1. From scratch is bestI don't know what compelled her to figure this out, but this tradition has endured in my family for over 30 years. Maybe it was the cake decorating class she took at Sears when I was a kid...can't be sure. Nevertheless, the gauntlet was thrown at dinner that night and it was decided that three cakes would be made, consumed and judged by "impartial" critics. I was charged with making a from scratch cake and icing combo, Kate made Betty Crocker cake/icing and Em made Duncan Hines. All cakes would be chocolate and all icing would be "white" or vanilla.
2. If you can't make from scratch cake, at least make the icing
3. If you're going to make boxed cake mix, use Duncan Hines ALWAYS
4. If you need to go box/can for both, use Duncan Hines cake and Betty Crocker icing
As far as the judges were concerned, they were far from impartial - Kate's husband Mark, their niece Rebecca and Em's mom. I thought that I had at least half a vote in the bag because Em's mom and I have bonded over cooking and baking, I've baked for her before, and because she gives me Ina Garten's newest cookbook (inscribed with an inspirational note, even) for Christmas every year. Good, tasty food is our jam!
As people sliced into the cakes, examined their moistness, flavor, quality of chocolate, smoothness of icing - I genuinely had not a care in the world. I was that cocky asshole on food competition shows, so breezily confident in what I had made that I just leaned back in my patio chair and sipped my wine with an easy smirk on my face. My mom's icing is no fail and I even made Ina Garten's Beatty's Chocolate Cake, after hearing a casual recommendation from Em's mom. Easy peasy, right?
I lost. As in, out of three contestants, I came in third. I am the nerd with the hairy chest.
While I have no idea how the voting played out (as the ballots were dropped in the fire pit on the patio shortly after the announcement was made), I lost. I was told that my icing was delicious, and that the cake was super chocolatey and moist. I tasted all the cakes too - the Duncan Hines was obviously familiar and its icing was kind of sticky and sweet. The Betty Crocker cake had this strange dryness to it, and the icing was nothing more than thinned out marshmallow fluff. I'm inclined to think that shins were kicked and ultimatums were issued without my knowing, because when the votes were revealed, I was ripped off my pageant winner's cloud of confidence and fell abruptly to the hollows of baking shame.
Later on in the evening, Em's mom saw me looking at my third place ribbon with an incredibly forlorn expression on my face..."Meaghan, I'm worried about you" she said. I still don't think I've quite pulled away from the shock of it all. Want to know the biggest kick in the gut? Em won.**
*When I was a toddler, my mom made me an incredibly adorable pink and blue checkered clown costume. I won first place in the neighborhood costume competition because of that ensemble, and I was given a trophy as a token of my "effort". I still have that trophy. It's the only trophy I've ever won.
** Em doesn't bake! I mean, I'm happy and proud, but COME ON!