Live Through This

In Spite of the Easy-Bake Oven

I was not going to let this stupid piece of plastic spell the end of my culinary career.

Illustration by Leanna

One day, I was flipping through the channels when I caught a part of a segment on “women in the workplace.” As I recall, a young woman in a beige pantsuit yelled something along the lines of “DO NOT BAKE FOR YOUR CO-WORKERS! NICE GIRLS DO NOT GET THE CORNER OFFICE!” This warning struck a chord with me. See, for most of my teenage years, I’ve been categorized as a Nice Girl Who Bakes Things. During high school, I was even president of the baking club, where we made chocolate chip cookies and sold them to raise money for a food bank. I know that bake sales aren’t a solution to the world’s problems, but there was something so satisfying about seeing stone-faced administrators break down and buy multiple Rice Krispies Treats or lick Funfetti frosting off of their fingers in the name of charity.

But I don’t just bake things in a sugar-coated attempt to help the world. I do it to help myself. Some people turn to meditation or kickboxing to relieve their stress, but I prefer to violently whisk batter. Yes, I am aware that this makes me sound like the protagonist in a film targeted toward women between the ages of 35 and 60, but methodically measuring and mixing brownie ingredients is how I reassure myself that there is order amidst chaos.

Baking was a skill I had to lobby to learn. Before I had access to “grown-up” appliances, my parents bought me an Easy-Bake Oven—and this was after many Christmases of begging and pleading for one. I pictured myself unwinding after school with my friends over dozens of perfectly frosted cupcakes, like a bunch of prepubescent Marie Antoinettes. My parents, on the other hand, pictured my room infested with roaches as the crumb-covered oven sat neglected under my bed. If you’re unfamiliar with the toy, it works like this: you open a tiny package of cake mix, add some water, stir gently, and pour it into a tiny pan. Then, you slide it into the “oven,” which is a hot-pink, stove-shaped plastic box with a light bulb in the center that provides the heat. (There is a reason why you have never seen actual appliances that use light bulbs to cook food: THEY DON’T WORK. Later versions introduced a genuine heating element.) The toy’s commercials made the whole process look like a piece of cake, but I could never get it right. My treats always turned out tasting like baking soda and took FOREVER (or at least “forever” from a seven-year-old’s perspective) to bake. Seriously, I have a distinct memory of my mom roasting a chicken while I attempted to make a vanilla cake, and the chicken was ready first. Upon offering the concoctions to my dad, he always suggested we top them with some chocolate syrup before eating. My dad will find any excuse to put chocolate syrup on something, but now I realize that he would not have been able to swallow the cake without it.

Besides causing indigestion for kindhearted parents everywhere, the Easy-Bake Oven suggested, with its pink-and-purple color scheme, that only girls—girls who presumably didn’t want the corner office—should play with it. I suspect this wasn’t the case. In 2002, Hasbro introduced a boy-version of the toy called the “Queasy Bake Cookerator,” presumably to appease all of the insecure parents who panicked when their sons wanted to play with their sister’s Easy-Bake. Boys should never be seen playing with an oven! But a “cookerator?” That sounded decidedly scientific. Hasbro took out all of the “girly” aspects of the toy and replaced them with brains and slime. In the commercials, a villainous chef encourages these little men to rebel against the fine-dining establishment by throwing sugar worms on their food. (I like to imagine Chef Queasy as a down-and-out chef whose restaurant was closed due to health code violations, and thus he found his calling as a mediocre toy maker.) Instead of simply making cupcakes and cookies, the oven pumped out Chocolate Crud, Mucky Mud, and Delicious Dirt cakes that turned your mouth green. The Easy-Bake Oven taught girls how to pipe delicate frosting flowers, while its evil twin brother let boys pour candy-flavored blood and guts on their creations. I don’t know about other girls, but I wanted my mouth to turn green!

Finally, my parents saw my simultaneous frustration and determination with the Easy-Bake and agreed to let me use the real oven under what turned out to be not-so-strict supervision. My mom knew little about baking beyond following the directions on the back of the Betty Crocker box, so she took me to the library to find multiple books on the subject. She taught me how to measure ingredients, but I mostly learned to bake by myself, trying out techniques as I went along. By the time I was nine, I had immersed myself in the dangerous world of pastry! At last, I could crack eggs and pull hot pans out of the oven. Knowing that I had the power to spread salmonella to my entire household was completely terrifying and prompted me to wash my hands about six times after handling yolks, but it still felt totally thrilling. I’m pretty sure this is why I tackled lemon bars for my first grown-up baking project (the recipe required a half-dozen eggs).

