheard her telling him about the cake she’d like for next year.
Apparently the margarita-shaped cake was just a whim. What she’s really always wanted — dreamed of ever since she was a little girl, in fact — is a cake shaped like the Seattle Space Needle.
Fair or not, he’s a shoo-in for 2012.

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