Have Your Cake

I have views on candy thermometers: should a recipe call for the use of one, it should also call for Valium. There’s bubbling and timing and directions about steady streams. Too much can go wrong, and it’s all in the timing.

One Thanksgiving, I attempted sage marshmallows for a brown butter sweet potato casserole which resulted in a coarse-grained sedimentary rock composed of subangular gravel-size clasts (marshmallow clumps with green pebbles). Quelle appetizing. This time, however, there was no call for a candy thermometer. The only stipulation was that the butter be at a solid 65°F.

We used a Vicks oral thermometer. “That’s gross, Mom.” She was right. First I’d need to sterilize it. Tito’s Vodka. Then, I stabbed the butter, only to realize that an oral thermometer doesn’t register that low. So, I turned to the dreaded candy thermometer. Nope, not on its register either. Oven thermometer, nay nay. How in the hell does one find a thermometer that can even measure degrees this low? Phil has an instant-read steak thermometer, but I had no idea where it was. And to ask that man where I could find it would end up in a, no joke, 23 minute conversation about Why must he be involved? Why when I do things, I do them, but when you do things I need to be involved? Would I really need to unhinge my neighbor’s thermostat to get a temp read on my sixth-grade daughter’s baking butter? Enter Abigail’s school’s Cupcake Wars.

I was her sous. Abs called all the shots. She wanted to make cupcakes that looked like the home screen of an iphone. The girl planned what colors of fondant she’d need to hand-tint. Every color you see in the photos was created by hand. She then had to cut out shapes with a food-safe X-acto knife (and use board-game pieces as stencils). This kept us up until 1am. The only bit I did was mix the watercolor “paint” using vodka and food gel with a food-safe brush (the alcohol evaporates, but is required because water makes fondant gummy). Yes, I know shilyla like this. No, I wasn’t doing shots.

The following day, she decided on a homemade vanilla cupcake recipe from Rose’s Baking Basics. With a white chocolate cream cheese frosting from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. Next, we used an apple corer to create surprise center wells of white chocolate pudding (that had to be passed through a sieve, to avoid lumps). But first we tried a dark chocolate pudding. Of course we did.

The smear method wasn’t happening. The girl wanted in on my pastry bags. “We’re not amateurs,” she said. “Well, we are, but still.” She wanted to pipe dream her frosting. Being who I am—and having wanted to stab whomever invented the piping bag the last time I’d tried using them with couplers—I researched how to easily re-fill piping bags without all the mess. You will thank me profusely should you ever be just psycho enough to use a pastry bag. Me.

Worked. Totally worked. She filled each well with the white chocolate pudding using the piping bag. There were 24 cupcakes that still needed to be frosted. You know what? Screw the cling-film method. Let’s just do this. So, we filled a pastry bag without the saran wrap method. It was taking too long, and Little Miss was turning into an old man. “My back hurts. Are we done yet?”

Cream cheese frosting oozed through the top of the pastry bag. Abigail took it in stride. No big deal. You know what would be fun? Abigail ran her frosted hand along the side of my face. The rest happened in slow motion. Mom’s hair. Abigail’s eyebrows. Mom’s neck. Abigail’s eye.

We’re now mother daughter bakers, vowing to bake something new together once per month. Why? Because I need to sublimate her slime-making creativity into something more useful. Like weight gain.

For the record, our home is now equipped with a Dual Laser, non-contact, digital infrared thermometer. Because a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.



  1. Love this so much!!! Having heard part of the story in Sunday’s Workshop, I was truly hoping you would share the entire process with the world, which you just did! What an awesome mother/daughter bonding experience complete with frosting fights!! You go girls!! Can’t wait to hear what the next “Baking with Abigail & Stephanie” episode entails!!!

  2. Mother and daughter vlog coming our way soon I hope..

    I love how you give 100% to any project you get involved with – how awesome, More amazing memories!

    This – And to ask that man where I could find it would end up in a, no joke, 23 minute conversation about Why must he be involved? Why when I do things, I do them, but when you do things I need to be involved? – makes me sad. :-(

    1. Author

      Aw, Freepie, it makes me laugh at this point. I cannot change him, so instead, I just choose to let him be who he is, and I get to be who I am!

  3. Love love love!! You go Abby and Stephanie! What an amazing experience and they look amazing!!

  4. How fun! These are the moments she will treasure when she’s a grown-up. It’s funny when my now adult children come home, to hear what things they remember (and often that I’ve blocked or just forgotten).

    One that came up recently was how we used to gather after homework/dinner downstairs on the big couch and papasan chairs to watch a show or two. We had a giant basset hound at the time who thought of himself as a lapdog. He would smoosh his way up onto the couch- walk over the children until he could be touching all 3 of them, and then happily snooze away. While flipping through the channels, we came across a police show (with sirens!). All of a sudden, the dog woke up and started pursing his lips to create the most amazing howl we had ever heard! And then we were all howling – with laughter! I can’t ever think of that time without smiling.

    Great to see you writing again – missed ya.

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