Cake signals celebration. This is one of the most powerful reasons I enjoy baking so much. Not only does the making process feel as creative as my bygone ceramics class did; the result makes life feel decorated and, of course, sweet. So I was quite honored and quick to accept an offer to bake two sheet cakes for an election debate party last week. I admit I’m not much of a politics person, but I’ll bring the cake to almost any kind of party if I can.
I made one of the cakes lemon, using a large batch of my lemon yogurt cake recipe, then split the cake in two, slathering homemade lemon curd between the layers. After a generous coating of blue-tinted cream cheese frosting, I took my time piping the borders of the citrusy dessert and added some pearls and patriotic sprinkles. The white borders sort of reminded me of those draped curtains on the podiums and stages of political events, but I can bet with confidence that my version leaves a much better taste in your mouth.
The second cake was a classic chocolate sponge — one whose recipe I really can’t take credit for. It was given to me long ago by a friend who lived in NYC briefly; she got it from a chef at a local diner. It’s a no-fail, go-to cake that pleases a crowd. In my many modifications of it, I’ve found that it goes wonderfully with tart berries, so after I coated this one with cream cheese icing, I turned the top into a blueberry and raspberry American flag. I’d seen similar designs in various places over the years, but had never made my own.
I think it’s safe to say that the election debate cakes were a hit. They were completely gone by the time I left, serving close to 100 guests. But far more intimate and meaningful: a couple of weeks before the debate party, my dear friend and co-worker Elizabeth had a birthday. We couldn’t have cake on her actual birthday, so we went out to lunch together. And that night, I came home and decorated her birthday cake. (A fun day, indeed!)
Elizabeth has a gluten intolerance, so I made the cake layers using a mixture of non-wheat flours. I’ve managed to succeed at gluten-free baking at various times over the years, with both Elizabeth and other wheatless loved ones motivating me. Not every try has been triumphant, but this time, the cake went fast and tasted great. I decorated it with pastel colors, which the birthday girl loves, and used her favorite frosting beneath the little pearls. We ate the cake the day after with as much joy as we would have on her actual birthday.
Speaking of pastels and birthdays, I’ve been meaning to follow up on the naturally dyed birthday cake I wrote about a few months ago. That post focused on my recipe and practice run making the cake; the final draft was yet to come. For instance, I’d failed in getting the green layer to… well… be green — and wasn’t sure what I’d do about it.
As elementary as this sounds, a few days before the party I remembered that yellow and blue make green. So I took an egg yolk and some blueberry juice with a dash of baking soda, and whisked them together with a tiny pinch of spirulina powder (I wanted its vibrancy but definitely not its flavor). Folded into batter and popped in the oven, this concoction proved to prosper. Even with muted colors that didn’t cover the whole ROYGBIV spectrum, the slices turned out to look a bit like delicate little rainbows to me…
And thankfully, the cake itself was full of moisture and delectable flavor. The party guests enjoyed it to the extent that that every crumb was quickly devoured, which made me glad I’d brought some extra cupcakes as back-up, secretly stuffed with lemon custard. And most important, the guest of honor devoured his piece with great enthusiasm and focus…