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The Birthday Cake Curse

Bizarrely enough, I've been afflicted by two "cake curses" in my life. The first one was much more serious. I won't go into detail because it's rather dark, but there is a particular recipe that my friend and I refer to as the "Death Cake." I'll let your imagination run wild with that. The cake curse I'm writing about today is slightly more upbeat, though still troublesome. So, in honor of my lovely friend Hayley's birthday, I present The Tales of Hayley's Birthday Cake Curse.

I met Hayley my freshman year of college, and the first trait I remember noticing about her is that she is extremely caring. One of the first nights I spent hanging out with her was when I enlisted her to help care for one of our drunk hallmates. I didn't know her well, but she seemed like the type who would be the first to hold your hair up when you vomit. For anyone who knows the Enneagram, she is a solid 2. The only time she becomes aggressive is to protect her friends, and she is the queen of gift-giving. I have early memories of her making cake pops in her dorm room for a friend's birthday and cupcakes later that year. Even I didn't bake in the dorms, and I've done many impractical baking things in my life!


Because Hayley constantly thinks of others, I have tried to make her feel as loved on her birthdays as she makes her friends feel. Given I didn't bake in the dorms, I don't know if we had a birthday cake our Freshman year. There is no photo evidence in my camera roll. Our sophomore year, I went to a bakery she liked and bought the strawberry cupcakes she loved. Everything was fine these first two years, perhaps because I did zero baking.


Our junior year was when everything changed. We had a kitchen, and I became ambitious. I was looking for a strawberry cake since I knew she liked the cupcakes the year before. I came across a recipe by the chef who made Princess Kate and Prince William's wedding cake. Hayley was into the royals, so I instantly had my heart set on this cake. Unfortunately, the cake was somewhat impractical for a college student. Because someone in the UK wrote the recipe, all the ingredients were in grams, and several were not often used in the US. For instance, I specifically remember having a hard time finding caster sugar (superfine sugar). I bought special liqueur for the elderflower whipped cream frosting and a brand new cake plate to make it look fancier. In the end, I made a beautiful cake that I was proud of and very excited to show to Hayley. What I didn't know what that the curse that would follow me on Hayley's birthday every year was about to begin.

I left the cake in our refrigerator for a few hours after decorating it. It looked like this.

Let's zoom closer... The writing was on the wall. I just didn't know it.

Yep... the cake plate was cracked

When I finally opened the refrigerator to get the cake, the cake stand had collapsed entirely. Shards of the ceramic cake stand sat in the cake and whipped cream pile. I drew my roommate's attention with a dramatic outburst and quickly ran into my room to cry and call my mom. 20 or so minutes later, I rejoined my roommates. They had scooped up the cake, put it on a plate, and were dipping apple slices into it when I walked into the room. Fortunately, no one seemed to ingest any of the cake stand. My boyfriend (now husband) went out to buy a cake from the store. Meanwhile, the birthday girl and our other roommate tried to comfort me and remove the cake from the refrigerator. Happy Birthday, Hayley...


Our senior year, I decided to stick with the British theme for Hayley's cake a year later. She had done some fancy research and went to England to present it, so it seemed best to stick with the theme. I chose a lavender cake with Earl Grey Buttercream. Two of her other friends and I threw her a surprise party at a restaurant, so I opted to make cupcakes. The party consisted of 12-15 people, and I barely knew some of them. Regardless, I was excited to present my cupcakes. I had tried some of the leftovers, and they were terrific. Tragically, after handing out the cupcakes, I heard a girl in our sorority yell out how gross it was that the insides were completely raw. Whoops..... The cupcakes needed more time in the oven, and the people who continued to eat them were risking salmonella. It was pretty mortifying.


Our first-year post-grad, Hayley and I lived about 2.5 hours away from each other. Fortunately for me, her boyfriend (now husband) decided to surprise her with a trip to Atlanta for the weekend. I chose to make s'mores and coffee ice cream cake. The cake had been in the freezer all day, but there was one final step before serving. Marshmallows covered the top of the cake in marshmallows. To give them a toasty look, you were supposed to either brulee the top with a kitchen torch or broil the cake (not an ideal choice). I bought a kitchen torch but didn't realize I needed to buy a butane gas cartridge separately. I would have to toast the top, by popping it in the oven to broil for a minute or two.

Everyone knows that broilers are the most effective way to burn food by far. I was so concerned about melting the cake I hadn't even considered that it might catch fire. Sure enough, when I opened the oven, the entire top of the cake was blazing. There was enough fire that I was immediately concerned about the oven catching fire. I lived with my parents at the time, and for some reason, they kept the liquor cabinet above the oven. As I panicked about the liquor cabinet catching fire and incinerating the house, I tried to find our fire extinguisher.

