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An ode to the fallen cake

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I love baking. No, really. You don’t need to look further than my search history to see evidence of countless pie-crust rabbit holes, or my laptop bookmarks, which tend to involve more cookie recipes than useful school-related websites.

But the thing is, I’m not very good at baking.

I’ve baked croissants that have turned out more like crackers, burned chocolate chip cookies, and even gotten mild food poisoning from a particularly disastrous batch of cinnamon buns.

On one memorable occasion, I baked a sprinkle cake only for the whole thing to turn a very unappetizing grey when the dough leached all the colour out of the sprinkles. (It did still taste good though, so I’ll give myself some extra points.)

For most of our lives, we’re told that we need to succeed. We need good marks to get into university. We need a degree to get a good job. We need to have a successful career so we can retire and devote all our time to successful jigsaw puzzling. But of course, that isn’t all there is to life. We can take the winding path, get caught on speedbumps, and utterly and spectacularly fail.

I’m not saying that it’s easy to fail. Failing isn’t usually accompanied by a “job-well-done” pat on the back or by people stuffing their faces with your cookies while simultaneously asking you for the recipe. But in some ways, it is more rewarding to try and fail than not to try at all. Good, bad, unremarkable, burnt — every cake, I mean every experience, lets us learn something about ourselves.

I have Celiac disease, and it can be a challenge to go out and buy a tasty gluten-free dessert that doesn’t taste like cardboard or cost an outrageous amount. That’s really why I started baking. I wanted to treat myself to flaky, buttery pastries, rosemary focaccia, and those mini powdered donuts that stare at me enticingly at the grocery store.

I like the challenge of trying to create something that I used to love and finding new recipes I’ve never tried before. And sure, more often than not, my bakes tend to end up more than a little imperfect, but I still have a great time making them.

I’ve even found that there’s a certain exhilaration that comes with being bad at baking. You can throw up your hands, get flour all over the kitchen, and just say, “Screw it. I was trying to make cinnamon buns, but I made cinnamon blobs instead.”

The line between success and failure has become very rigid, but life isn’t so black and white. My cakes with their crispy, borderline burnt edges and sinking middle aren’t failures. They are 60 per cent edible!

Why do we judge ourselves so harshly, anyway? Why do we feel the need to hide the things we aren’t good at? We should take the time to celebrate the things that bring joy, whether that’s baking a pie with a “dreaded” soggy bottom during a few hours of downtime or watching reruns of reality TV.

Either way, both can be saved with a double scoop of ice cream.

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