Last week I began watching The Great British Baking Show.
There is something about watching a flurry of twelve bakers complete insane challenges, knowing their anxiety will never be yours. For once, you can just be an audience member of someone else's chaos. On top of that, it is comforting to see sugar, butter, and eggs turn into something magical, with each baker adding their own flair to pastries we all love.
To err is human and to forgive is divine, said Alexander Pope.
Inspired by the lovely bakes parading across my television screen, I decided that I wanted to bake my own treat — a lemon blueberry cake. So, I used my queen Sally McKenney of Sally's Baking Addiction and her Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake recipe to get back into the baking game.
After writing down the necessary ingredients in my journal, my mom and I went to the grocery store to begin the baking journey. Oh, the joy I felt, checking off each box listed next to each ingredient. Buttermilk. Check! Unsalted butter. Check! 3 Lemons. Check, check, check!
It's the little things in life.
I hadn't been in a grocery store and forgot how much stuff they carry. 3,000 brands of pasta. Every type of milk you could squeeze out of a cow—bunches of bananas under harsh white lights that all lead back to imperialism. The overstimulation of grocery stores was a hot topic in my English class a few months ago as we read White Noise by Don DeLillo. I never thought I would think about that book again …
But I chose to push America's obsession with overconsumption out of my head for the time being and basked in the glory of having every food in the world at my fingertips. Using the grocery cart as a scooter, I hoisted myself onto the cart and glided down the aisle, whizzing past nilla wafers adorned in yellow and Keebler Elf's Vienna fingers.
When we got home, I unpacked my assortment of goods onto the kitchen table to prepare. Thankfully, it was golden hour, and the sun hit my eggs and butter with the spotlight they deserved. I just had to take a photo.
Bur baking is all fun and games until it's time to start baking. It took me another 30 minutes to find all the materials I needed without annoying my mom every second about where the lemon zester was (I'm making lemonade tonight, so I'm afraid I'll have to ask her for it again). I needed so many bowls — one for wet ingredients, one for dry ingredients, one for frosting — it never ended. Then, I had to ensure all my measuring cups were in order. At this stage in the game, I was severely wishing I was under the big white tent of The Great British Baking Show, where an invisible crew would have ensured I had all the equipment I needed before whipping up something delicious for Paul and Prue.
Once I had everything I needed, I put Late Registration on shuffle and got to work.
The recipe called for room temperature butter, and I always have difficulty deciphering when exactly the butter is soft enough for mixing, so I threw it into the microwave in what I hoped was a microwavable safe bowl. I mixed the wet ingredients first, and the butter creamed nicely with sugar. It was very satisfying to watch. Every time I use my mom's stand mixer, I feel like a baking queen, as the whir of the machine knocks me out of my thoughts for a second and forces me to move to the slight sway of the ingredients below me. Once I added the eggs and vanilla, watching how the eggs changed the mixture and firmed it into something you might want to eat was amazing.
When it came time to prep the dry ingredients, I spent another ten minutes trying to find the flour sifter since that's what Sally instructed me to do. I almost gave up, ready to reach for a fork to mix around the flour and "aerate it." Thankfully, I found the sifter and spooned in my flour, watching the flour float like fairy dust into the bowl.
Then came the time to bring the dry and wet ingredients into holy matrimony, and with my steady stand mixer, I brought it all together and tried to avoid getting flour in my face. Finally, after my batter was thick and gloopy, I dumped in my plump blueberries and squeezed the heck out of my lemons to turn the lemon blueberry of the lemon blueberry cake into full effect.
I had to be careful when mixing my blueberries into the batter — over-mixing would result in a tough and dense cake. So I opted for a folding method, gently folding my blueberries into the mixture until all I could see were dark dots in a sea of yellow.
The recipe made enough batter for three levels, but I only had two cake pans. So I poured the batter into each pan and decided I would have to re-use one pan after the first batch was baked to use my remaining mixture.
Into the oven, my creation went, and I was glad to have a break for 25 minutes.
I'm so used to baking with my friends or my mom that baking by myself created a liberating chance to do whatever I wanted while my cakes rose to greatness.
I danced to “Motion Sickness” by Phoebe Bridgers and engaged in my usual Tik Tok scroll, and then I remembered I still had to make the frosting!
Cream cheese, butter, vanilla, sugar, and bam! I had a frosting, not too sweet, a little runny, but good by my measure.
Before I knew it, the cakes were ready, and I let them cool on the kitchen counter before doing a switch-a-roo between one of the pans to put my third layer into the oven. Once I finished that last layer, I let the cakes cool and climbed into my bed, ready to call it a night and just frost those bad boys tomorrow morning.
Then, my friend Gabbi FaceTimed me, and we had one of those sweet long time-no-see phone calls where we talked about everything under the sun, and I felt motivated to finish what I had started.
As Gabbi filled me in on what was new with her, I frosted my cakes, frustrated that the icing would not stick. It was so hot in my house, and it seemed like every time I smeared frosting onto the cakes, they would melt into a gooey puddle on the cake stand. It was nearly 1 in the morning, but I refused to give up.
I'm guessing that to be a baker, you must have patience, but that night I was running short on any of that temperament and shellacked on more icing to my cake, hoping it would stick and not make my cake collapse. I was tired.
I ran my frosting knife over the sides of the cake, over and over and over again, because while this cake would be far from perfect on the outside, I still had to treat it with some respect. Finally, the cake looked good enough to me at a certain point, so I stuck some blueberries on top, covered the cake, and went to sleep.
To my surprise, the cake didn't look all that bad when I came into the kitchen the following day.
I had surprised myself yet again.
I called my mom and Jair downstairs to be my taste-testers and held my breath as I sliced the cake onto their plates.
"This is good," Jair said, and for someone who doesn't like sweets, I was at ease.
I had a slice myself, and he was right. This cake was good. I don't know why I was surprised. I followed the recipe, didn't overmix the batter, and trusted myself. I should start doing that more often.
The cake wasn't too lemony and had the consistency of a pound cake, another sweet treat that I love.
“MMMM Sanai!,” my dad later told me. “That cake is amazing.” I could still see the cream cheese frosting on the side of his lips, and with my dad, that’s how you know something is really that good, he just has to get it all over his face,
So, thank you, The Great British Baking Show, for forcing me out of bed and making me try something new. I had fun.
Now, what should I bake next?