Unfortunately, this moment taught me a lot about my personality. You've probably heard that in an adrenaline-provoking situation, people typically choose to "fight, flight, or freeze." It turns our I freeze. I tried to get out the fire extinguisher, but my brain was stuck. It couldn't move fast enough to do anything. Hayley chose flight. She didn't exactly run away, but she was panicking and not helping the situation. My parents would have lost their kitchen if her now-husband, Ruben, hadn't been there to "fight" the fire. He calmly used his brain, filled up a cup of water, and threw it on the cake. The fire instantly extinguished.

After spending a few minutes turning on fans to get the smoke out of the room, I shifted my attention to the burnt, wet cake. I'm sure I was tempted to cry like I had several years before when the cake plate collapsed. Instead, Hayley and I experimented and found we could scrape off the top. Underneath, there were still untouched marshmallows and unmelted ice cream. Even the water that Ruben had thrown onto the cake didn't seem to be a problem. The fire had even given the cake a nostalgic, smoky campfire flavor without actually eating anything burnt.

Despite the close call, this was my favorite cake.


2019 was a crazy year. It was the Spring semester of my first year of grad school, and I don't think Hayley and I could meet for her birthday that year. Regardless, I did bake a cake the same week as her birthday. My food science class met once a week outside of the classroom for lab, and the week of Hayley's birthday, we happened to be baking cakes. My lab partner and good friend, Casie, and I tended to get a severe case of the sillies on the nights we had lab. We sometimes became ditzy and unfocused... I would also add that the food science class instructions tended to have confusing errors, so I will blame the ensuing cake chaos on that. I don't know if it was the evening ditziness, the weird instructions, or just the cake curse in general, but our cake straight-up exploded. I laughed and told my classmates all the previous years of cake disasters that had happened before.


2020 was actually one of the most successful cake years. I was well aware of the curse by this time, so I was meticulous. A couple of friends and I were going to Hayley's to watch the Oscars, so we decided to surprise her with a birthday cake since her birthday was around the same time. I decided to make a champagne-flavored Oscar's cake. The cake baking went as planned, and I sculpted an Oscar's man out of modeling chocolate (corn syrup and chocolate). She loved the cake, and it seemed like nothing really went wrong... Aside from the fact that it was February 2020, and the world shut down about two weeks later. I think God/ the Universe knew that we didn't need any additional cake disasters in 2020 with what we were about to face.


2021 was by far the worst curse year. The only year I would shudder to repeat. It was the year I forgot Hayley's birthday.

I mentioned that Hayley is an Enneagram 2... I know most people don't know what that is, but it explains why she is not the kind of person whose birthday you want to forget. It's not because she gets mad or sulky or anything like that. It's because A. I knew she would NEVER forget my birthday unless something were horribly wrong, B. She's too nice about it. Many of my friends would give me a hard time about it and make me feel guilty, but she just wanted to make sure I was okay C. She's sensitive, and I was afraid her mind would spiral and convince her I hated her or something.

I was utterly guilt-ridden. I went online and found a cake by Milk Bar that could ship quickly and bought that to ease my guilt. She said it was good, but I'm not convinced that any cake that can be shipped in the mail can be decent.

My birthday was several weeks after hers, and I prayed she would forget mine. Nope. She sent me an adorable birthday box. Damn her thoughtfulness. You're probably wondering if this curse actually exists or if I'm just a terrible baker with a bad memory. Well... maybe both. As far, as baking goes, I sometimes bite off more than I can chew. It's not uncommon for me to choose something too ambitious for the amount of time I have and have a rough outcome- this is probably what happened with the Earl Grey cupcakes. On the other hand, I've baked a LOT over the past decade. I've made cakes and other treats for many friends and family members, including two wedding cakes, and the majority of the mess-ups seem to occur on Hayley's birthday. A cake curse is truly the only explanation.

As far as the forgetfulness goes- yeah that kind of adds up. I was forgetting things left and right during grad school. It eases my guilt to blame this on the curse though, so please go with it.

This year I wracked my brain for a fun thing to send. I wanted to make her a cake, but we live several states away now. I think shipping a cake is just begging the curse to ruin her cake. I considered flowers, but her cat will eat them and get sick (it has happened before, and with the curse, it's just too dangerous) Now I want your opinion:

-Should I ship her cookies so that she gets something homemade fast?

-Should I bake her a cake and give it to her next time I see her even though it could be cursed and this could be months away??

-Or, should I find another treat online to send her that is not homemade that will likely not be cursed?

-Should I stop sending edible things?

All input is appreciated.

Happy Birthday Hayley!

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