I’m barely competent to bake a four-ingredient cake out of the box and I haven’t baked anything in a couple of years, but I’ve enjoyed experimenting with decorations in the past. On a Friday morning I was asked to bake a cake for a birthday party that night. For reasons too complicated to explain, a spaghetti and meatball cake was the perfect theme and I had 8 hours to do it. Stress level was high. A quick search of cake decorating sites on the web gave me some confidence that a presentable Pasta-to-Go Cake was doable, but most descriptions were too involved for a novice like me and I really didn’t like the visual results.

The visual problem was that all the pictures looked like spaghetti and meatball decorations on top of a cake. I wanted something that was closer to the real food — a presentation that was less cake and more pasta. It took a while, but it finally dawned on me that a simple one-layer cake kept in the baking pan would hide the cake part and maybe even look like a bowl… well, not quite. But from there it was an easy step to using an inexpensive baking tin that is almost indistinguishable from a real take-out spaghetti meal. Thus, the Pasta-to-Go cake was born.

The preparation was straightforward, if not smooth. I had no time or experience for anything fancy so I only used prepared ingredients. I mixed a Betty Crocker Devils Food Cake in two 8” Hefty EZ Foil Baking Pans. The first bump in the process came right away. The “preheated” oven was cold. Yes, my oven had died, or at least was in a coma. I couldn’t fix it.

I hauled out a long unused toaster oven from storage and at least it produced heat. So I crossed my fingers and in went the 2 foil pans. Thirty-five minutes later, out came two perfectly fine 8” cake rounds. The second round was my back-up, since I figured I would mess up the first attempt.

I thought a layer of icing between the cake and spaghetti icing, as I had seen in several examples, would be a bit much, so I went directly to the pasta. During the day, I had gathered, from friends, several tools for making the spaghetti — an electronic decorator, a hand decorator, icing tips and bags and several store-bought frosting tubes. After practicing a while, I was able to control the Wilton Dessert Decorator best and the tip produced the best looking noodles. I filled it with Betty Crocker Whipped Buttercream and it went on without any problems. I just had to make sure I covered the darker tone cake adequately.

I found several good suggestions for the sauce, including pureed raspberries or strawberries and gelatin, but it was simpler, quicker and safer to go with more icing. I tried several different colorings. The one that worked best was Wilton’ Christmas Red Icing Gel toned down with a little Brown gel. After mixing some white icing out of a can with the gels, I heated it in the microwave so that I could pour it on. It came out watery and, and, being in a hurry, I poured a little on right away. It ran down the spaghetti pile too much. I let it cool a bit and I had more control in pouring and it finished up fine. I suspect it should go on when it’s the same consistency as the sauce you normally use on pasta.

The extra layer was now for the meatballs. I tried crumbling it and repacking it like a snowball — looked terrible. I tried carving a ball out of a section — above my skill level. If I had the right kind of ice cream scoop to carve out a ball, it might have worked — but I didn’t. With time getting short, I made a quick run to Dunkin Donuts for a few Chocolate Munchkins. They’re glazed, so I heated them and rolled them in the crumbs, which clung to the warm glaze, giving them a more authentic look. I covered them with a little more sauce.

Grated white chocolate worked well for the cheese.

On the way to the party I stopped at a pizza house and got a clear plastic cover that, with a little work, fit on the foil pan. The party girl didn’t understand why anybody would bring a spaghetti dinner to a restaurant and ignored it for a few minutes before she discovered it was a cake. The general reaction was amazing — everyone was in awe. The cake sat uncut for quite a while after dinner; nobody wanted to be the first. Truly a case of not having your cake and eating it too. After it was served there came a reaction that I hadn’t even thought about once during the day: “This is yummy! — boy, you know how to make a cake.”

Well, Betty Crocker and my toaster oven do, I just watched. But I took the bows.