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.