The Ugly Duckling Cake

The Ugly Duckling Cake

My family and I were invited to have Easter dinner with some close friends. We had been asked to bring dessert, so I set out to make a chocolate pound cake the day before. Simple enough. I’ve baked zillions of cakes over the years—baking is something I do for fun. But luck wasn’t with me that day, and I wasn’t having fun, either.

I got the pound cake into the oven without a hitch. The trouble began when it came time to remove the sweet-smelling, dark brown cake from the round pan. I ran a spatula carefully around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake, as always, then flipped the pan over onto a glass plate—plop! Most of the cake fell clumsily out onto the plate, leaving a few jagged chunks stuck to the pan. My heart sank.

“Aw, come on!” I muttered. Then I mentally shook myself. “Oh well. It happens to the best of us. I can fix this.”

I fitted the chunks carefully into the broken cake and pressed the pieces together with my fingers, still grumbling under my breath. Not perfect, but passable. The cake was warmer than I thought. I hadn’t waited long enough for it to cool before I removed it from the pan.

I repaired the cake as well as I could and covered the top and sides with generous mounds of red velvet pudding. I hoped the creamy frosting had hidden my mess completely.

No such luck. When my daughter Sarah and her dad inspected the cake later, he said, “It’s an ugly duckling, but I’m sure it will taste good.” And she said, “You tried, Mom. That’s what counts, right?”

I told Sarah she was right, but I didn’t listen to my own words. In my mind, I convinced myself that I had to put a perfect cake on the table for Easter dinner. If I didn’t, it would be because a blind baker couldn’t make a nice-looking cake. It didn’t matter that I had two college degrees and my own business, that I had written and published a novel, that I was raising a beautiful little girl, or that I had contributed to and enjoyed meals with these family friends for years. Somehow, I got this Easter cake spun up in my head and decided it had to be flawless.

“Maybe you better get another dessert at the store,” I suggested to my other half when Sarah was safely in bed and he was about to make an Easter Bunny run.

“No,” he said, using that firm, calm voice dads get when they’re talking down drama queens—of any age. “This won’t be hard to fix, I promise.”

He soon returned from the store with a spray can of whipped cream. I have to say, that stuff may be all chemicals, but it works wonders. When Sarah saw the cake in the morning, she breathed, “Mommy, it’s perfect! Daddy fixed it!”

Perfection was short-lived, however. When we got in the car to leave for Easter dinner, I tucked the cake carefully on the middle hump between the front seats under the console. As soon as we backed out of our driveway, the cake plate slid sideways. I grabbed the edges of the plate, hoping the carefully positioned layers of red velvet pudding and whipped cream had stayed more or less intact. I started laughing as a blob of pudding sloshed messily out one side of the aluminum foil cover.

“What’s so funny, Mom?” Sarah asked from her booster in the back seat.

“I guess this cake is just bound and determined to be an ugly duckling,” I giggled, wondering why I had ever cared about perfection in the first place.“It broke when it came out of the pan, and it almost fell on the floor in the car.”

When we arrived at the house where we were having Easter dinner, the hostess took the cake and peeled back the sticky aluminum foil. I started to apologize for the way the cake looked, but she cut me off with a good-natured laugh.

Without knowing any of my pound cake’s dramatic history, she reminisced, “My mama used to say, the uglier a cake was, the better it would taste.”

Her mama was right. That ugly duckling cake turned into a swan when dessert was served.

ugly duckling

Editor’s Note: Read more from Jo Pinto on Blind Motherhood, and check out her book, The Bright Side of Darkness, available on