The Cake Plop, the Dozen Dozen Cookies, and the Fire

The Cake Plop, the Dozen Dozen Cookies, and the Fire

View toward Astoria from our Warrenton house. January 1965

During my high school years Warrenton, we lived in an old farmhouse on a hill overlooking an expanse of former tidelands—now pastures and shopping malls—at the mouth of the Columbia River. We had no near neighbors, and my younger sister Laural and I were often left to our own devices; both our parents had bizarre and often-changing work schedules. We were pretty good at amusing ourselves, but sometimes we got into trouble.

Perhaps inspired by getting a red ribbon at the county fair one year for my homemade brownies (I had taken a 4-H cooking class), I made several forays into the culinary arts. One of my favorite desserts was angel food cake, and I resolved to make one myself. It was very straightforward at first, despite all the egg fussing, and all went well until the moment I went to put the cake in the oven. I deftly picked up the cake tin—and promptly sent half the batter onto the kitchen floor, as my thumbs poked into and lifted up the bottom of the tube pan. A unfamiliar tool tripped me up.

Well. Pretty stupid. I cleaned up the mess on the floor and baked the remainder of the batter. It was a fine-tasting cake, but it was very small, and it was not angelically airy.

Another dessert favorite—with my school lunch, after school, after dinner, even added to breakfast—was ginger molasses cookies. Home alone one afternoon, I decided to make a batch. Wait, why not make a double batch?! Yes! I doubled the ingredients. The splendor of excess.

But the ingredients were not coming together as they should—the dough was much too dry. Then dad came home, and he suggested going over the recipe once more, checking each ingredient. Aha! Yes, I had indeed doubled every ingredient; that is, every ingredient except for the flour. Somehow I had managed to quadruple the flour. So dad made our dinner, and then we went back to the cookie dough and quadrupled all the remaining doubled ingredients. Mom got home from work about the time I had to go to bed, and she and Dad finished baking the many, many dozens of ginger molasses cookies I had brought into being. The next morning, I encountered racks of cookies covering the kitchen counters, filling the cookie jars (we had two), and stacked in bags for the freezer. I felt a little sheepish.

Yet another teenage cooking disaster also involved cookies, this time rich butter cookies. These cookies were properly prepared and had been properly conveyed into the electric oven, where they merrily baked away on a couple of battered old cookie sheets. Alas, the cookie sheets were rimless, and they were warped. The softened cookie dough slid quietly from the buckling cookie sheets onto the electric element below, and it caught fire.

The house on the hill, Laural’s horse Dixie shivering in the field. January 1965

Once again I was home alone, and I was seized by panic. Wait, wait, I don’t need to panic—just throw some of that white stuff on the fire to smother it! Quickly, I flung sugar on the fire. Wrong white stuff! Then I thought of baking powder, but I was not quite addled enough to try it, and sane thinking then caused me to also dismiss flour; I could have blown up the kitchen. Finally I arrived at baking soda; I poured a box of baking soda on the flickering mess, and sat down to contemplate my sins. Mom was going to kill me.

I had to clean up the kitchen debris, but mom shooed me away from cleaning the oven, no doubt fearful that I might somehow do even more damage to the burnt-sugar-encrusted heating coils.

In my adult years, I turned toward cooking things more savory than sweet, and I have had fewer disasters. Desserts were never my forte, anyway.

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