Ulysses is into knights and castles these days, so I got the idea to make him a cake shaped like a castle, with crenolated turrets made from flat-bottomed ice cream cones, and spires of inverted pointy cones. I was going to bake in a big, rectangular pan, cut out the center for a courtyard, and build up the corner towers with the material I had cut out from the center. Graham cracker drawbridge and door. Licorice ropes.
"Ulysses, your birthday is coming," I told him a couple of weeks ago. "How would you like a cake shaped like a castle?"
"A castle cake? No," he said.
"For your birthday cake," I said. "With towers and a gate and a courtyard."
"No!" he said.
Obviously he didn't understand what I meant, I thought. I showed him some pictures of castle cakes on the Internet. "No," he said to all of them. "No cake castle."
What's with this kid? I thought. Doesn't he realize how fabulous this cake will be? I started up the conversation a few more times over the following week. It always went the same way.
Then I had a brainstorm. "Ulysses," I said, "Your birthday is coming up. I will make you any kind of cake you want, in any shape. What kind of cake would you like for your birthday?"
He answered without hesitation. "A mountain."
I was embarrassed at how silly I'd been. Whose birthday was it, anyway?
"A mountain!" I said, "Do you want your mountain to be a volcano?"
It was such a great idea, I assumed he'd misunderstood the question. I asked him a few more times, describing how the cake would look, with lava and all.
So I supposed I wasn't completely cured of whatever led me to try to feist the castle idea on him. I dropped the volcano idea and thought I'd draw out some more details.
"Do you want the mountain to have a tunnel going through it?"
"Mmmmm.... yes," he said, decisively.
Uh-oh. How on earth was I going to put a tunnel in a cake? Well, I'd walked myself right into that one. I got on the Internet and found a cake that looked promising. It even had a Thomas the Tank Engine track running through it, with trains going round and round! Perfect -- we've got all that. Donald looked at the picture and description and explained to me how it was made (he's genius at that sort of thing, unlike me). Great! I could do that!
I showed Ulysses. "Is this what you want for your birthday cake, something like this?"
He looked pleased. "Yes," he said, like a happy client to an architect who had finally figured out the assignment.
I spent some time figuring out how to put the track together on the board I'd be building the cake on. Took some pictures to guide me in reconstructing it later. Over the week, I gathered materials, and thought about how to build this thing. Emptied and cleaned a big tomato can for the tunnel (it would be slit down one side and then stretched open).
* * *
Yesterday evening, Ulysses and I were at the grocery store. I was shopping for the candies to make into jelly bean boulders, peanut cluster rocks, pretzels for logs and so forth.
I thought I'd better do a reality check. I squatted down to Ulysses, who was in the little car in front of the shopping cart, and said, "Ulysses. You know your birthday is coming." He looked at me. "I will make you any kind of cake you want for your birthday party. What kind of cake do you want?"
"A birthday cake," he said. "Round birthday cake."
"Do you want it to look like a mountain?"
He looked at me as if I had just turned purple. "No."
"Do you want a cake shaped like a mountain with a tunnel in it?'
"Do you want a mountain cake with a tunnel and a train going through it, like the picture we looked at and you said that was what you wanted for your birthday cake?"
"No! No!" His voice began to rise in panic.
"Okay, okay, you want a round birthday cake," I said, switching tracks. "Do you want it to be chocolate?"
"Do you want it to be chocolate on the outside and chocolate on the inside, or yellow on the inside?"
"Chocolate outside and yellow inside," he said.
After a bit we went to the baking aisle and I showed him a cake mix with a picture on the box of a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. "Does this look like the kind of cake you want for your birthday cake?"
"Yes!" he said with excitement. I saw a flash of confusion cross his face when I put the box back on the shelf, but it was gone quickly when he heard me say, "OK. That's the kind of cake I'll make for your party."
"Yes! Birthday cake! Round! Chocolate outside, yellow inside!" he said.
So that is the current plan for the Sunday party. Meantime I already have a double batch of frosting (half is chocolate), enough for the enormous mountain, which would have used two cake recipes.
Maybe I'll make a small mountain cake for my own amusement.