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The Jigsaw Cake


For my birthday present this year, my brother out did himself. One Amazon box arrived after another, with frosting and cake pans and candy molds and cake mix and pudding mix and sprinkles. When I asked him what it was all for he said that I’d find out on my birthday, and no sooner. On the day of my birthday I received a recipe by email for a six-tiered rainbow cake, covered with icing and sprinkles, and filled with candy.

rainbow explosion cake online

This is not my picture, just so you know.

By the time my brother called, to see if his present had finished arriving, and to receive praise for his great idea, I was sick, both exhausted and nauseated (from Shingles and medication for Shingles), and unable to show the proper amount of enthusiasm for the considerable effort and ingenuity behind his gift. But instead of just saying, I hope you feel better soon, he said, it’s probably better to make the cake when you’re nauseous anyway, so you won’t eat so much.



I felt responsible for triggering his comment, and then annoyed at how easily he could turn on me, but most of all I felt overwhelmed, by the cake itself. The idea of this massive tower of cake, that I shouldn’t eat, and that would probably take two or three days to make, and that wouldn’t fit in my freezer once it was all put together, felt like a symbol for how challenging my life has been feeling lately. I wouldn’t even be able to bring the finished cake to my brother’s house, because anything made in my kitchen wouldn’t be kosher enough for his family. We’d have had to make the cake at their house for it to be kosher, and that wasn’t suggested.

2018 Lila September

“But I like cake too, Auntie Rachel.”

I love puzzles. And I love cake decorating, when I have the energy. And I really, really, really love frosting, but I could not figure out the puzzle of this huge, unmade cake.

I wanted to accomplish this. I wanted my brother to be proud of me for making this six-tiered cake, and I wanted him to know that I appreciated his gift, and that I appreciated that he thought of me on my birthday. And I really wanted to have a birthday cake that was covered with frosting and bursting with candy. But I wanted to share the cake with a room full of people who could eat it and enjoy it with me; I didn’t want to have a cake that size in my house just to remind me that I had no one to share it with. And I was afraid that after going through all of the effort to put the damn thing together, I’d wake up one morning and stuff the whole thing in my face.


“That sounds like fun, Mommy!”

The nausea and the exhaustion from the Shingles, and the guilt and shame for being fat and lonely, and the anxiety and the depression for everything in the world were making any productive action impossible. Which of course left me feeling like a jerk, because I should have already made the cake, if only to take a picture of it to send to my brother. Even after the illness passed, every time I looked at the box-o-cake I felt sick to my stomach.

I kept trying to think of ways to make the project more manageable, like, to make cookies out of the cake mix and slather them with the frosting, to give the kids at synagogue school as a Chanukah present. And to take another box of cake mix, and the food coloring and frosting and cake pans and make an abbreviated rainbow layer cake for Mom to bring to one of her many, many, quilting groups. But none of that would give me a satisfactory picture of a six-tiered rainbow explosion cake to send to my brother.

In the meantime, I noticed that there was a huge bag of peanut M&M’s going to waste in one of the boxes, and I decided that chocolate could help my thought process. I mean, it couldn’t hurt. And the cake ingredients are at no risk of going bad while I come up with a plan. Though there are two little white dogs who keep eyeing that box of ingredients, and it’s possible that they are coming up with their own schemes for how to bring this cake to life.


“Mmm, cake.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?


About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

131 responses »

  1. I’m not sure I would want to make a six tier rainbow cake filled with candy. Hang in there! ❤️

  2. Belated birthday wishes! I’d find making a six-tier rainbow cake pretty overwhelming, even with ingredients and a recipe. 🙂 Hope you feel better soon, come up with a plan for the ingredients, and feel that glorious feeling of accomplishment when you’ve executed your plan! 🙂

  3. Super cute idea. Sorry that it caused so much stress.

    • Hey, I just saw a video on FB (I can’t find it outside of FB to give you the link) where they did a candy filled cake but a MUCH easier version. Since you were talking about other ways to bake, I was thinking an easier version might not be a source of such high stress, but still give you the satisfaction of making the cake.

      They used a large/deep round pan, they put a can with rice in the middle, they poured the cake batter around the can and baked it. So they ended up with a cake with a circle in the center (Another recipe they did showed them just using a bowl or large class to “cookie cut” the center of the cake out). Then they sliced the cake into layers. Frosted each layer, poured candy in the middle, then frosted the entire cake. When it was cut, the candy poured out. So . . . it is not exactly like the HUGE thing in the picture you posted, but it would be really close! It would be MUCH easier to do. There would be a lot less cake tempting you AND you would have a sense of making the puzzle cake. When I saw it I shouted, “Rachel!” I wish I could send you the link.

      Just an idea . . . . . .

  4. Your blogs are very good, interesting,and show what a good writer you are. Families are where most of our stress and pain lies, sadly. I hope you’ve recovered from shingles; it is very painful, I’ve had it too! Your dog pictures are very cute.

  5. It sounds like an immense project even for someone who is not battling illness, but it was a unique birthday gift. Hope you find a satisfactory solution. I’ve quit baking because I am overweight and don’t need the calories and my husband has diabetes. If I bake it, I eat it. So it’s better just to let the oven be silent! God bless you and heal you from your shingles and give you joy and peace. Your dogs – your would-be helpers – are beautiful.

  6. Ah, this resonated with me in so many ways. Gifts are so hard. Wishing you a happy belated birthday with some low-stake, easy-peasy joy!

  7. Shingles are awful! Cake is awesome. Feel better soon.

  8. What an astonishingly rich metaphor. Unfortunately, also astonishingly rich as well. I hope you do a follow-up blog on the fate of this, um, “cake”. It’s given me a lot to ponder: what are the rainbow cakes I’m struggling with in my own life?

    • I ended up making batches of cookies with the cake mix. There are still two cans of frosting and a huge bag of sprinkles staring at me every day, though. I have clearly not mastered this metaphor!


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