I spotted a cake in a magazine that I thought my nine-year-old daughter, Clarissa, might like to make. When she saw the picture of the cake, she glowed. With a friend of mine a week earlier, Clarissa had learned how to manipulate my cake decorating set, which I rarely use anymore. She sculptured borders and roses (of all things!). Might my cake-decorating dreams, reminiscent of my childhood, be fulfilled in my little girl whose eyes light up over arts and crafts?

            Her creativity flourished the next day as she supervised Michael, 7, while he whipped up a 9 by 13 inch cake. At the same time, she mixed a double batch of play dough. Marzipan, not play dough, had been called for to shape little people to slide and skate on the cake, but Kenora isn’t a good place to find hard-to-find items, so we substituted play dough. I finished stirring this hot stiff goop, then the twosome kneaded it on the table until smooth.

            Finally they packaged it away in a tight container for the next day’s activities. And some activities they were.

            On this memorable, second baking day, I transferred the flat-looking, cracked cake to a wooden cutting board that Clarissa had lined with aluminum foil. So what if the cake flopped? Icing covers a multitude of mistakes, and what was to go on the outside was bound to look terrific (or so we hoped). I cut two wedges from the end of the cake to form a hill on the top left side of the cake, where eventually little people would sled down. I then transferred the cake to the freezer, as I had learned as a teen, hoping this would ease the icing job.

            So far so good. I left them to continue working on their endeavor, while I called my sister with my slight problem quite unrelated to cake construction. I told her I had discovered a chart that says I’m overweight. Me, fat!? My husband says I’m skinny and I feel fit as a fiddle.

            In this state of mind, with the phone nestled by my ear, I breezed into the kitchen and was horrified to see Michael and Clarissa energetically wiping food coloring off the floor.

            I’m not talking just a little. To make matters worse, my four-year-old twins had by now joined in the activities. I hung up the phone as all thoughts of being fat fled for the time being and I rapidly organized a major clean up.

            My fingers, my four little children’s fingers, and some little feet were colored. Soon the washer swished red water with socks and leotards. Red food coloring decorated the wall behind my sink, and one new towel on my stove sported blue spots.

            Needless to say, I set a new rule.  Mommy will be around when food coloring is distributed next time.

            I was amazed, though, at the nicely packaged assortment of dark red, pink, blue and white play dough in little plastic bags. Might messes be necessary to produce masterpieces?

            Later in the morning, they were forming the colorful play dough into little people.  “Mom, can I make a snowmobile?” Michael asked, although in the end I did not see a complicated machine on the cake.

            “Does she look good, mommy?” Clarissa asked of her little play dough person.

            On a metal tray, they placed a snowman with a red hat and green arms, two little people on sleds and four little people lying down.

            “Why are they lying down?” I asked.

            “Until they harden. Then we’re going to stand them up.”

            Made sense. I hoped they would stand, then, when they are supposed to.

            A bit later, they slathered white icing onto the cake. I showed them how to dip their knives into a glass of hot water to ease the process, as I had been taught when I was young. Clarissa then made a pond with blue icing, where the little people would eventually skate.

            “This is cool!” Kayla, 11, said as she strolled in and inspected the cake.

            Clarissa piped green icing onto ice cream cones to resemble trees. I was impressed with her ability to use a decorating bag.

            While I was still collecting my wits from this busy morning, Kayla, who hadn’t been part of the hubbub, asked, “Can we make look-alike dresses or something? I’m bored.”

            Bored? Not me. Sorry dear. No more major projects today. One mother can only do so much.

            At noon, I told Clarissa to put the little people in the recently-turned-off oven to dry, as I had just baked dinner rolls for lunch. A bit of low heat might dry the playful people quicker.

            A few hours later, when I was on the Internet researching for an article about how many calories a nursing mom of twins is to eat, Clarissa and Michael came weeping and wailing into the office.

            “How could you, mom!!”

            “They’re ruined!!”

            It took awhile for the catastrophe to sink in. Finally I realized that my warm oven suggestion had not been a hot idea, or rather too hot. I looked in the oven and saw puffed up, bloated little people, half-baked and fully flopped. I felt awful. Poor dears, but I couldn’t help but chuckle at the hilarious-looking puffed-up men.

            They set to work again, making smaller ones with some leftover play dough. Easy-going Clarissa said later, “I’m glad they got wrecked because now we could make them smaller.” The first little people had been too large, almost as tall as their ice cream cone trees. Awhile later Clarissa said, “It was kinda funny looking at those funny-looking people.”

            I said to Clarissa, “I might buy you a cake-decorating set on your next birthday. You’ll be ten and should be old enough to take care of it.”

            She seemed pleased. My daughter appears to shoot off from my passions, but in her own direction. Isn’t that the enjoyment of parenting?

            Days later, I pulled out one of my rarely used cake-decorating books displaying a twenty-five cent garage sale tag on the cover. Michael and Clarissa both picked a cake they’d like to decorate. A cottage. Looked like a huge project to me. Even bigger than the last.

            You might find me, once again, weary from a cake-decorating binge. They might have more misfortunes as they plug away. Most likely, my eyes will sparkle at yet another photo smiling from our picture book, capturing a snapshot of childhood days that fly by too fast. Looking back in thirty years, I may even remember our joyful and crazy baking escapades as a piece of cake.




Clarissa’s Icing Recipe


This is how I remember the recipe from my friend Rosa.

When I was a teen, she gave me the decorating set I still use.

Her generosity and interest propelled me into my cake-decorating career.



1 cup vegetable oil shortening

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/8 teaspoon salt

Alternately add:

3 cups icing sugar

3 tablespoons water

Add food coloring of your choice. Depending on the desired consistency of the icing, adjust the amounts of icing sugar and/or water.




Since her major undertaking described in the above story,

Clarissa made the twins a Teddy Bear Cottage birthday cake, using this icing recipe.

After “A Piece of Cake” was published in our local paper,

Clarissa received an order for a boy’s ‘hockey cake.’

She used this frosting recipe for that project as well.


© Copyright Sharon Schnupp Kuepfer All Rights Reserved

Do Not Copy Without Permission of the Author