Signs that the pandemic conditions of the past two years were finally easing — like seeing friends and colleagues again — made me feel stressed instead of relieved.
“Wouldn’t it be so perfect if making this cake put me in a better mood?” I thought of putting the ingredients together and calling up a Dolly Parton playlist. “Wouldn’t that just be a bit too much on the nose?”
I was sure there was no chance. Just pulling a carton of eggs out of the fridge felt like a chore, and all I could think about when pulling out my blender was what dishes I would be doing once this ordeal was over. The packaging of the products – done in shades of pink, with a glamorous cartoon image of Dolly herself, all with big hair and eyelashes – looked irritatingly cute.
Even the idea of the confection that I was doing annoyed me. It was “Dolly’s Favorite Banana Puddin’ Cake”, a sort of semi-homemade affair that involved a box of cake mix, to which you add a little pudding mix in addition to the usual eggs, butter and milk and a box of frosting that mixes with homemade whipped cream. The cake is topped with pudding, bananas and crumbled vanilla cookies, then frosted and topped with more cookies and bananas.
Grumbly Me silently mocked the apostrophe. (The Dolly range, which is available starting this month at retailers nationwide, also includes a coconut cake mix.)
And despite my determination to remain grumpy, too bad if Dolly didn’t make it. I started mixing ingredients, with “Jolene” as the soundtrack, and by the time “I Will Always Love You” was released, I was singing along, using the spatula that also came in the package as a mic. packaging. (He is pink, of course, and emblazoned with the phrase “If you are what you eat, why not be sweet?”). I poured the sun yellow batter into molds. My kitchen fills with the scent of bananas, reminiscent of sunscreen and pina coladas.
Despite myself, I felt a little better. I swirled frosting around the cake and decorated the top with banana slices and cookies, feeling satisfied with my artistry as I sprinkled more crumbs and added topping. I thought how awesome it would look when I revealed it to my husband. It had been ages since I had done anything like this; my pandemic-era cooking wasn’t exactly about aesthetics. Neither did my clothing choices, come to think of it. I swore to pull out my hot pink lipstick, just like Dolly on the cake box did.
That is to say, I realized how much I needed Dolly Parton. A woman who has also been depressed, as many of her songs attest, but who continues to do so with her head held high, her hair even higher.
Focusing on looks seems fair, because (and I hate to say it – sorry, Dolly!) this cake wasn’t as delicious as it was pretty. The banana flavor was distinctly artificial, although I could partly blame that on the Jell-O Banana Cream Pudding mix, not Dolly’s mix. And the frosting was still a bit cloying, even after being cut with unsweetened whipped cream. But the crumb of the cake was nice – moist but still airy, and the assembled dish had the variations in texture that I love in banana pudding – creamy pudding, tender fruit, and the softened crunch of vanilla wafers.
I followed the recipe almost to the end, but I disobeyed Dolly in only two ways (shhhhh): I ignored the all-caps “DO NOT EAT RAW DOUGH” warning, and I made another modification that I think is the goddess of country music. would approve. The instructions said to top the first layer with pudding and 12 slices of banana, the latter seemed a bit thin to me, so I doubled the number. More is more, I thought, and Dolly would probably agree.
Dolly once answered a reporter’s questions about whether she’d had cosmetic surgery with one of her Yogi-Berra-in-sequin jokes: “I may look fake, but I’m real where it counts.” And I would say the description matches his cake as well. It may taste a bit metallic, but its heart is in the right place.