Friday, January 22, 2010

Christmas Cake (4 of 4)

The final cake we made was The Heirloom Noel Cake. This cake was REALLY fucking difficult. We stacked the cakes atop one another and by the time we started frosting it became apparent that the cake listed distinctly to one side (my fault). But somehow this didn't really matter because this cake was crazy looking. It was like a Dr. Suess cake. It took as long to assemble The Heirloom Cake as it did the other two combined. This cake was weird, but it is also the only cake I'd make again. It looked completely fake. It was nutty and really when you get down to it, it's just chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.

1 (18.25-ounce) box spice cake mix
2 (19.5-ounce) boxes chocolate cake mix OR Store-bought un-iced cakes: 2 (10-inch) chocolate cakes, 2 (8-inch) spices cakes, 2 (6-inch) chocolate cakes, and 1 jumbo chocolate cupcake (top cut off)

4 (16-ounce) containers creamy white frosting
1 (1-fluid ounce) bottle green food color

1 cup white chocolate chips
4 drops green food coloring
1 sugar cone
1 (6.4-ounce) can white decorating icing (recommended: Betty Crocker-Easy Flow)
1 package red licorice whips, 6 cut into 6-inch lengths, 6 cut into 8-inch lengths, and 6 cut into 10-inch lengths
1 (6.4-ounce) can yellow decorating icing (recommended: Betty Crocker-Easy Flow)
1 (6.4-ounce) can red decorating icing (recommended: Betty Crocker-Easy Flow)
16 birthday candles

Mix and bake 2 (8-inch) cake layers according to spice cake package directions. Cool completely.

Mix the 2 boxes of chocolate cake together according to package instructions. Bake 2 (6-inch) and 2 (10-inch) cake layers and 1 (7-ounce) ramekin. Cool completely.

Cone Tree:
In a medium bowl combine white chocolate and 4 drops of green food coloring. Place bowl in microwave and heat at 50 percent power in 20-second intervals until white chocolate is melted and smooth. Dip the sugar cone into the chocolate and spin it around so that it is evenly coated. Remove from bowl and let excess chocolate drip off. Place on a plate lined with waxed paper and let dry.

In a large bowl stir together frosting and about 10 to 12 drops of green food coloring. The icing should be a pale green color. If too light in color, add a few more drops of food coloring. Transfer the icing to plastic releasable bags or a pastry bag. Cut 1/2-inch off the corner of the plastic bags and set aside.

Cut off the top of each layer so that it is flat and even. To assemble cake, place 4-inch by 12-inch strips of parchment paper around the edge of the cake plate or stand. Place 1 (10-inch) cake layer on cake stand on top of the parchment paper. Spread a layer of frosting and top with remaining 10-inch layer. Frost cake with icing.

Place 1 (8-inch) layer on cardboard cake round. Spread an even layer of frosting and top with remaining 8-inch layer. Frost cake with icing and place on top and in the center of the frosted 10-inch cake.

Place 1 (6-inch) layer on a cardboard cake round. Spread with a layer of frosting and top with remain 6-inch layer. Frost cake with icing and place on top and in the center of the frosted 8-inch cake.

Place the small cake that was baked in the 7-ounce ramekin (or the jumbo cupcake) on top of the 6-inch layer and frost with the icing. Place cone tree on top.

To decorate the cake, first carefully remove the parchment paper from underneath the bottom layer. Using the can of white decorating icing fitted with the star tip make small rosettes around the top and bottom edge of each cake tier and the bottom of the cone tree. Place a small rosette at the top of the cone tree.

Drape the licorice whips like "garland" around the bottom 3 cake tiers using the 6-inch lengths for the top layer, the 8-inch lengths for the middle layer and the 10-inch length for the bottom layer. Using the yellow icing can fitted with a star tip, pipe rosettes where the garland strands meet. Place 1 small rosette on top of the cone tree. Using the red icing fitted with the round tip randomly place small red dots around the cake. Place candles in the yellow icing rosettes between licorice garlands.

This was my favorite Sandra Lee cake. As Terri aptly pointed out, this cake looks like it’s straight out of a Dr. Seuss book – playful, charming, lopsided form. You really don’t have to be precise on this cake. About halfway through the recipe, Terri decided to just look at the picture and go from there. It was a good choice. Just stack, ice the hell out of it, and decorate. Suggestions:

* Using vanilla buttercream frosting instead of store-bought frosting
* I loved Twizzlers as a kid, but these things taste nasty. Instead, I would use real garland, or, if you’re good at cake decorating, just making red curves with a round decorating tip.

Hanakkuh Cake (3 of 4)

There seems to be a continuity problem with The Food Network. The cakes were all referred to in different ways depending on where on the site you were located. The worst offender was the Star of David Angel Food Cake, referred to as The Star of David cake and later on another page as The Star of Hannukah [sic]. I think they need a copy editor.

