Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Story of the Easy Bake Oven (A Cake Tale)

"Light bulb not included." Should have been a clue.
Cindy Brookshire, Write by the Rails guru and a wonderful writer who works in all sorts of genres  wrote this recently: We all have a cake story. Lianne Best wrote about her chocolate pound cake gone lopsided in a “Mom on the Run” column.  Now there’s a “Bake Off” challenge on the Write by the Rails website to see how many cake stories we can raise.

As I thought about this passage, I realized that even I have a cake story. And I don't bake cakes. Well, once. So here's the story. I call it “The Great Easy Bake Oven Cake Fiasco.” 

Let me preface this tale by saying that women seem to do most of the cake baking in this world, although many bakers are men. Alyssa's betrothed (she hates the word "fiancé) Chris B. (to distinguish him from Amy's bf, Chris M.), is a wonderful baker. He made little covered wagon cupcakes complete with little animal cracker oxen pulling them for Alyssa's Oregon Trail-themed birthday party last year. Believe me, Chris B. can bake a cake for me any time.

Which is not to say that I am completely lost in a kitchen. I am a fair-to-middling cook and would likely not sicken most of the people I feed. I cook for ordinary situations. When it comes to the big celebrations though--Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs--and there is a family meal where everyone brings a dish, I make the iced tea (if it's chez nous--it's easier that way). The real cooks in the family handle the main and side dishes. I know my place in the food chain. (Pun intended.)

But baking, as I have said, not so much. My ineptitude was confirmed when one of the girls received an Easy Bake Oven for a present. The commercials make it look easy to produce delicious, actual edible cakes and cupcakes in the Oven. Here's a commercial from that era. It speaks with forked tongue. (Note that the name of the product was actually the Tasty Bake Oven. I think I have suppressed that bit of information.)

So, we were set to have some father-daughter baking fun with the new oven. The cake mix came in cute little boxes, like the real cake mixes, only smaller. We mixed it up and put it in the cute little cake pans and put the cute little cake pan in the cute little oven and plugged it in and waiting to taste the results of our labors. And waited. And waited.

"Baking time" was supposed to be two minutes. After two minutes, the alleged cake was still a glutinous mass. And after five minutes. And ten minutes. It simply wouldn't turn into a cake.

The girls were disappointed. So was I. And after some thought, I ascertained the problem: the source of heat for the oven was a 60-watt light bulb. No wonder it wouldn't bake. It was about like holding the cake pan over a living room lamp and expecting it to bake.

Together, we worked out that we could use full size cake mix boxes and the oven in the kitchen to bake cakes. That worked well, but I think the emotional trauma of the Easy Bake experience put me off baking cakes forever. No doubt with proper treatment I could turn into a Cake Boss. But it's too late for me now.

I know that other people have had spectacular success baking over a light bulb. I've even seen accounts of people fixing full Thanksgiving meals with an Easy Bake. (Didn't say how long it took--days, probably.) But in our family, sadly, Easy Bake has become a code term for Never Baked or Half Baked or Misrepresentation in Advertising. I should have taken the thing back. Maybe it was defective. In truth, I think I was too embarrassed to admit that I actually thought you could cook a cake, even a small one, over an incandescent bulb. Maybe our magic was not strong enough. Either that or we needed 75 watts of blazing oven power. Yeah...that's it. 


  1. I think we did that Easy-Bake thing too--with two daughters, it's hard not to. But the 60-watt bulb (lest anyone should presume that you stretch the truth here!) discouraged me. Besides, who in their right mind would settle for two bites of a tiny cake when, with the same time and effort, you could produce two DOZEN cupcakes? Can non-members of your group submit cake stories? I have an applesauce cake story AND an Igloo Cake story...

    1. Mary, send your stories to

  2. I had an Easy-Bake oven when I was a girl and it worked as advertised. I assumed the light bulb as a mini-heat source was appropriate for the tiny pans. My husband, by contrast, would never allow me to buy one for our boys who enjoyed cooking from an early age, because he thought it dangerous to cook at such a low temperature. Your experience confirms his instincts. Maybe light-bulbs are more efficient now and don't give off enough heat anymore? CFLs are certainly not going to give off enough heat.

  3. Easy Bake Ovens! The subject evokes longing and desire, failure and dashed expectations. I wanted one desperately as a child, but Santa never brought it.

    By the way, the story I told you about why batter mixes require the addition of an egg is a false one. It sounded good - thank you for deflating it:

  4. "I've even seen accounts of people fixing full Thanksgiving meals with an Easy Bake."

    Seriously? I had one of these ovens as a kid (had to beg for it) and we all ended up eating half-raw brownies out of the tiny pans--which wasn't as bad as it sounds, actually, but still...