A Man Takes the Cake At a Pastry-Perfect Party

'Just put him in a corner and have him cut desserts," my wife announced to a kitchen full of women.

I was to help set up for a gala evening of desserts and jazz. The proceeds were to benefit the Waldo County Teen Parent Program, where my wife is director. Since I'm a firm supporter of social programs that pay my bills, I was happy to help out.

When I was done moving tables and chairs around, my wife herded me into the kitchen and told me to help Jocelyn cut desserts. "Do it neatly," she told me, "and cut tiny portions, not your usual big slabs. Keep track of the names - they're on the desserts somewhere. Robinsunne is going to copy them onto nice cards."

I sized up the situation. The kitchen was crowded with women moving about briskly - efficiently going about the business of preparing desserts for over a hundred paying guests, who were due to arrive shortly.

I looked around for a spot where I'd be out of the way. "You sure there's no more furniture to move around," I asked, but my wife was already gone to see about the band.

I was a little annoyed with her. I'm the kind of guy who feels more comfortable cutting cord wood with a chain saw than desserts for an elegant affair. My wife, who is aware of this, had abandoned me for a musician, leaving me in the midst of these imposing women.

One of them came at me with a knife. "I'm Robinsunne," she said. "You can start with the Raspberry Almond Passion Cake."

The women kept up a lively conversation while they worked. The talk was of stores and sales, shopping and clothes, but mostly about the desserts - how they were made, how good they looked, and how fattening they were. Robinsunne and Lynn were stoic about not eating any, but seemed to take vicarious pleasure in discussing them. Judy confessed to stashing a cache of desserts in her freezer after last year's gala. I have never heard food discussed so intimately and in such detail.

I was learning how the cut of a dress could take five pounds off your figure when I botched the Chocolate Chip Cheesecake. Until then the women had forgotten I was there; now they were on to me.

Lynn bustled over to my corner. "Try cleaning the knife off after each cut," she said, neatly stepping out of the way of Judy, who whipped past with a steaming kettle.

After this, the women offered frequent but tactful advice. "Careful with that Praline Pound Cake," Robinsunne said. "You might want to cut around the center arrangement first."

"Better use the hot knife on the Chocolate Ganache Torte," Jocelyn suggested.

I nodded appreciatively at this information, much of which I didn't understand.

Jocelyn was cutting four desserts to my one, and making a neater job of it. I studied her technique, learning to remove the large nuts and other decorative obstacles, and replace them after the portioning. I noticed she made sure to cut completely through the bottom of the dessert, twisting the knife gently when it contacted the plate. When I tried this I ended up slicing the doily into ribbons.

I was wadding up the remains when my wife reappeared.

"Why don't you get some desserts for yourself now," she said. "People are starting to come. I can take over here."

"I think we're all relieved to hear it," I said, making for the buffet.

I got in line behind an elegantly dressed woman who was looking over the desserts. "That Chocolate Almond Mousse looks exquisite," she said.

"Doesn't it," I agreed. "The trick is in the egg whites, but I'm afraid its very fattening. Don't you think it would look better on a doily?"

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