In Lee's description there's no discussion of making the cake kosher. I'd always thought that marshmallows could never be kosher, but come to find out there are kosher (and vegan) marshmallows right there at The Jewel. Andrew and I didn't bother with the kosher element, because Lee didn't. This was the easiest cake to make. The blue color was really pretty.


1 (10 to 12-ounce) angel food cake
10 large marshmallows
1 (12-ounce) container fluffy white frosting
Blue food coloring
Special Equipment: wired pearl strands

Place cake, wide side down, on a serving platter. Fill hole in center of cake with marshmallows. Place frosting in a medium bowl. Stir food coloring, 1 drop at a time, into frosting until desired color is achieved. Spread frosting evenly over top and sides of cake to coat completely.

Bend pearl strand into 2 Stars of David, leaving 2 inches of wire hanging down from bottom of each star. Place 1 Star of David inside and perpendicular to second Star of David, creating a 3-D effect. Stand Stars of David atop cake. Drape another pearl strand around base of cake. Remove pearls before cutting and serving.

I love the color of this cake. However, this is the nicest thing I can say about this flavorless cake (sugars in various forms and blue dye). I like the idea of a Star of David in the center, but constructing it took more time than assembling the cake. Like the Kwanzaa cake, the idea of frosting an angel food cake seemed weird to me. It sure does look pretty, but it makes cutting the cake more difficult. Maybe Sandra consistently chooses angel food for its appealing shape instead of a flat, round cake. My coworkers didn’t touch this one because of the color. To which I say: What’s wrong with a blue cake?!?

Kwanzaa Cake (2 of 4)

This is the cake that started it all. It must have been sometime last summer that Andrew forwarded to me a YouTube clip of this cake. After that, I was hooked. It is this cake that inspired me to start writing about "semi-homemade" and the meaning of "from scratch." This is the cake we started with on our cake odyssey. It wasn't hard at all, but I had a hard time finding black tapers and didn't have the balls to go The Afrocentric Bookstore to buy some. We went with just red and green. It tasted gross. But I LOVE LOVE LOVE Corn nuts, what Lee call "acorns," so all is well.



1 angel food cake

I can vanilla icing

2 Tbs cocoa

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla

1 can apple pie filling

1 large bag “acorns” (Corn Nuts)

pumpkin seeds

7 taper candles (3 red, 1 black, 3 green)


Cut cake in half.

In a mixing bowl combine icing, cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla. Mix well.

Frost center of cake. Replace top.

Fill center with pie filling.

Frost exterior of cake. Top hole with pie filling.

With a knife make holes in top of cake for the 7 taper candles and insert the candles (3 green, 1 black, 3 red).

Place acorns around bottom of cake. Sprinkle pumpkin seeds over top, then more acorns.

Contrary to Lee’s philosophy, “keep it simple,” this assemblage was all over the place – the flavor, texture, and presentation; the cake was fluffy, the brown icing was thick and rich, and the whole, salted nuts were abrupt. Many of us agreed the nuts were too much and should have been finely chopped or taken out. I took leftovers to my job, and everyone liked the apple-filling element; while it’s hard to argue taste, I think the idea of having these unexpected things together creates a sense of “gourmet” or uniqueness without being gourmet. The taste of the cake becomes secondary. While still using step-saving products, here are my suggestions of re-imagined fall harvest cakes:
  • Spice cake mix in bundt form, filled with apple pie filling, garnished with finely chopped nuts, like pecans or blanched hazelnuts. No icing or a light chocolate glaze?
  • Angel food cake served with fresh caramelized apples and whipped cream on the side
  • Doughnut cake with vanilla-cinnamon or maple frosting

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Semi-Homemade Cakes! (1 of 4)

A few months back I wrote an essay about Sandra Lee and the atrocity of her semi-homemade holiday cakes. Well my charming friend Andrew, himself a lover of the "assembly" approach to cooking, agreed to join me for a day of the Sandra Lee method. We made all three cakes: Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and the Heirloom Noel. As we did with the Culinary Arts Institute Party, we invited our loved ones to join us. At this point I think these people might eat anything.

It took all day to make the cakes. They were unbelievably expensive and time consuming. To tell you the truth, as we were putting the finishing touches on the final cake I was a little curt. In the picture you can see my eyes are blood shot. Andrew ate a lot of frosting and got a kind of sick. It was a friendship building experience. Serena was a real trouper fabricating a 3D Star of David out of wire and ball garland. The whole thing would have tasted better, been faster, and cheaper if we'd made them from scratch.

When it was all over and the cakes were done, I felt unbelievably proud. But I felt sad, too. Writing about Sandra Lee and thinking about her stupid tablescapes and crappity crap dinners had brought me to this idea of simplicity and communion with friends and family. The cakes, one of which was inedible, were so wasteful, so costly and I was ashamed to be so privileged to make food as a joke.

But then our friends came. Lara and Dominic, Nick and Andrew, Serena and me. We had a good time, ate cake, drank wine, and all was right with the world.