A Cake that Even a Fool Can Make

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A Cake that Even a Fool Can Make

By Andrea Goto

By definition, a foolproof recipe is one that is so simple it cannot be mishandled, damaged or misunderstood—even by a fool. Or in my case, someone with the cooking ability of a hamster.

Ever since I started cooking (12 months ago), I began writing foolproof recipes onto 3x5 cards and storing them in a recipe box. It makes me feel deliciously domestic, though I currently have only two cards in the box: one is a recipe for corn-on-the-cob and the other is for instant oatmeal.

I hope to add more, but I have trouble finding recipes with clear, concise directions and measurements that will yield predictable results. Don’t tell me “a dollop of butter” or a “pinch of salt” (I “dollop” with a gravy ladle and I “pinch” with a full hand—just ask my husband’s hinny). I’ve always been a literal person. I did well when 2+2 always equaled 4, but when the teacher introduced hieroglyphics to the equation, like ≈ and π, I checked out. In my head, approximations don’t compute.

Paula’s Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake recipe claims to be easy, but I’ve fallen into the easy trap before. My mom took away my Easy-Bake Oven after a run-in with an undercooked mini muffin. All the same, I’m eager to add that third 3x5 to my collection, so I give it a shot.

The picture that accompanies the recipe shows a beautiful, round cake sitting on an elegant plate. The recipe, however, calls for a greased 13x9-inch baking pan. I stare at the recipe, trying to figure out how to transform a rectangle cake into a round one. When I feel an aneurism coming on, I decide that the cake will miraculously become circular at some point during the baking process, like the way I can transform a baked potato into a charcoal briquette.

So I move on to the filling. Now, I admit to being a bit of a semantics snob, but that’s because I grew up with a mother who unknowingly makes up words, like “boughten” and “analysize.” So when I see “filling” I assume that it’s just that: the stuff inside the cake, like Twinkie cream. But the recipe doesn’t call for a top layer. Doesn’t that make it a topping rather than a filling?

Brain. Starts. Hurting.

Before rigor mortis completely sets in, I do what any self-respecting 33-year-old would do: I call my mother.

“Don’t think so much,” Mom says. “And I hope it turns out, ‘cause it sounds delightable!”

I wince. “Delectable.”



The filling issue comes back to haunt me when I use canned pumpkin-pie filling instead of canned pumpkin (who knew there’s a difference?). And I couldn’t find powdered sugar in a box or cream cheese in a package, only powdered sugar in a bag and cream cheese in a box. With so much against me, I don’t even worry when only 2 ½ eggs make it into the batter (the remaining half fell into San Andreas Fault—that space where the counter and the stove meet).

When I pull the cake from the oven, I’m disappointed to see that it’s still in the shape of a rectangle and the filling still sits on top. But when I taste it, I realize that a miracle has occurred: It is, by definition, a Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake. And it is, by definition, awesome. Now if I could only make it round.

Move on over, Paula—I’ve got three cards in the ol’ foolproof recipe box.

Andrea Goto lives and writes in Savannah, Georgia. Her kitchen experiments (known as “cooking” in more conventional homes) most often end with a mushroom cloud of smoke or a call to Poison Control. In spite of this, she’s deeply loved by her husband who prefers neon-colored cereals to all foods homemade, and her 4-year-old daughter who will eat almost anything, as long as you call it “chicken.” Need more Andrea? Follow her at www.andreagoto.com.

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Reader Comments:


So happy to read you are on the COME BACK mode. I always knew you would return. You just can't keep an honest, wonderful woman and family down. God bless you and yours. Please add me to your email listings. Love you all, Barbara Lewis

By Barbara Lewis on February 13, 2014


you baked a cake on your program sometime back called a calico cake i made this it was delicious I have misplaced my recipe .would you please post this cake recipe my family loved the cake.thanks for all your good recipes and the southern gal you are.

By Anonymous on February 19, 2013

Love your writing!  I want to get your book(s).  You truly make me smile!

By Laura Azbill on October 21, 2010

I so relate to this article even though I have been given tons of cookbooks but as most people they have dust on them. I am a you fix in front of me and Ive got it memorized but I tried making Mrs. Paulas crockpot mac, lets just say I probable broke the record for taking the longest to figure out a recipe. Now Ive made it my own and get rave reviews when its made. I need encouragement to try new recipes. Thank you for sharing your story, lol, its nice to know I’m not alone.

Recipe challenged

By Tami Carder on October 20, 2010

My Recipe Box |

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