When I was a young, aspiring baker, my mother taught me how to frost cookies and cakes. It’s an experience that I remember with striking clarity because, in her kitchen, not just any frosting job would do. Frosting (the verb, not the noun) was not merely a job to get done. It was an art form.
We started with the least fussy of surfaces, a simple 9×13 cake. She taught me how to spread the frosting evenly, thick to the edges but not quite touching the sides of the pan, never letting your knife touch the actual cake. If you did it right, there was this beautifully rounded smooth edge to the whole sweet mass. Then, you went back over the whole thing and made rows of dips or swoops, evenly but quickly so it didn’t look like you tried too hard. If you did that part right, it looked as effortless and beautiful as the wind-tossed waves of sun-kissed lake. If you didn’t—well, let’s just say that’s what my first attempts looked like.
From there we graduated to different surfaces, different kinds of frosting. Whipped cream allowed the greatest abandon of perfection, and was great fun—but one still had to fuss with it a bit, because it still needed to look artsy. Meringue was where deeper dips were needed to create the desired peaks; extra points if those peaks curled at the tips. Glaze required wrist flicking, and the artful contriving of “even” drips all around.
Shaped sugar cookies were the final test of my basic skills, and true sign that I was about to graduate. The technique was just like a cake, only applied with the tippiest-tip of a butter knife, maintaining that smooth rounded edge all around varied curves that included the narrow length of gingerbread arms and complicated crystaled forms of snowflakes. You never scraped you knife on the edge of a cookie. That was what the edges of the frosting bowl were for.
Once I’d mastered that, you’d think I’d arrived—but not so! That’s when I started poring over her folder full of Wilton cake decorating books. I’d hover around the table with my siblings, watching with fascination as my mom turned the sides of a layer cake into a woven basket and created three-dimensional roses on the end of a giant nail for our picture-perfect birthday cakes. It was time to advance to a whole new level.On mornings when I wake up to a frosted world, I can’t help thinking back to what it was like learning to frost. I enjoyed learning, but mastering the techniques certainly didn’t happen overnight. This refined coating of a thousand minute crystals deposited by a sudden drop in temperature, on the other hand, does.
I love how God makes something we have to work so hard to do right look so stunningly effortless.
“He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes.” (Psalm 147:16)