Powered by the lukewarm heat of a tiny light bulb, the Easy-Bake Oven topped every housewife-in-training’s Christmas list during the mid-1980s. My sister was one of these little girls, enticed by the hunk of Chinese-manufactured plastic’s promise to turn her, a tween with no baking experience, into a culinary pro. With the oven-looking toy in her possession, she hoped to nourish others—mainly me, her little brother—on pre-packaged powders that, when mixed with water and left to bake before the bright bulb, would exit the device as delicious cookies, cakes and brownies.
The Easy-Bake Oven’s box made the chintzy contraption appear simply magical. Here was this Aryan girl with dimpled, cherubic cheeks churning out moist chocolate cakes as if she were Betty Crocker incarnate. The reality, unfortunately, was not so sweet.
In truth, the food that the Easy-Bake Oven produced was always half baked, burnt or both. Cookies would be charcoal black on one side and raw on the other, while a pan of brownies would have the consistency of chocolate soup. Still, my sister’s expectant diners—once again, mainly me—demanded a satiated sweet tooth. And so a workaround was constructed.
My sister realized that the secret to getting Easy-Bake Oven food to cook evenly was to not rely on the Easy-Bake Oven. Instead, she turned to the actual oven, the one that cooked using the combined powers of gas and fire as opposed to the dinky heat of a 100-watt light bulb. It was the culinary equivalent of bringing a gun to a knife fight.
My sister was too young to safely operate the oven alone, so my father was often called in to assist. After she would measure out the proper amount of water and stir it in with the powdered mix, my burly, mustachioed dad would carefully pick up the coaster-size tin and place it onto the center rack. As compensation for his efforts, he’d get to join me in devouring the bounty, which at most took about two bites to consume.
Not surprisingly, the real oven did its job, and it did it well, resulting in a molten bubbly dish of cake-stuff that, once left to vent, would be delicious eating for my dad and me.
But one day, things went awry…terribly awry.
My father had just been called into the kitchen to remove an extra hot pan of boiling brownies from the oven. Hearing that brownie time was upon us, I ran toward the table to sample the goods. As I wedged myself behind my father, his potholder-covered hands gingerly balancing the tiny pan, he tripped. The black brownie ooze spilled all over my arm, solidifying in clumps like candle wax.
The pain was excruciating. It felt—and looked—like someone had sprayed me with liquid tar. I could feel my skin beginning to bubble and boil beneath the chocolate shell, the blisters rising and bursting. Pain signals shot from my arm to my brain, and all I could do was stare and scream in aguish.
My mother, a nurse by trade, swooped into the kitchen, hoisting me up onto the counter and plunging my arm under the sink. Though the cool water slowed the baking of my flesh, it did little to diminish the pain. “Cut off my arm! Cut off my fucking arm!” I wanted to yell, but all I could muster were cat-like wails and an endless stream of tears.
By the time we got to the doctor, my arm looked like a flesh-colored Easy-Bake Oven cake that had been decorated with the wispy hairs of a prepubescent boy. I held a cool rag over my deformed appendage and tried to muffle my sobs.
It took a couple months for my skin to return to normal. In the meantime, I had to leave my arm wrapped in gauze, from my palm to my elbow, and apply a topical antibiotic daily to prevent infection. Even the slightest breeze would cause me to wince and grit my teeth in pain.
As the days passed, I searched for a source to blame. Perhaps it was my father’s fault, or perhaps it was my sister’s. But eventually, I realized I had no one to blame but the Easy-Bake Oven itself. It was completely ineffective. I mean really, a light bulb? Why don’t you just cook a steak with a hair dryer. This wasn’t just some innocent plaything; this was a farce that produced inferior desserts. If the damn thing actually fulfilled its promises, my arm would never have looked like a bowl of cheese fondue.
Eventually my sister outgrew her Easy-Bake Oven. The once-coveted Christmas gift was taken out with the rest of the trash, devoured by the passing garbage truck like so many trays of bite-size brownies. After that, our sweets consumption was relegated to food baked in normal-size pans, cooked by the heat of a gas-powered oven (or perhaps the invisible rays of a microwave). And though I continued to routinely reward my mouth with cookies, brownies and the like, I never fully managed to commit to the same level of trust in sweets again.