Tasting my first successful experiment was incredibly satisfying, not just because food that isn’t cooked under a light bulb tastes better than food cooked under a light bulb approximately 100 percent of the time, but because I’d created something on my own. Teaching myself to bake opened up entirely new dimensions of the snack world that I previously thought unreachable. Banana doughnuts topped with peanut butter frosting were no longer just a dream, but a snack-time reality! And if I wanted to crush some potato chips into my brownie batter, no one could stop me, because I was the master of my own dessert universe.

I don’t bake to be nice. I don’t bake because I want people to like me. I don’t bake because I’m not interested in the corner office (though I’m not really sure that I even want to work in an office). I bake because I feel proud of my talent when I see the people I love enjoying something I made for them. I bake because it feels good to satisfy myself. I bake because no one can stop me from sticking my finger in the raw cookie dough when I’ve made it myself. I bake because I love to, no thanks to the Easy-Bake Oven, and definitely in spite of it. ♦

37 Comments

  • Kathryn October 8th, 2012 11:11 PM

    I can totally relate to this!
    I can also relate to the annoyance of waiting for chocolate cake to bake UNDERNEATH A LIGHTBULB. I just had flashbacks of using the little purple stick thing to open the little door and see if it was cooked yet.

  • I.ila October 8th, 2012 11:22 PM

    Oh my gawd i think i’ve found my soulmate. Let’s bake together someday. I vividly remember baking Cinnabon buns in the EasyBake (those were actually kinda good), and vanilla cupcakes, and gross rock hard cookies…

  • AliceinWonderland October 8th, 2012 11:43 PM

    “But I don’t just bake things in a sugar-coated attempt to help the world.”

    Ahahahaaa….I see what you did there…

  • oleander October 8th, 2012 11:47 PM

    Love this one! Defiantly inspired to fight my natural impatience and do some baking.

  • flowerinmyhair October 8th, 2012 11:50 PM

    I am so happy to see this article!! I love to bake but I think my Easy Bake Oven helped, I remember feeling so accomplished after making something :) I guess it worked out either way because I’m going to culinary school when I finish college!

  • cherrycola27 October 8th, 2012 11:52 PM

    Thank you for this! I bake because I love to bake. In fact, I know when I’m feeling OK because when I’m not doing so great I don’t feel like baking.
    I want to own a bakery or pie shop. I’m going to school for small business and everything. But then I recently read a cracked article saying that if you wanted to show a quirky weird girl without explaining, you make her own a bakery. I got a little too upset over this. I don’t think my baking “says” anything about me other than that I like to bake!

    • lucylu November 2nd, 2012 11:48 PM

      I totally feel you. We should own a bakery together!

  • raggedyanarchy October 8th, 2012 11:59 PM

    I like baking cupcakes and decorating them to look like sheep and wolves. It requires a shitload of candy, which makes for some strange looks at the grocery store, but whatever.
    And I love the feeling of eating something you made all by yourself; my class went on this third-world-living-conditions simulation field trip (for some reason) and we had to make all our own food with no adult help out of whatever we could get from our “rations” or what we could trade from other groups. And I swear, at the end of the night, boiled potatoes crudely cut with a plastic knife and overdone rice eaten out of a cup never tasted so good. In the end, we had the second-best meal of five groups, probably because some girl had some tiny salt packets left over from the on-the-road lunch we had in the bus.

    • Cutesycreator aka Monica November 1st, 2012 1:49 PM

      I love this comment.

  • Kaede October 9th, 2012 12:30 AM

    EASY BAKE! I don’t even know where mine is anymore, but I loved that thing. It’s funny how the design stayed the same for forever. Mine looked exactly like the one in the 1993 video, and I got it in 2000!

    That light bulb was the least powerful thing ever! My 6th grade science fair project was a comparison between how well an Easy Bake could make a “cake” and how well a solar oven could. The solar oven won, haha.

  • jenaimarley October 9th, 2012 12:41 AM

    I had to tell my family the other day that I am not a muffin making machine because they took my (can’t tell they’re vegan) banana muffins for granted. But I really love to bake (even though I burn myself every single time I work with the oven) so I do it anyway for the creation and self-satisfaction aspect.
    Thanks for this post! <3

  • jesus_chan October 9th, 2012 1:02 AM

    Baking is such a joy! It makes me feel a lot more worthwhile when I’ve taken a mishmash of butter, flour, eggs, vanilla and other random ingredients and have mixed them and baked them into something incredibly tasty. Thanks for this article!!

    http://chemical-butter.tumblr.com/

  • Pashupati October 9th, 2012 9:13 AM

    I had something like the EasyBake Oven, except it worked more like an actual oven or rather a safer microwave one, you actually opened the door to put the thing in and had some controls, and IT TASTED GOOD.
    I guess I now suck at cooking due to lack of frustration.

