The Times I Dropped the Ball, er, Cake

The question of the week is: Have you ever had a recipe turn out badly? My first reaction was, “Of course! You can’t cook as much as I have without having had flops.” But you know what? I haven’t had very many real disasters.

I don’t know how to say with without coming across as smug; I ’m not. I guess I’m just an intuitive cook and have no problem making scrambled eggs out of an omelet that was untimely flipped. I can usually foresee trouble and change a recipe and idea in mid-prep if need be.

That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had a cake fall. But that has more often than not been because someone stomped through the kitchen at a critical time.(I had a lousy relative who did it on purpose more than once.)

A fallen cake AFTER baking is another story!

When I was a young woman my family had my brother-in-law’s boss and family over for dinner. The boss and his wife were very friendly and very helpful to my brother-in-law and my sister. My mother did most of the cooking and I made a Bundt cake for dessert…and broke it while trying to plate it. I salvaged it, sliced it and arranged it artistically on a fancy plate .The boss’ wife even commented on the presentation.

It looked like I had gotten away with it, and would have, too, had my sister not made the story of my accident the night’s “entertainment”.

Another time was what should have been a routine order for a cake at my bakery. Fortunately, the customer ordered it for her father’s birthday a day early. I called to remind her that we were going to close, but I didn’t reach her. I had to leave a voice message and I had no idea if she would hear it in time. Just before we wanted to leave, I slid the cake from the case to get it into a box and I still don’t know how it happened, it broke…just as the woman walked in the door!
I in extra early the next morning to duplicate the cake and I gave her a discount for the inconvenience.

Thank Heaven, she had a sense humor.

I did have one slip-up, foodwise, there. Our place was also a restaurant. My niece, (and co-owner), and I were making Sunday dinner, which was a weekly dine-in and carry-out success. For whatever reason, I got way too much parsley into the potatoes we were making and they ended up quite green. Jennifer has never let me live down the time I managed to turn “Parsley Potatoes” into “Parsley With Potatoes”.

The only big, glaring, bother-me-forever disasters both occurred when I tried to please my priest’s Sicilian mother. Sts. Lorenzo and  Martha, the patron saints of cooks,  were not with me when  it came to cooking for that lady.

The woman was well into her nineties and very set in her ways. I offered to make Christmas Eve dinner for the both, and I was to have it at his mother’s in the late afternoon, so that Father could eat well but lightly long before the evening services.

I realized I was a fool.

I mean, gee, I didn’t have enough to do on Christmas Eve? So I grabbed expensive, pre-shredded Parmesan for the promised Pasta Alfredo, instead of grating it myself. (If you only know the dry, fine Parmesan that is most often used in the U.S., please try some REAL Parmesan.) What I didn’t know at the time was that pre-shredded cheese is coated to prevent it from sticking together…which also prevents it from melting smoothly. Alfredo sauce has to be made just before it is served, so I had no time to get new cheese and no matter what I tried, I could not stop it from being lumpy. At least, it tasted good, but I got “LOOKS” looks and a huff or two from Mrs. A.
Being transplanted to the middle of Kentucky as we both were, we found East Coast favorites and Italian food hard to come by, and the elderly lady dearly missed cannoli, which are a Sicilian favorite. I never had them, so I should have known better than to try.

My mother’s family is from north of Rome. Perugino chocolates and Torrone, (light nougat candy), were our Italian sweets of choice, especially at the holidays. I also will still try to find a panetone even now at Christmas; it’s like a sweet bread with citron. (Oddly, these were usually brought to my mother by her Welsh brother-in-law.). Our people opt for less creamy, more basic goodies like pizzelle and biscotti. My grandmother used to make what she called something that sounded like cosignioli that most people call “struffuli”. They are the little pastries you see piled into a pine-tree shape and covered in honey, or sometimes, spun syrup. I haven’t had them since I was very young.

Even the frappe, (fried sweet dough crisps) and Crema di Signora made by my cousins was a very rare indulgence.(It is REAL Tiramisu, with real ladyfingers, whipped cream and homemade crema, which is much like Bavarian Cream. I shudder when I see a trifle dish anymore because I know someone is going to use Twinkies or Little Debbies, Cool Whip and instant vanilla pudding to put together an abomination akin to expecting the finest wine and getting flat diet soda.)

So I went forty-five miles to the closest Italian store and I found a form to make my own cannoli shells, because I enjoy doing things from scratch. But for the first try, I went ahead and bought premade shells, thinking I’d master one step at a time.

I researched fillings and found that to make it correctly, it was a couple of day process. Because I had to I use cheesecloth to drain the ricotta. I hand grated fresh lemon zest, I painstakingly put all the ingredients together.

The report? Father quoted his mother: “Where did she get that recipe?”

If you don’t know the subtleties of Italian women’s put-downs, that was a real zinger.

I gave away the cannoli form.

When Father asked if I could make another treat his mother sorely missed, Boston Cream Pie ,I was thrilled to be able to inform him that they recently became available at a grocery store in town. I dodged that bullet and never tried to make another thing for the lady, although we remained friends.

In fact, when Mrs. A. passed away a few years later, (at very close to 100), a mutual friend who Father put in charge of her casual belongings gave her Italian cookbook to me. It probably contains a recipe for cannoli….I never bothered to look.


I may not get back to your comments right away, as I will be chaperoning a 6th grade field trip. I’ll have six 11-12 yr old boys in my charge. . .I’ll be lucky to get back at all!


About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
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10 Responses to The Times I Dropped the Ball, er, Cake

  1. too many times- in and outside kitchen 🙂


  2. But you tried! At least you tried to make those dishes for that lady and that was very sweet of you. I probably could not do it with even close to the amount of success that you did.


    • But when it comes to food,Italians don’t take second best. Even Sophia Loren once wrote a cookbook.I wasn’t successful with her, but I truly have been quite a bit,Angie, if I do say so myself.


  3. Jeff Salter says:

    Gosh, when I read a post like this — with all these names of exotic dishes & ingredients — I realize, even more, how uninformed I am about the culinary end of food.
    To me food is something I need, so I consume it. When I’m very focused, I’ll sometimes forget to eat. My tastes, even before having to give up gluten, were pretty pedestrian. Now, with that gluten restriction, they are positively boring.
    But I still like the taste of snacks!


  4. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I’m learning so much about food from you. To me, food is something to be consumed. I don’t worry so much about the creative process. I don’t blame you for not making anything else for Mrs. A! You were brave to even attempt what you did.


    • Thanks,Patty. That is something I have usually had confidence in, (cooking). I wish I had always had real confidence in other areas of my life.
      Italian women are THE hardest to please in the world.It’s like they are ALL your mother-in-law who disapproves of you, (that even applies to your own mother and grandmother!)
      I am so glad to hear that you are learning some things.That is the reason for my blog.Sometimes I itch to put up ‘fancy work’,(Complex dishes or fancy cakes and cookies), but it scares people off of what I am trying to get across….that they CAN cook and entertain and there are easier ways to prepare homemade or home-crafted foods.


  5. pjharjo says:

    You Do have some stories about cooking, Tonette! Made me wish I lived close enough to enjoy some of your cooking. 🙂


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