Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The icing on the cake

I may be a mom but I’m no Martha Stewart. I can prepare a passable meal some of the time, but take me to a potluck and I’ll probably rank every other dish ahead of my own offering. And I’m not sure I’ve ever baked a cake from scratch – lots of frit pies and cookies in the years before kids but poor Rob’s birthday cakes have tended to be of the box mix variety with the container of ready-to-spread frosting to match.

So when I woke up this morning with cake baking and decorating on the agenda, there was a little trickle of dread in my throat. And it was the decorating that scared me most. I’d borrowed a little cake decorating kit (which contained far more tips than I knew what to do with) and a book from a friend. Didn’t consult the book until I was mid-project this morning but it saved me from adding way too much color, and from generally screwing up icing dispenser assembly. Tricky thing was I had an icing recipe that gave no specific amount for the main ingredient, powdered sugar. I’d been told it worked best if this icing was pretty thick, but soon I was wondering how you define “pretty thick” when it comes to homemade icing. My first attempt with the brown looked like it was melting away (turned out it hardened right up just fine) so by the time I got to mixing up the yellow I made it rock hard – so rock hard in fact that as I was squeezing the bag the icing started bursting out the seams instead of through the mini-star tip I’d put on it. Soon I found myself impatiently sculpting the yellow on with my hands and deciding well this might be a fun excuse to make a very three-dimensional solid looking beak.

It was a long little art-and-cooking project that turned out pretty mediocre but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Owen was a patient assistant, cooing up at me from his bouncy seat when he wasn’t napping. And I got to thinking that sometime a few years in the future, when Will and later Owen have a few more fine motor skills and less determination to NOT follow instructions, it might be fun to make a ritual of letting one brother decorate the other’s birthday cake with me each year. It might look even messier than my messy owl, but what fun to create a sweet edible surprise for your birthday brother.

Still it was just time-consuming and messy enough (picture powdered sugar and icing residue over every counter of the kitchen) that when Rob’s October birthday comes around he’ll probably be facing another Betty Crocker cake, with mono-color store-bought icing spread over it in 20 seconds flat.

One of Will’s good friends has a severe milk allergy, so I made a dairy free cake using her mother’s recipe. Here it is, in case you’re ever hosting someone with food allergies. I know it tastes good when other moms make it. We’ll see if I managed to do any major goof-ups when we actually try the thing at tomorrow's little party.

Yellow Cake (with dairy-free modifications)

1 cup shortening (Use Smart Balance - it has to be the kind that comes with two 8 oz tubs together and says Smart Balance Regular now with flax. On the front of the carton it has a small "U" with the word Parve on it.)

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

3 cups flour

2.5 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup milk (use rice milk)

2 tsp vanilla extract

Grease (with Smart Balance) and wax paper line cake pans. Cream Smart Balance and sugar, beat well. Add eggs one at a time. Add flour, baking powder and salt and rice milk. Add vanilla. Mix well. Pour into cake pans. Bake 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then move to wire racks.


1 cup Smart Balance

Confectioners sugar (I used more than 4 cups of it)

1 tsp vanilla extract

add cocoa powder for chocolate

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