    • Pashupati October 9th, 2012 9:15 AM

      Uh, and it didn’t have a lightbulb.

  • AnaRuiz October 9th, 2012 9:22 AM

    It’s sort of different, but the essence is basically the same, with fashion (or my approach to it, at least.) I’m not at all the most daring fashionista or whatever, but when I pick an outfit, I’m doing it for myself, not because society tells me that this color doesn’t match with that one or it’s “prettier” if my hair looks “nice.” It’s so hard to find identity, that I don’t want anybody to think that I do anythig a certain way to please them.

    AnaRuizwriting.blogspot.com

  • Resh October 9th, 2012 10:03 AM

    “methodically measuring and mixing brownie ingredients is how I reassure myself that there is order amidst chaos.” Just stunning.

  • Abby October 9th, 2012 11:03 AM

    GAHHHH I LOVE BAKING…. But also (I’m going to go all feminist here), I hate that when I tell people that I love to cook and bake, they go all “ohhh, woman in the kitchen… you must be a little housewife!” Um…. NO. Just because I enjoy making and eating delicious food does NOT mean that I’m a fifties housewife. ANYWAY THOUGH… Awesome article! I had an Easy Bake oven that I loved!

  • soretudaaa October 9th, 2012 11:39 AM

    I think baking is one of the most creative and fun activities because ATOMS and MOLLECULES are being mixed!!! and you get to experiment with different spices and ingredients and it is just plain fun. I never owned an easy bake oven but I’ve always been incredibly nosy while my mom baked and she’d always ask me to bake something whenever I was feeling down.. Even now I still think there’s something wholesome, beautiful, old-fashioned and conforting about baking something special for your friends and family when they come over.

  • meels October 9th, 2012 11:43 AM

    Baking and general cooking is my life!! What a great article

  • enthusiastictruckdriver October 9th, 2012 12:12 PM

    Having spent half of my life rejecting all things girly, I’ve always refrained from dressing up, drawing flowers on the margins of my notebooks, baking, and all other activities typically associated with sugar-coated girly girls. This summer, I tried baking for the first time. I started out making simple things, and then gradually tried more complex recipes. Baking is so addictive! Plus, the awareness that you spent half an hour baking brownies all by yourself makes you feel less guilty about devouring the entire batch!

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that baking almost seems like an art. Whenever I have writer’s block or get frustrated with my painting, I bake a delicious dessert instead. It makes me feel so creative and productive, and the feeling of taking a batch of glorious chocolate chip cookies out of the oven is just as satisfying as proudly contemplating a newly finished painting.

  • missmadness October 9th, 2012 12:27 PM

    I miss baking. The oven at my apartment has two settings: raw or burnt.

    • Cutesycreator aka Monica November 1st, 2012 1:50 PM

      I’m laughing right now! You’re awesome.

  • Gwendomouse October 9th, 2012 12:47 PM

    I always love tales about other people’s past and current obsessions, including this one. But I wonder: is being nice and wanting to be liked really such a bad thing? You point out rather a lot that you bake merely for selfish reasons, even when it’s for charity (because apparently bake sales don’t solve any problems, anyway). I’m sure you can be a feminist and still bake for fun, AND out of love.

  • Bumblecake October 9th, 2012 1:10 PM

    Wow, this definitley brings back memories of my little barbie kitchen , which had a similar oven device but it also had a fridge were you put an ice lolly in and this paper were you made sugar dots! I love REAL baking now, but only of recently have I even learned to cook because my mum hates cooking although she is very good – an odd world. And I can actually make cupcakes that I have in my fantasies of unicorns and rainbows – it’s amazing!

  • SincerelyWrong October 9th, 2012 1:14 PM

    I recently was in a horrible mood, as it was the day of the Homecoming Dance and I’m home-schooled, so I was not doing anything. My mother asked me if I wanted to make cookies for after church on the morrow, and I said sure. And soon as I started melting the butter, I felt better. Making things is always fun, as I am a maker of everything, but baking is a set pattern that still results in wondrous things, and it’s so relaxing; in that way it’s a better release than drawing, which can so often go wrong and result in a broken pencil and torn paper.
    But if I baked every time I was in a bad mood I’d probably be spending all my salary on ingredients. :P

  • malifera October 9th, 2012 2:31 PM

    I still have remnants of one of my double chocolate gluten free cookies in my mouth while I read this.
    Baking has been something that’s been with me through a lot of diet changes and emotional changes. I spent two years perfecting my biscuit recipe because I hated the town I lived in. Once I became allergic to gluten, I started experimenting with different flours. Coconut flour in chocolate cookies is to die for.

