Saturday, February 26, 2011

When I grow up, I want to be a gateau.

I remember peeling the corrugated paper off the bottom to reveal the soft sponge below- slightly paler than the rest of the thing- the colour of straw or the hair of a toddler after a long summer in the sun. This was after chipping the icing off the top- wait- and that was after plucking the damp sweet from the centre of it. It was a complicated affair, eating a cupcake.

Most parties when I was a kid involved sitting in some friend’s lounge, the furniture shoved to the perimeter of the area giving it the feel of a dentist’s waiting room- sometimes shrouded in sheets to protect the already-stained upholstery. The adults would be hunched over, hands on their knees, trying to coax the guests into having a blast at pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, or musical statues. It was in the Midlands of England, and most often the party would be held indoors to avoid the rain.

Next to the kitchen, there’d be a table with paper plates and some trays covered with the kind of food only someone under the age of ten would enjoy: iced biscuits, cups of jelly, sweets in bowls and huge mounds of orange crisps. Some parents would do savouries, too: pretzels, buttered slabs of gingerbread, and cocktail sticks with squares of cheddar and wedges of pineapple impaled on them. Mostly, the sweet stuff would vanish fast.

But it’s the cupcakes I remember. Heaps of them. Some parents iced them neatly with water icing, and some stuck closely to their home economics classes and used perfectly measured butter icing. I never got tired of planning how to eat them, or choosing which one would be the best. Would the chocolate vermicelli be as satisfying as the miniscule crunch of a silver ball? Choices.

If the parents had had enough time, and they were wise, they’d have made at least two per guest. Then you could eat one as if you’d just returned from an expedition to the jungle- guzzle it down whole- the icing squeezing out of the corners of your mouth, and the sponge melting into one dry, sweet mouthful. I don’t remember if perhaps one parent had used rice paper cups, but form then on, I’d eat the paper, too, chewing it if it wasn’t edible until it was just a wad of soggy paper, and spitting that discreetly into a bin (or a pot plant).

The parties would be loud and over-organised- the kids would have to line up to do this, crowd around to do that, and the only time we’d really relax is when we could eat. And we ate. By the time the birthday cake came out at the end, most likely decorated to suit the birthday boy/girl’s tastes, we’d already had enough. Mostly, the big cake would get dissected but remain uneaten, to get squashed into a mess wrapped in a paper towel on the way home.

It’s the cupcakes I remember: Small pretenders to the cake throne, but always usurpers when it came to satisfaction.


Say something! It can't be worse than what I have said. Note: Sometimes you have to press 'comment' twice. Stupid comments thingy.