Clippings: Bonding with tween a piece of cake

The word “yikes,” especially when followed by an exclamation point, can have a pleasantly exhilarating meaning. But when spoken by the father of a tweenage girl, especially when followed by a wide-eyed expression of bewilderment and terror, “yikes” can take on a whole other meaning.

The tween years (9-12 or so) can be very difficult on fathers (and on mothers, and siblings, and friends, and neighbors, and random strangers, and sometimes pets). The tween years are usually marked by the development of an advanced eye-rolling technique. Tweens also stop laughing at parents’ jokes. They start listening to music by artists that you have never heard of but actually kind of like (Owl City), or artists that you know way too much about but cannot tolerate (Miley Cyrus).

Tweens try to tweet, email and/or text message while pretending to have a conversation with you. And, most frightening, tweens often exhibit emotions that are like dog whistles — they are outside the range of paternal comprehension.

I have two daughters — one who came out of the tween years alive, and one who is still in the middle of them (she turned 12 on Saturday). But, and I am not trying to brag, my current tweener has not exhibited too many of the classic tween symptoms. Molly is actually very even-tempered and has a great sense of humor that she shares freely. That isn’t to say she isn’t changing. She is becoming her own person and she is not my little girl anymore, so the more I can do to connect with her the better.

Recently Molly has shown an interest in baking, which is a hobby of mine. She genuinely loves the bread I bake and has actually made a couple of loaves herself. We also enjoy watching cooking shows together. A few months ago we watched an episode of “Baking with Julia” in which Julia Child invited baker Alice Medrich into her kitchen to bake a chocolate ruffle cake. The cake was stunning to look at — the outside was wrapped in chocolate and the top was studded with ruffled, fan-shaped pieces of chocolate. And the inside didn’t disappoint either. Three layers of dark chocolate genoise cake were separated by layers of sweetened crème fraiche, fresh raspberries and more chocolate. I looked over at Molly and her mouth was watering. Mine was too, and I may have been crying a little.

When the program ended, Molly, looking a little dreamy eyed, proclaimed that she would settle for nothing less than the chocolate ruffle cake for her birthday. Knowing that I owned the “Baking with Julia” cookbook, and wanting to prolong our bonding moment, I triumphantly agreed to make the cake. When I finally pulled the cookbook off the shelf a couple of weeks ago and saw that the recipe’s directions stretched across six pages of the oversized book, I had a brief thought that maybe father/daughter bonding was overrated.

It was, however, too late to back down so I began studying the recipe. I decided to adopt the think system (learned in “The Music Man”) and I started visualizing myself making the various components of the cake. In my mind, the cake was easy and beautiful. About a week before the baking was to begin I glanced at the ruffle cake equipment list that was included in the recipe. Equipment lists are usually something you find packed with your furniture kit from Ikea, so I got a little nervous. There were no offset spatulas anywhere in my kitchen, neither was there a decorating turntable. I would have to make do.

The night before Molly’s birthday I baked the cake layers and tackled the first round of chocolate ruffle making. The recipe says on page one that “making ruffles does take some practice.“ Three pages later it says “ruffling takes lots of practice.” When you are practicing on expensive dark chocolate the difference between “some” and “lots” can be significant so I decided my think system practice was all the practice I would need and I jumped right in. I am now a true believer in the think system because my ruffles came out pretty good on the first try. And on Saturday Molly successfully completed round two of ruffle making all by herself. She must have employed the think system too.

By Saturday noon I was able to check off the following sub-chapters from the lengthy recipe: “Baking the Cake,” “Preparing the Chocolate,” “Shaping the Ruffles,” “Making the Syrup,” “Making the Filling,” “Assembling the Cake” and “Chilling the Cake.” At this point I was expecting sub-chapters titled “Wiping your brow” and “Collapsing on the Couch,” but instead was confronted by “Making the Wrap,” which I considered the most daunting component.

This last step involved spreading melted chocolate onto a 25-inch strip of freezer paper and then wrapping it around the cake. I will spare you the ugly details, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty producing something so pretty (see the picture).

Of course the proof of the cake is in the eating so it was with great anxiety that I watched Molly take her first bite after blowing out her 12 candles. She swallowed, there was a little fluttering eye roll (a good eye roll) and then she kind of whispered, “oh … yeah.”

Part of my insides melted a little but I don’t think it had anything to do with bonding, it was just that it was a hell of a good cake. Happy birthday, Molly.

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