Some folk are naturally adept at baking. They can whip up a batch of jam drops or pumpkin scones in a matter of minutes. I aspire to such baking greatness; however, it seems my enthusiasm far outweighs my natural ability. Despite my lack of talent, I tend to bake a lot after having a baby (baby number three has just arrived). I recently learned a hard lesson in the kitchen though – baking and sleep deprivation don’t mix.
It was the day before my eldest daughter’s seventh birthday and, in a moment of weakness I had promised homemade cupcakes for her to share at school. Under normal circumstances, I would have ordered from the experts. Yet, there I was, completely sleep deprived and committed to creating rounds of Magnolia Bakery-inspired cupcakes.
The baking debacle started after a long night spent with an unsettled infant intent on nursing every few hours and refusing to sleep in between. Come morning, all I wanted to do was crawl back under the covers as soon as the older kids left for school. At 7.30am, I shuffled them out the door, tucked the baby in for a morning nap and was just about to do the same when I remembered the 24 chocolate cupcakes I needed to bake, decorate and deliver to school by 2pm for Miss Seven’s class party. No worries, I thought. It will take ten minutes to measure and mix, then 20 minutes to bake. I’ll be under the covers snoozing just after 8am while the cupcakes cool on the rack.
I dug out a tattered copy of Edmonds Cookbook, the cooking bible in every New Zealander’s kitchen, and opened the cupboard. Hmmm, no flour. Well, there was dumpling flour but I’d already suffered through one disastrous baking experience after trying it in a batch of honey snaps that morphed into a sticky sludge on the baking tray.
Never mind. I had Plan B up my sleeve – packet mix. Much to my relief, there was a box of chocolate cake mix in the pantry. The dry mix promised to make 24 cupcakes with just a couple of eggs, a stick of butter and a dash of milk. After combining the ingredients, I arranged 24 patty cake papers on a baking tray, spooned the batter and admired my handiwork. I was right on schedule to be napping in 20 minutes. My moment of baking brilliance evaporated when the oven timer buzzed and I discovered the patty cake papers had collapsed and my perfect cupcakes had merged into a flat loaf peppered with patty wrappers. Feeling rather devastated and close to tears, I graciously tossed the lot in the bin.
Time for Plan C. I was desperate at this point as the cupcake deadline loomed and the baby threatened to wake. After trawling the pantry for anything that resembled a cake mix, I was delighted to find an old brownie mix in the back of the cupboard. Cupcake brownies suddenly sounded like the perfect solution. Sure they’d be a little flatter than a regular cake but I was past the point of worry. Twenty minutes later, the first dozen were baked to perfection. Another 20 minutes and I suddenly had 24 brownie cupcakes and enough batter for a few spares. Hooray! As time ticked by, grand decorating plans were radically downsized and the brownies were instead dressed-up with a little chocolate icing and a few sprinkles.
I arrived at school in time to light the number seven candle and sing "Happy Birthday" with the class. After all the drama, I’m happy to report the improvised cupcakes were well-received even if I was forced to save my nap for another day.
Australian Sonia Cahill is a freelance writer and consulting editor feeling her way through daily life in Beijing, with husband Dan Baird and their daughters Zali, Asha and Elise.