Perhaps if I to return to the moment when I was eight and my Easy Bake Oven went up in flames, I can repair the psychic damage done in that instant. And maybe – just maybe – I will have a chance at learning to cook.
I go ahead and order a vintage 1977 Betty Crocker Easy Bake oven on eBay.
To the delight of the nation’s young girls, Kenner Toys invented the first Easy Bake Oven – a turquoise model with a carrying handle and a mock stove top – in 1963.
It was a brilliant idea: a toy oven that operated solely on the heat provided by a 100-Watt light bulb, making it easy (and seemingly safe) for little girls to “cook” just like their mothers.
Following its official launch in early 1964, Kenner sold more than 500,000 units in its first year. By its fifth birthday in 1968 (the year I was born), Easy Bake had become a household brand.
Kenner dubbed it “the greatest selling girl’s toy since dolls.” More than four decades and more than 40 million ovens later, the oven continues to be one of the top-selling toys.
The ovens were so popular that they inspired a generation of chefs. “The Easy-Bake Oven Gourmet” features original recipes from Bobby Flay, Mollie Katzen and other celebrity chefs.
I can’t imagine roasting quail or making wild mushroom flan and deep dish truffle lobster pie in an Easy Bake Oven – but, then again, I can’t imagine doing any of that in a regular oven either.
The name is so deceptive. Who says it’s easy baking with a light bulb?
“How does it work?” asks Jesse, my 7-year-old daughter.
Oops. Apparently, the oven didn't come with any instructions or light bulbs. This could be a problem. How am I supposed to turn this thing on?
“I know I’m pathetic, but honey, can you please help me figure out how to use this thing?” I ask Avo.
He breaks out his tool kit. When I check back an hour later, not only has he fit the oven with proper light bulbs, but he has also hand-washed my underwear and ironed the pillow cases. Damn him.
To test out my new toy, I order a Devil’s Food and Yellow Cupcake mix on eBay for $9.94. Of course, it would be cheaper to run out to the corner store and buy some cupcakes at the overpriced gourmet bake shop around the corner.
I send Avo out of the house since I can’t cook with him watching over my shoulder, being a backseat baker. Too much performance anxiety. I’ll drop the batter bowl. I’ll burn the cupcakes.
“Now can we bake, mom?” Jesse asks.
“I’m a little scared. What if I can’t do it?”
“Just follow the directions, mom.”
She’s right. How hard could it be? If a kid can use this thing, so can I.
Pour the contents of the mix into a bowl, add water and mix. Shape and place on tray in the oven.
But when I shove the pan into the oven, it slides off the track and the metal tray falls into the light bulb area – otherwise known as “No Man’s Land.” I tilt the oven on its side and try to shake the tray out, but it just rattles around inside.
“It’s okay,” I reassure Jesse, who, I can tell, is losing faith. “I can do this.”
I try using tongs, scissors and even my fingers to extricate the tray, but no luck.
“We may have to ask dad about this,” Jesse says. “Mom, look at the recipe, okay?”
“I’m not giving up and I’m not calling dad.” I'm determined to do this on my own.
“Go mama go! Go mama go!” she begins to chant quietly at first and then increasingly louder.
Like a surgeon who is losing a patient, I call for instruments: “Chopsticks!” “Fork!” “Screwdriver!”
I finally wedge the tray out with a pair of kiddie scissors. No wonder the newest version of the Easy Bake comes with a “Pan Grabber.”
Jesse smacks her lips together as she points to the picture of perfectly shaped cupcakes on the mix’s package.
“Remember, they may not come out looking so pretty,” I say.
We peek at the cupcakes through the little slit in the side of the oven, but, even after 10 minutes, they still look pretty doughy. The recipe says we should bake for 12 minutes. How much longer do we have to stare at this thing?
“I have an idea,” I say. “Let’s finish them in the toaster oven.”
Jesse is game.
The only problem is that the Easy Bake Oven doesn’t have a thermometer, so I have no idea how hot to make the toaster oven. I randomly settle on 350 degrees.
Ten minutes later, the edges are finally browned. I lay them on a plate for Jesse to inspect.
They don’t look the least bit like cupcakes. Once we goop the sugary pink frosting on and decorate with “confetti” (really colored sprinkles), it doesn’t matter.
Jesse grabs a "cupcake" and takes a bite. Her eyes widen.
She likes it!
“Call grandma and tell her you know how to cook now,” urges Jesse. Somehow, I doubt my mom, who supplied homemade cupcakes every year for my school birthday, would be impressed.
“They’re, um, crunchy,” says Avo when he tries my Easy Bake cupcakes that night for dessert.
“Cupcake nuggets – my secret recipe!”
Next step: The Big Oven.