Critters

By Terry Harris

I am calling this column “Critter Cakes” because we used a novelty pan with all sorts of “identified” flying things to have some fun with food this week.  Yes, this week Queenie is all about the decorations, and with their dragonfly and bumblebee and butterfly and ladybug shapes, these cakelets – which were the centerpiece for a birthday party for four-year-old twins - are just about perfect for Easter or any springtime celebration.  

I find little shaped cakes like this such fun to make that I have a whole collection of novelty pans with shapes ranging from antique cars to flowers to trains to hearts to bunnies to Christmas trees to holiday wreaths to autumn leaves to acorns to little ducklings to baby chicks to, well, you get the idea.

It’s not that I am that clever at cake decoration.  It’s more because I’m not, or, at least, that I’m not patient enough to spend hours carving and/or piping icing onto cakes to make the kind of elaborate edible works of art that real cake decorators concoct.   For example, I will never forget the time my sister baked and stacked 9 round cake layers and created a culinary masterpiece that looked exactly like a can of Mountain Dew right down to a pop top made of silver icing for our niece. I loved it, but I would not even be tempted to try making anything like that.

So, like I was saying, this week is not as much about the specific shape of your creation – and you certainly can make very clever shaped cakes without a novelty pan - as it is about letting go, using your imagination, and having fun with food. Specifically, in this case, it’s all about how a couple of sisters made something special that two lively four-year-olds would find fun and tasty without mountains of sugary icing to send their little bodies into orbit. 

That’s right.  I cannot even take credit for making these as I only supplied the pan and a willing sweet tooth for the finished product.  My other very creative sister came up with the idea of making our nephew and niece, Colten and Chloe, birthday treats from an old tried and true white cake recipe and then decorating them with just a few squiggles of icing and some brightly colored fresh fruit. The cakelets were perfect, at least to two precocious four-year-olds. Their little eyes just lit up when they saw their Birthday table!

As for the recipe she used, I cannot over-emphasize how delicious these were.  To be honest, lacking novelty pans you probably could make some fun-to-decorate little cakes from a box of cake mix… maybe?  But A) this white cake recipe really is particularly tasty and B) if you do have/use novelty pans, the texture that results from this recipe makes the individual cakelets hold up well when it is time to remove them from the pan, so you do not have to worry about breakage. 

When it was time to decorate them, knowing that the twins love fresh fruit we just washed and dried some raspberries, blueberries, and green grapes, whipped up a little yellow and green and white icing, and started having fun!  You could use strawberries, mandarin orange slices, slices of kiwi, and wouldn’t flakes of coconut give a nice feathery or furry look to little birds or other critters?  If you were not concerned about sugar you could decorate with favorite candies and a great deal more icing in elaborate designs if so inclined. 

Actually, my favorite of all that we made was a little bumblebee that we just dusted with powdered sugar to highlight the details on its body and wings and added raspberries to his little toothpick antennae! 

The twins just loved the critter party, and I loved the way their eyes lit up when they saw the table!  We thought we were being so clever with our healthier treats!  Convinced that we had really pulled it off, we invited them to each select their favorite and chow down.  Chloe immediately chose a delicate butterfly with tiny yellow and green and white swirls of icing gracing its wings.  Colten, on the other hand, bypassed all the critters and went straight for one of the plain, round cakes mounded with icing that we had made from leftover batter.  And when he finished licking the icing off the top, he was ready for another!

Anyway, below is the recipe for the cake – which really is quite special. And since right now I think we all need a little more fun in our lives, I do hope these “critters” will inspire you to think of ways that you can as much fun playing with your food as we did while making these.  Enjoy! 

Plain White Cake (perfect for cake molds)

Start with all ingredients at room temperature – about 70 degrees.   Preheat oven to 375.

SIFT BEFORE MEASURING

2 1/4 cups cake flour

RESIFT WITH  

2 ½ teaspoons double acting baking powder

½ teaspoon salt.

CREAM TOGETHER UNTIL FLUFFY

1 ¼ Cup sugar

½ Cup butter  

COMBINE

1 Cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

ADD SIFTED INGREDIENTS TO BUTTER MIXTURE IN THREE PARTS, ALTERNATING WITH THE COMBINED LIQUIDS. STIR BATTER UNTIL SMOOTH AFTER EACH ADDITION.

WHIP UNTIL STIFF BUT NOT DRY

4 egg whites (only, no yolks)

LIGHTLY FOLD WHIPPED EGG WHITES INTO THE BATTER AND BAKE ABOUT 25 minutes for layers, less for cakelet molds.

WHEN THOROUGHLY COOLED, FROST, DUST WITH POWDERED SUGAR, and/or DECORATE WITH FRESH FRUIT.