The older of the two sets belonged to my mother’s mother, Mama Dorothy, a world traveler, gifted pianist, consummate hostess. Dorothy’s checkerboard cake pans are imprinted with the brand name Ekco followed by the no-nonsense adage,“Patent Applied For.” Magic Cake pans added drama to house parties hosted in the 1940s. Measuring 8½” in diameter, the pans are ever-so-slightly indented, and include two dividing ring inserts that fit snugly within the pans. The dividing rings prevent the chocolate and vanilla cake batters from touching.
The second set of pans were manufactured by the Bake King Corporation and belonged to my Grandmother Minnie. Minnie was a businesswoman, good with figures, and known for hosting legendary Sunday dinners. The Bake King pans are light weight, measuring 9” in diameter, with smooth interiors, lacking indentations, and include a one-piece dividing ring insert to keep renegade batters from colliding.
I have used both sets of pans with great success, and despite promises to scale back my kitchen inventory, it seems foolish to discard cake pans that clearly give me joy. There are certain occasions that demand 8½” cake festivities and others that call for 9” magic cakes. It is also worth noting that despite their age, the well-crafted, sturdy aluminum pans continue to perform, requiring little more than a liberal buttering, a dusting of flour, and a recipe of two-toned cake batter.
Checkerboard cakes were celebratory desserts, often reserved for birthdays. They were predictably frosted in chocolate and after wishes had been made and candles extinguished, every slice was dotted with just the tiniest droplet of melted candle wax. I tended to eat my slice alternating between forkfuls of chocolate squares, then vanilla, saving the thick layer of frosting that held it all together for the end.
Just this week, a recent foray into a long forgotten drawer unearthed a number of boxes of birthday candles, some recently purchased, others purchased long ago. Something about those candles conjured images of crepe paper streamers and candy corsages, balloons stuck to the wall by static electricity, party favors, and honeycomb centerpieces crafted by Dennison. My mother, very much like her mother, and my father’s mother, knew how to throw a party, how to make you feel extraordinarily special. They were crafty and clever, with vision, imagination, and dining room drawers well stocked with birthday candles,
Making the very first slice into a cake because it was your birthday was traditional at our dining room table. The cake knife was weighty, long handled, most often engraved with initials, names or a date. Cutting into a cake and expecting a monotone slice, only to find a checkerboard of chocolate and vanilla squares was surprising and thrilling. With each slice you were reminded you were in the midst of the most wonderful party.
Do I need two sets of Magic Cake pans? Probably not. (You could make the same case for the stack of Pyrex and Corning and ceramic pie plates nested precariously alongside the cake pans.) Are the checkerboard cake pans an integral part of my life? Do they spark joy? The truth is, every time I reach into that over-crowded cabinet stacked high with Ekco-ware and Bake-King, and I set the pans on the counter, it feels like a party in the making. I suspect my grandmothers and my mother would insist we make enough room in our lives for that kind of spark.