Edible Alchemy: Ugly Cakes

There are things in life that are not beautiful.

I have seen beauty in so many forms, tasted the skies of potential for my spirit through observing a sunrise, known the power of all that is by taking in an artist in the height of their creativity.  We each of our own perception of beauty, and yet we know it when we see it.

Ugly Cakes are not beautiful.

I dicovered Ugly Cakes as an accident, as many of the best culinary and emotional connections are discovered.  I was supposed to have a date with pinwheel roll-up pumpkin bread or some such thing, but my stores were low and I worked with what I had.

We all work with what we had.

When I looked down at the mess that had come from my discovery, I was deeply saddened.  These Ugly Cakes are what I have to eat for dessert?  These are, well, ugly!  What a waste, I heard myself say, of a decent can of pumpkin.

And then I bit into them.  I did not taste the hallelujah of the heavens, I did not melt into a heap of orgiastic goo.  But I had found something that has become a sweet breakfast favorite for me, the type of comfort breakfast or treat that fills my heart with a sort of wisdom of the tongue.  This is not perfect, but neither am I.  This is not what it might have been, but it is the perfect what I needed it to be.

Here, then, is a recipe for Ugly Cakes, with notes below on how I don’t quite follow the recipe.  If you do not have all the ingredients, do as I did, and improvise.  Work with what you have.  Pray.  And maybe you will find a new family enjoyment item that is perfect for what it needed to be.

Ingredient list:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 can solid pack pumpkin
  • 1 egg yolk

Dig around your kitchen and find measuring cups and two bowls.  I think that regular cooking folk might call them medium bowls, but they need to be able to fit all the above goo in them.  But not yet.  Right now, just find the bowls, and a big wood spoon while you are at it.  Oh yeah, and those measuring cups.

My measuring cups look like little stacking dolls from Russia, and always make me think of Sydney where I bought them on King Street.  I ponder the people I cherish who are far away, and rip the little women in half.  I use the 1 cup measuring bottom half of her decapitated corpse and pull out the flour.  Why all-purpose flour, I wonder.  Wouldn’t most-purpose flour work?  How many of us are really all-purpose.  Is this flour really all-purpose.  Ponder for a moment on the nature of purpose while measuring all three cups into one of those bowls.

Futz around in the cabinets looking for pumpkin pie spice.  If you have some, go you.  I don’t.  I never do.  Instead I looked at the list and went, ah, things that taste like pumpkin and ginger and cinnamon.  With that in mind I pulled out ground nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves and vaguely made a total of 2 tablespoons of spices wind up in the flour.  I added a dash of vanilla because my mother had sent it to me, and that was as reasonable or a reason as any to add something to my life.  Sometimes stuff just ends up on our laps, or in our bowls, and we make it work.

In the other bowl, the bigger of the two if there are two, put in the stick of softened butter.  In my case, I only had 2/3 of a stick of butter, so I poured in a bit of extra virgin olive oil to make up the difference.  I also forgot to soften it in advance, so I stuck it in the microwave for a moment and hoped for the best.  Add the 2 cups of sugar to the “butter” that you have, and blend.  This mostly means sitting on the couch watching an episode of Firefly, squishing the butter around until the salt and butter have mooshed their way into each other’s hearts.

Crack the egg over the sink (not over at the couch where you were watching firefly) and add the yolk to the bowl now next to the sink.  Make sure not to tip bowl into sink of dirty dishes.  Open up the can of pie material, contemplate the genius of the mass-produced can for world market sales, and add all the orange-goo that so reminds me of my birthday.  Contemplate the nature of birthdays while mooshing the goo all together

Sit back down at the couch with both bowls.  Add some of the flour mix to the bowl of egg/butter/sugar/pumpkin.  Blend.  Once blended, do it again.  Like life, if we try to take it all on at once we can get overwhelmed and get flour all over our livingroom.

Once it is all mixed together, stare at the goo.  I felt compelled to add a dash more flour, and blend more.

Stick it in the fridge, convinced this stuff is just not quite right.  Finish the episode of Firefly (aprox. 30 minutes, more is okay if you want to watch another episode or if your neighbor stops over to introduce himself and offers you a glass of sangria, talking about his ex-husband and how he is surprised how long construction is taking on the pool.)

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.  Dig under your range for a non-stick cookie sheet.  Pull Ugly Cake Goo out of fridge.  Find that tablespoon earlier used for measuring.  Use it to dig out a heaping spoonful, okay, more like a giant glop.  Place giant glop on cookie sheet and squih down.  Glop should be approxametly 1/2″ high, and 3″ across in any given direction.  Put 4-8 of these on the desired sheet, however many you want to make.  The batter keeps for a week or so.

Note your imperfections.

Once the oven is heated, put in Ugly Glops.  Set a timer for 15 minutes.  Try to clean up this mess in your kitchen.

When the timer goes off, open up fridge.  Take a toothpick and stick it in a cake, or guess.  If it comes out sticky/runny, let it go for a few more minutes.  Mine take about 16-18 minutes, depending on the magic of how hungry I am (hungrier, takes longer it seems).  This is the nature of desire.

Let cool, or, bite right in and have your tongue hate you afterwards for the blister.

Stick extra goo in tuperware container, seal, burp the lid, put in fridge.  Make hungry cakes whenever makes you happy for the next week or so.

Serve warm, or not.  Enjoy as you see fit. Much like life itself.


Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.

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