    I can bake vegan, sugar free, AND gf with no bad consequences to the taste. I like to conquer challenges like some sort of amazonian princess on an adventure. The kitchen is my forest, the oven my steed; beware enemies, you shall be crushed and then portioned out into a separate bowl!

    Thanks for the article. xoxo

  • Emilie October 9th, 2012 4:58 PM

    LIGHT BULB NOT INCLUDED

  • Hannah L October 9th, 2012 6:01 PM

    I remember I had both the easy bake AND the queasy bake oven (totally unnecessary) and the best was this stencil in the shape of an M that you could put on the cake to make it look like a giant m&m.

  • GlitterKitty October 9th, 2012 7:40 PM

    I had the regular light bulb cooking one that took 45 mins-1 hr to cook a teeny cake that didn’t even taste that great. I hated waiting that long and eventually gave it up. A few months ago I was babysitting this girl and she wanted to use her Easy Bake oven. I was ready for the onslaught of “is it ready yet” “when will it be ready?!!!” but the new ones take ONLY 15 MINUTES!! Absolutely crazy. And there isn’t even a light bulb. Insanity. I was shocked (and slightly jealous)

  • Josefina October 9th, 2012 8:26 PM

    I totally understand that feeling accomplished after baking a delicious treat. The food might be delicious, but in the end what makes us happy is how it was us who have put the effort to learn and make the best out of some ingredients. I had that feeling when I went to my grandmother’s house this spring and made brownies, peanut butter cookies, custard cream, among others, all without a habit of baking at home. x

  • Ben October 9th, 2012 8:58 PM

    I wanted the easy bake oven but my parents got my the queezy bake cookerator instead cuz i’m a boy. there where like these green maggot shaped cookie things or whatever that i remember. then we ran out of mix and stopped using it. it’s funny they try to use light bulbs to cook. I don’t bake often but I used to and i really like decorating my foods and then eating them!

  • Marijose October 9th, 2012 11:31 PM

    oh man i had one of these, though it wasnt an actual easy bake oven, it was an imitation of it (hey i bought it with my own savings!) and thE VANILLA CAKE TASTED LIKE DEATH

    i never could actually bake though that did not stop me from baking or what i call it “i dont know how to turn on an oven so ill just eat raw brownie batter”

    but my best experience with creating food is that time i made a “meal” out of clay and my dad thought it was actual food and took a bite of it, ow!

  • Blou October 11th, 2012 9:52 PM

    Oh the easy bake oven, even the thick frosting my mom would make for my friends and me could never quite get anything to taste good. I used to use it to make cakes for my barbies and stuffed animals.

  • eliselbv October 12th, 2012 5:26 PM

    This article made me laugh so much.
    Speaking for me I just loooove baking but all I do ends up in a failure. By the time I’m writing this comment, I’m eating a home-made disgusting scone but in spite of my obvious inability to bake tasty things I still have fun when I’m in the kitchen and I still hope that one day I’ll improve so I don’t lose hopes and I continue using my (real) oven!

    http://www.iloveyourjokes.blogspot.com

  • hannahsophia October 13th, 2012 4:10 PM

    I LOVE TO BAKE! I was making full out meals for my family when I was like eight. I freaking loved it. One of my favorite things to do is make tons of cookies or cupcakes and have my friends come over to help me frost them. Frosting is always the answer. Loved this article! :)

  • dizziestdaydream October 26th, 2012 1:37 PM

    Baking is the best! When I was maybe 9 or 10, I would carefully measure out all the ingredients for brownies (from scratch!) into individual bowls and then host a cooking show.
    It’s pretty much a miracle I never died from salmonella because more than half the time, I’d eat the raw batter, much to my mother’s chagrin.

    Cooking is a huge comfort for me too. I also love making homemade sausage and giant vats of spaghetti sauce from scratch. The less from a box, the better. Of course, with one of those crummy office jobs (2 weeks left, and hopefully never an office again) I don’t always get to cook the way I want to! It takes time.

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica November 1st, 2012 1:48 PM

    I adore this article. And I love your writing style, Gabby! You have inspired me to bake a delicious dessert this weekend. Yay! :D